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How to Art: The 411 on Framing

Say hello to How to Art! We asked Becki Singer, a writer, 20x200 addict and aspiring art collector, to sit down with our founder Jen Bekman and get answers to all of our burning questions about art. Something on your mind? Send your questions our way!

Whether you’re a die-hard 20x200 devotee or a brand new collector, we’re willing to bet you’ve found yourself lost in the world of framing more than once. Should I splurge on the custom frame, or would something from Target suit me just fine? Do my frames have to match? Why does the frame cost more than the art I’m putting in it? Today, our Collector-in-Chief, Jen, is debunking, demystifying and doling out her hard-won advice about getting that art off your dining table and onto your wall!  – Becki Singer + 20x200

First things first: Why does framing matter?
The most practical concern is protecting the work. And of course, making it possible for you to display it! But bigger picture (yep, pun intended!), framing often plays a key role in the work itself. Lots of artists are very particular about presentation, so it's always worth trying to figure out whether the artist has a specific preference or vision for the piece. I really believe it’s important to honor the artist's intention, and if they've expressed that all the way down to the presentation, you should listen. Beyond all of that, framing can help you create a cohesive link between prints and originals, or pieces that might not otherwise feel like they fit together. 

Does every piece of art need to be covered with glass? What about mats? What are the rules?
In general, the only art that won’t need to be framed behind a protective layer is something on a canvas. Oils, acrylics…anything on stretchers shouldn’t be enclosed. Everything else would benefit from being behind a high-quality, UV-safe sheet of plexi to keep it from damage and fading. (And yes, I said plexi. Real glass might sound like a good idea, but the reality is that it’s heavy, offers almost no UV protection, and can break, resulting in shards of glass potentially damaging your art.) Mats are more a matter of personal preference. Again, if you have the opportunity, try to determine the artist’s intent. At 20x200, we always try to ask the artist about this. For instance, we recommend floating (rather than matting) Mike Monteiro’s prints, because he wants them to feel like three-dimensional objects. If the artist doesn’t have a preference, we still take the time to recommend what we think will be best. I will say that if you are going to mat, I can’t think of many instances where that mat should be anything but white, off-white or cream. Just…no. I don't care what the lady at Michael's suggests.

Framing is crazy expensive! Can I do it myself, or just use a stock frame?
I think it really depends on how important the piece is to you. If it’s expensive or highly sentimental, just bite the bullet and pay for the custom frame, because there’s a much higher risk that the piece will become damaged or faded over time if you’ve DIY’ed. But with prints or inexpensive works, sometimes you can shortcut it. Take the time to find a better-than-entry-level stock frame and have a custom mat cut (or fitted so that you can float the image on top of it). Nine times out of ten, the mat that comes with your stock frame is not the right mat for your print. Just because you bought an 8x10 print, that doesn’t mean that the margins of the actual image are 8x10. Every print will be slightly different, and a custom-cut mat is the only way to ensure you have equal margins around all four sides of the image, which is a must! To really make this work, it helps to have a local framer you like. They tend to carry stock frames that are much better than the ones you’ll find at certain big box stores, and they’re usually very happy to cut a custom mat for you, especially if you buy the frame from them. If you go this route, think about the size of the frame relative to the size of the piece as well. A simple 1” black frame works for smaller-sized prints, but for larger pieces, that same frame could look ridiculous. When in doubt, get a second opinion. 

I really want to buy this print, but honestly, framing is just not in my budget. Any creative alternatives come to mind?
Years ago, I saw a photo on Flickr of a much-coveted, sold-out 20x200 edition that someone had hanging on the towel rod in their bathroom, using a skirt hanger. At first, I was apoplectic because I knew how many people coveted that edition, etc... But I thought about it, and I realized, “Okay, so this dude sees this in his bathroom every morning and it makes him happy!” So, you do you. You’re living with your art, and that’s what 20x200 is all about. Skirt hangers aside, I think simple plexi with metal clips is a slick way to go. You can also pick up vintage frames for next to nothing at a thrift store and then have a custom mat cut for $5-10. Or, skip the mat and have a second piece of glass cut to fit the frame, and just float the art between the two sheets of glass. If it’s an original on canvas, I think it’s totally acceptable to leave it unframed and just hang it from the stretchers. At that point, the frame is only there to either add to the art or to protect it, so if you’re not concerned about either of those things, it’s completely fine to hang it unframed. A few other ideas: 

I love the gallery walls I see everywhere, but do all of my frames have to match for that to work?
This one really comes down to preference. My preference is eclectic, especially for salon hangings. If you’re hanging art in a grid, or in any kind of uniform array, matchy is good. But matching can also be tricky – differently-sized pieces, pieces purchased at different times – and you don’t want to have to re-frame every piece just because you’re moving it to another wall. There are ways to create cohesion without having everything be exactly the same. All of your frames can be the same color, even if the moldings are different (cough, spray paint, cough). Or you can use identical molding in different colors – if you head to West Elm and buy a bunch of their gallery frames in different colors, there will be a natural cohesion to them because of the style, even though they’re different colors. 

How do you find a decent framer that you can trust?
Ask an artist! They tend to have the inside track on the best (and best-priced) framers because they’re always framing work for a show or a gallery. Trust me, they aren’t spending hundreds of dollars to frame a piece that hasn’t even sold yet. If that’s not an option, head to an art supply store - that’s always a good place to start. (Please, not one of those big-box chains, though.)