Preserving Today’s Treasures & Yesterday’s Memories.
Framing and displaying your artwork are great ways to enjoy and share with friends and family. The first choice to be made is whether to use a professional framer or select ready-made frames from a local or online retailer and frame your artwork yourself. While convenient and often less expensive, ready-made frames usually don’t contain materials that will protect your artwork, but ultimately reduce their life span.
There are two essential reasons to frame your keepsakes and art, presentation, and preservation. Presentation includes appearance factors, selecting frame parts of a style and color that create the most visually attractive display. Preservation involves keeping framed treasures in their present condition. Preservation framing provides the best long-term value for displaying your treasures.
A professional frame shop gives you access not only to a wider range of frame designs, but also to expertise in the types of materials needed to protect your particular type of art. Frame shops vary in their level of capability based on their staff’s experience. Our shop differs from many other frame shops in that it is staffed by a Certified Picture Framer, CPF, who is recognized by the Professional Picture Framers Association (PFFA) as a professional with a solid knowledge of proper framing methods, materials and techniques. Our goal is to help preserve each customer’s artwork. We want to help our customers better understand how artwork becomes damaged and how thoughtful framing and display practices can help you keep your precious treasures on display for you, your family, and your friends to enjoy for years to come.
Anatomy of a Frame
A frame package is comprised of several components which contribute a decorative surround and a rigid structure that protects a piece of artwork on display. The individual parts of a good-quality frame package include frame, glazing, window mat, mounting board for the artwork, filler board, and backing paper. However when selecting a frame package, pay attention to the following features that will help to enhance a work of art:
Frame: The frame is a structure, almost always of wood or metal, which provides a decorative accent while supporting and protecting the artwork. It should be large and robust enough for the weight of the glazing, mat, artwork, and backing. It ought to be deep enough to hold the components together inside the frame without extending past the back of the frame. It should complement the artwork and its matting and add a finishing touch without being obtrusive. Key factors in choosing a frame are frame color, style, width, and depth.
The Frame Color can coordinate with a dominant color in the art. Red, orange and yellow are warm colors that coordinate with gold or wood tone frames. Blue, green and purple are cool colors that relate more to silver or gray frames.
The Style of a frame should always flatter the art it surrounds. The frame should be appropriate to the piece, traditional, contemporary or historical. If the artwork isn’t the same style as where it will hang, pick a frame that serves as a bridge between the different styles.
The Width of the frame should be large enough to support the components of the frame, but wider frames can benefit smaller pieces of art by calling attention to them. The bigger the frame package, the stronger it will need to be, especially if glass glazing is used. The width of a frame can be used to relate the framed art to the scale of the room or furnishings – don’t overpower a room with a frame that’s too large for the space or under-power the artwork with too petite a frame.
The Depth of the frame should be deep enough to hold the framing package. Deeper mouldings are used to create shadowboxes when we are framing objects. However, the same mouldings can also provide great solutions when framing art on paper. When the art is placed forward in the frame, the added depth projects the art towards the viewer. Art can also be recessed into a deeper frame to add depth and drama.
There are thousands of frame styles that come in a variety of stains and finishes. Choose a frame that best enhances the artwork as well as supports and protects it.
Glazing is a sheet of transparent material placed within the frame in front of the artwork. It is a covering that allows the art to be seen while protecting it from dust, bugs, and other contaminants. Glazing, however, should never come in contact with the art because condensation builds up and damages the artwork.
There are several types and grades of glazing materials available that give good to superlative protection, and they include glass, acrylic, non-glare glass, conservation glass and acrylic, and museum glass. Glass has the advantage of being scratch resistant, but it is heavy and fragile. Because acrylics are lighter and less prone to breakage, they are great for very large pieces. Non-glare glass disperses the light that strikes the glazing and reduces reflections from light sources; however, it can diffuse the image as well. Color neutral glazing does not contain the green tint that naturally occurs in regular glass, so the artwork’s true colors come through. A series of conservation glass and acrylics provide definitive protection from ultraviolet rays that help protect the artwork from fading. Museum glass is an anti-reflection framing glass that provides conservation grade UV protection. Along with its nearly invisible finish, it effectively blocks up to 99% of harmful indoor and outdoor UV light rays. Pieces framed with museum glass remain clear and bright for much longer.
Why is conservation glass so important? The light that makes a work of art visible is the very light that damages it. All light is energy, and it exists in three forms, ultraviolet (UV), visible light, and infrared, and each form damages in different ways. UV energy can damage photos by fading the image as well as yellowing the paper and making it brittle. Visible light is not as detrimental as UV light, but long-term exposure can cause fading. Although infrared light is not visible, it creates heat which causes artwork to warp or shrink and accelerates decay.
