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MILAM STUDIOS - A FINE PLACE FOR GREAT ART
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A frame should just do its job, but what is that job?
It certainly is not to call attention to itself.
Many times we choose a frame for its sheer
gaudiness, hoping to make our art work look more
impressive and important!
Our attention is then on the framing and not on the
picture in the frame.
A frame is only a supporting actor, not the main event!
If we have been complimented on our frame, we have
not properly framed the art work.
TO FRAME OR NOT TO FRAME
Framing did not come into being until about the 15th century. Paintings were done on buildings, ceilings, small wooden folding panels or small boxes.
When the artist began to paint on larger panels of wood, then the need of support became apparent.
Early frames were used to keep the wooden panels from warping. As time went on, the craft of frame making
became very elaborate and refined and the frame was considered to be as important as the art work.
Consequently, the frame became the center of attention.
FRAMING A WATERCOLOR
A watercolor painting must be framed under glass.
Having said that, some artists have opted not to use glass. There aren't any hard and fast rules.
But a water soluble painting cannot be cleaned easily. Sometimes it is impossible.
The traditional way of framing a watercolor is with a white or off-white mat and a very simple
thin wood moulding.
Decorators and their customers have said WHITE IS NOT ENOUGH, we want color!
So, we have mats in every color imaginable.
But who's to say if it's wrong or not in good taste?
But then again, the frame and matting must
compliment the art work, not detract.
TO GLASS OR NOT TO GLASS
Paintings that are not cleanable, such as watercolors, pastels, gouaches, charcoals,
colored pencils, reproductions and photographs, must be framed under glass.
There are always those who do not want glass, but they face the risk of dirty art work and no
way of cleaning it.
If it's water soluble, meaning, if it was wet, the paint would smear or run, it needs to be framed
TO MAT OR NOT TO MAT
This type of art-work also needs a mat for separation from the glass. If the glass sweats and there is
nothing between the paper and the glass, the condensation from the inside of the glass will
cause the watercolor paint to become soluble and it can run and spot the mat or run down the art work itself.
Be careful about putting any art-work on paper next to glass. We have talked about the sweating that can
Another problem that can pop up is, the art-work itself, sticking to the glass. If acrylic medium was used
to varnish the painting or used as a glue, as in a college, it will stick to glass.
Please note, watercolors aren't varnished.
Acrylic paint is sometimes used like a watercolor and can be varnished, because it is not water soluble.
NO GLASS PLEASE
Oil and acrylic paintings shouldn't be framed under glass. Their varnish is protection enough. Some even
caution against cardboard on the back of the stretcher strips, saying the canvas needs room to breathe and completely dry. The drying process takes many years, even though it feels dry to the touch.
The varnishing layer is very important to an oil painting. Perhaps even more important that the supporting frame.If an oil painting is left unvarnished, dirt becomes imbedded in the cracks and fibers of the canvas and is nearly impossible to remove. The type of varnish is very important. Never use furniture varnish on a painting. That type is formulated for furniture and not a fine art painting.
In recent years, many different types of varnishes have come on the market. Damar Varnish is a strong and steady standby, it will turn yellow and get brittle in time though. Always read the labels before purchasing. There are different varnishes for oil and acrylic paintings.
Don't put an acrylic varnish on the oil. The oil and acrylic dries at different speeds and will cause cracking and flaking.
Wetting and washing a canvas is not recommended. Wetting the canvas should be done only by an expert knowledgeable in restoration. If the art-work is valuable, seek professional help. (Not for you personally, for the art-work ;-) Water can seep down between the paint cracks and could loosen the paint from the canvas.
(Not a good thing)
I will admit to this though, when my studio was flooded with 8 feet of water, and all the paintings on paper and canvas were soaked, I took the water hose to the ones on canvas and then gently sponged the ones on watercolor paper. The canvas shrunk ¼ inch all around, the stretcher strips warped, I even scrubbed (gently of course) the canvases, but I salvaged most of the paintings on canvas.
I think not throwing them away goes back to what was discussed in an earlier chapter; about how precious and priceless we consider our own art-work! ;-) The ones on paper were another matter! Most of them had to be thrown away. The mud was nearly impossible to get off and the colored mats had run and discolored the paintings.
What a way to get a fresh start!! It was almost a relief to throw away paintings that never could be a success. Paintings that had been worked and reworked for years. Well, enough of that saga!!
Just remember, water is not a good thing for a painting!
And neither is nicotine! Nicotine from just average smoking, will stain a painting in a very short time.
Cigarette smoke will deposit a thin oily film on everything, staining and discoloring. Try to avoid
smoking around your art-work
KEEP MASKING TAPE AND CARDBOARD
WHERE THEY BELONG : IN THE PACKING
Masking tape and cardboard can ruin your art-work! This cannot be stressed enough. They are acidic and will, over time, stain the work. The acid in the cardboard backing will leach out and migrate to your canvas or paper and leave stains.
Linen tape is recommended for fastening watercolors, photos, etc.to their mats. Just keep cardboard away from direct contact with art work. Buy foam core in sheets from art supply houses, Hobby Lobby,
Micheals Craft Store, or for online shopping try This can be placed between the cardboard and the art-work with no ill effects.
Many artists will go so far as to varnish the inside of the frame to seal it from leaching acid onto the
Archival mats and backing boards are available and recommended for the longevity of the art work and
certainly worth the slightly higher price. Quality art-work deserves and requires all the help we can
give it; to preserve it for future generations enjoyment, education and enlightenment.
A good frame, both in looks and quality is worth its weight in gold (so to speak). The frame will make or break a painting. Think of it as icing on a cake. If all we can taste is the icing, the
cake was not noticed and will not be remembered.
Your painting is like that cake, too much of a frame and it is over powered, weakened. I can't see your
lovely art-work for that FRAME!!! It is too in yourface! But the painting is certainly in need of a frame for several reasons, for support, for protection and finally, to look good. The frame is not to be the star of the show; but the supporting actor.
Framing, when properly done, will enhance, add to, support, protect and just hang in there. That's
it's job, to just hang there and be supportive.
Resist the impulse to over frame.
Author : Kay Milam
Copyright-2002 All Rights Reserved
A bit about me.. I have painted, made sculptures, and taught art in my private studio and higher learning classes in two colleges, to both childern and adults.
My paintings are in galleries in Texas, in private collections, and may be viewed at my website.
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