Tips on framing art the right way.
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When framing art, the eyes have it. Talk to an expert at a frame shop and you'll hear that personal taste outweighs all other considerations. To paraphrase Duke Ellington, if it looks good (to you), it is good.
But while your taste rules, there are rules that can and should be followed to ensure a good-looking job that will enhance the piece and your home. Art, and how it is displayed, puts your personal signature on your home more than almost anything else. And you want your signature to send the right message. "Framing art properly can really enhance the room decor," says interior designer Karen Cooper of Raleigh, N.C. "It gives the finishing touch to the room. Accessorizing is very important. It can pull it all together, and give the room the personal touch."
That personal touch is paramount. But still, having the input of a professional can make a good piece a showpiece. And correct framing and display can make something special out of what you thought was nothing special. "Framing is a wonderful avenue for displaying collections, or pieces that have been handed down through the family," such as christening gowns, coins, stamps or collections of almost anything, Cooper says.
For Diane Schaaf, framing has helped show off a number of unusual pieces. A 100-year-old U.S. flag, passed down in her family, is in a simple, thin gold frame. "It makes a dramatic wall," Schaaf says. And Schaaf's ribbons from the State Fair for her roses are preserved in a frame box.
For Katherine Holden, the frame is almost as important as the art. In her Raleigh home, Holden has several artworks done by her stepfather. And, she says, she has learned the hard way that when it comes to framing, it pays to do it right the first time. "It's like going to get a nice suit, and you don't have nice shoes to go with it," she says of a bad framing job. "It ruins the presentation."
Experts agree that presentation can make or break the art. "You can take artwork that's OK, mediocre, find a good frame, and everything will look great," says Owen Walker, president of Clark Art in Raleigh, a gallery and framing house. "And you can take a magnificent picture, put the wrong frame on it, and kill it completely."
Walker believes that a professional's input is almost always essential to a good framing job. A consultation at Clark Art can take two hours to half a day, he says. Staffers will ask a customer what she has in mind for the piece, where it will be put, the decor of the home, the color of the walls, what type of furniture is in the home. "Most people enjoy our input," Walker says. "We don't normally have people come in and say, 'I want this, this and this.' They might say they like one thing, then we'll look at it and suggest something else."
But Walker is quick to note that sometimes breaking the rules can work wonderfully. As long as you maintain quality, different styles can work together. "A lot of times something well done in proportion and style can fit just about anywhere. If it's not well done you have a hard time putting it anywhere." While stressing that "What I offer is couched in museum standards," David Beaudin, frame conservator with the N.C. Museum of Art, has this advice for homeowners: "I don't want to see the frame take center stage over the art. "I find that in framing, less is best," he says. "The frame is there in support of the art."
Often, Beaudin says, commercial shops will put too much matting (multiple layers) on art in an attempt to pick up on colors in the work. "That's unnecessary," Beaudin says. "It heightens the framing instead of the subject of the framing. It's like an over-designed room, with various prints, plaids and polka dots. There's too much going on."
Many people hang their art too high, the experts say. Cooper suggests you have someone hold the art on the wall, then step back and look at it from a sitting position (if it's a room you sit in) and also as you walk into the room. You want the art at eye level. Once you've decided on a position, mark the top of the frame on the wall. Then measure the distance from the top of the frame to the top of the hanging wire, pulled taut, or the hanging hooks if you're not using wire. Transfer that measurement to the mark on the wall, and that's where you should put the wall hooks. Art should be hung by two hooks - definitely two if the piece is larger than 16-by-20 inches.
If you're hanging several pictures on one wall, Cooper suggests laying them out on the floor to arrange them. Another technique is to cut paper patterns of the frames and tape them to the wall. Start with the biggest picture and work your way out with smaller pictures until you have a pleasing arrangement.
Protecting the art
Besides enhancing the art, a major purpose of framing is protection. One of the most important things is using rag board for matting. Rag board is made from cloth instead of wood pulp, so there is no acid to leach onto the art. Preservation of your art is also a factor in where you put it. Never hang art within 10 feet of direct sunlight. If you must hang art in an area of intense sun, consider something that is replaceable. Ideally, art should be rearranged periodically to keep light patterns from damaging it.
Avoid placing art above a fireplace; soot, heat and dryness can damage art. If you must put a painting above a fireplace, place an insulating sheet of plywood behind it to protect it from chimney heat.
Beaudin and Cooper say that lights attached to frames are a bad idea; the light is too close and can damage art, not to mention the frame.
Never put valuable art in a bathroom or kitchen. Avoid picture wire to hang art; the tension can damage the frame. Instead, put two hooks in the walls, and hook them directly into hooks in the frame.
A short class on glass
There are a several options when choosing glass for your artwork.
- Regular picture glass: Blocks about 43 percent of harmful ultraviolet light, but there's a lot of glare.
- Nonglare: The familiar "fuzzy" glass. This acid-etched glass affects the viewing of the art.
- Image Perfect: A brand of nonreflective glass that doesn't change the way the art looks.
- Museum glass: Nonreflective, it also blocks 99 percent of ultraviolet light.
- Acrylics: A lightweight alternative to glass. It's recommended for very large pieces to cut weight, and for children's rooms.
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