All artworks should be protected from prolonged light exposure. Each type of light (tungsten, fluorescent, and sunlight) contains different amounts of UV energy. Sunlight contains the highest UV levels and is the most damaging, followed by fluorescent. Tungsten carries very little UV energy. Because of this, many people mistakenly believe that, since they light their homes with tungsten bulbs, they don’t have to buy UV-blocking glazing for their frames. Ultraviolet-glazing-conservation-glass blocks 98 percent of a certain wavelength of the damaging indoor and outdoor UV light rays; it helps slow down fading more than any other glazing option. The use of UV filtering glass will significantly increase the life of the artwork as it protects the art from the most damaging light energy source.
The intent of ultraviolet protection is to prevent the artwork from fading due to ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. This alone will not prevent artwork from fading as there are other forces that contribute including heat, pollution, moisture. All artworks should be protected from prolonged light exposure. This means not only hanging artwork out of direct exposure to florescent light but minimizing the total exposure to light over the life of the artwork. Conservation glass should be used whenever framing sentimental, valuable, limited edition, and one-of-a-kind artwork.
The mat is a border, usually made from mat board, cut to surround a work of art. Its rigid surface provides structure, protection, and a decorative accent which serves as a spacer and creates separation between the artwork and the frame. This mat can be neutral, colored, or covered with a fabric or other textured material. The mat sets off the artwork, provides a field of visual relief, and gives the whole assembly a crisp, finished look—ideally without calling attention to itself.
The mat should be of a good quality: nonreactive board made of 100 percent cotton or alpha cellulose with or without calcium carbonate buffered core and backing paper. Industry standards require that all paper and paperboard materials have a pH between 7.0 and 9.5, are buffered with at least 2% calcium carbonate, and are lignin-free. Be wary of products labeled, “Acid Free,” because the acidity in those materials can only be temporarily neutralized; when the buffering agent wears out damages can occur.
Poor quality mat boards contain harmful substances that over time damage the artwork. Inspect the bevel of the mat; if it is tan or brown in color, this is an indication that the board is acidic. Acidic boards will deteriorate a work of art. They weaken the paper fibers that they touch, overtime the artwork yellows, and becomes brittle. A stain, often referred to as mat burn, may form on the edge of the window. The damage is caused by components in this inferior board combining with humidity in the air, creating acid that degrades the paper. There are some mat boards that offer the added protection of Zeolite, which serves as a passive molecular trap. The Zeolite additive in a framing package further enhances the ability to neutralize impurities that may migrate or off-gas within the closed package. Only a pure cotton product should be used on any artwork that is organic in nature because the buffering agents can react unfavorably with it.
Mat board should be thick enough to create a separation between the glazing material and the paper art. The artwork should never touch the glass. This is essential, particularly in humid climates; it prevents the art from coming in contact with condensation. If moisture penetrates the frame or if condensation occurs, the artwork can stick to the glass and this causes permanent damage. Condensation can also cockle the paper or create mold growth. When assembling a framing package, is most important to choose matting that not only visually accents the piece but protects the artwork from deterioration and discoloration.
Nearly everything that is framed needs to be mounted in some fashion. There are numerous ways to mount artwork; inevitably it is the nature of artwork that decides the best method. Dry and wet mounting processes bond the artwork to a board to prevent it from bubbling or waving. This method is most appropriate for posters, photographs, and reproduction pieces. This process keeps the artwork flat and looking its best in the frame for years to come. Without mounting, any changes in temperature or humidity will cause the art to ripple or become wavy under the glass. In general, valuable artwork that requires preservation framing is not mounted using heat mounting, spray-adhesive, or pressure-sensitive tapes, as they are not easily removable.
When framing something of value, be it monetary or sentimental, select conservation grade framing materials to help protect it. The best mounting methods for valuable items are ones that are reversible so that the artwork can be reframed later. Furthermore, an irrevocable mounting process can impact the resale value. Museum mounting, commonly known as hinging, attaches the art with paper hinges to the backing board. Because shifts in temperature or humidity can cause paper dimensions to change by as much as three percent, the hinges should be glued only at the top of the artwork. This allows the art to swing freely for expansion and contraction before attaching the mat. The art should be attached only to the backing board and not the mat, with hinges made from Japanese tissue, or a single-sided acid-free or pH-neutral adhesive tape designed for the purpose. Hinges made of Japanese tissue attached with starch adhesive work best for fragile artwork. Hinging or archival photo corners are recommended for mounting original artwork. Photo corners work well with photos or artwork printed on paper that is sturdy and has not decayed. Photo corners should be made from an inert plastic such as polyester or a high-quality paper. All adhesives should be both acid-and rubber-free.
There are other ways to mount artwork. Different types of art often need different approaches. It’s a shame to see a special piece deteriorate due to improper framing when it is easily preventable. A professional framer is always the best guide to help with determining the best method for mounting your work of art.
Fitting is the process of assembling all the framing components and attaching them inside the frame. There must be sufficient support and protection for the art, and everything must be held securely in the frame. The glass is cleaned, and all dust and lint are brushed off the art and backing board. The frame is laid face down, and the artwork and other components are all stacked together. The stack is supported in the front by the frame rabbet, or lip, and a point driver is used to secure the stack in the back. A liner paper is adhered to the back of a wooden frame to keep dust and insects out. Additionally, this helps to reduce fluctuations in humidity and limit infiltration of airborne pollutant gases; it also provides a nice surface on the back of the frame for attaching a label.
Once the backing paper is attached, the hanging hardware is installed onto the me. Different types of hanging hardware can be utilized depending on the requirements of the finished picture. There are several different types of hardware that can be used when wiring a picture frame, but screw eyes are most common and easiest to use. Screw eyes, or other alternative, are placed 1/3 down the height of the frame. Then, a wire capable of supporting three times the weight of the picture is strung across the back and attached to the hangers. Saw tooth hangers are only suitable for small frames and are used in conjunction with a nail and not a hook in the wall. D-rings, on the other hand, are strong hangers that are appropriate for large or heavy frame jobs. They are screwed into the side rails on the back of the frame. Hooks on the wall line-up with the D-rings and the artwork hangs directly from the hooks with no wire used.
Bumper pads are placed on the bottom two corners of the frame. The bumper pads help to hold the picture still while it is hanging, and aid air circulation, which is important for the longevity of the picture. To hang a wired picture, use two hooks to provide extra security for the artwork and to prevent the artwork from hanging skewed. Each hook should be positioned on the wall about one-third from either side of the frame and level with each other.
While not a structural element of the frame package, a label on the back to provide information about the artwork and the frame can be very helpful later. This is especially true when trying to establish provenance. Useful data on a label might include descriptions of the people or the scene, the date the art was completed, an artist’s biography, the date of framing, and the framer. When labeling by hand, use a pencil or a waterproof and fade-resistant pigment ink pen. When printing labels, use a laser printer since many inkjet printer inks are sensitive to fading or abrasion.
The environment in which your artwork is displayed is very important to maintain it in good condition. Artwork begins to deteriorate the minute after it is created, so with proper framing, maintaining a suitable environment, and proper display you can slow this process considerably. To protect your valuable and original works of art follow the recommendations below. These steps will help extend the life of your artwork and maintain its value.
Because light causes increased chemical reactions and a breakdown of materials, artwork should be framed with UV filtering glass. UV filtering glass will help prevent damage from light, but it will not eliminate it. Damage from light is cumulative and irreversible so it is important when displaying your artwork to pick spots that are not illuminated by direct sunlight or bright indirect sunlight. Closing your curtains or blinds during part of the day when the light levels are at their highest will help reduce the exposure to light. Periodically rotate your artwork. This practice also reduces the time each image is on display and extends its life. Avoid illuminating your artwork with lights attached to the frame or with florescent lights, which contain high levels of UV light. The damage art receives from light is so gradual you will not even notice a change until it’s too late and the piece becomes incomparable to its original state.
The rooms you select for displaying your artwork should be cool and dry. Heat is like light in that it causes chemical reaction and breaks down materials. Humidity causes expansion and contraction which can affect the art’s support, canvas, board, and paper. High levels of humidity can cause mold growth. Keep your environment between 65 and 75 degrees, the humidity between 45% and 55%, and try to keep fluctuations of both to a minimum. Don’t store artwork in areas such as attics and basements that are not climate controlled and therefore subject to extremes in temperature and humidity. Avoid putting artwork over the mantel because of the potential for damage from heat and soot. Outside walls have extreme fluctuations in humidity. Do not hang your artwork where a heating or cooling vent will blow air directly on it. Bathrooms should be avoided because of the high humidity. Artwork in the kitchen is prone to high heat buildup and the airborne pollutants from cooking. It is important to keep your valuable art in a temperature and humidity friendly environment.
Atmospheric conditions vary depending on the region where people live. Although priceless artwork survives better when hung in gallery-like conditions, most of us live in conventional houses which don’t have superlative conditions. Nevertheless, houses constructed today do have better climate control than those of yesteryear and they do offer better protection for artwork. However, we should all turn to decorative artwork to brighten those spaces in a home where we cannot control heat, humidity, and or light. Don’t abandon decorating those troublesome areas in your home such as the kitchen or bathroom, rather select reproductions to brighten the spaces. However always adhere to those stringent guidelines outlined above whenever you display your rare and valuable artwork so those pieces can be enjoyed for generations to come.