Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Hassles of Framing.

Probably the most odious task involved with putting together a show of artwork is the framing. Oftentimes this is the most expensive part of the entire process. Artists are famous for their poverty... a reality that's likely a function of the value of art in our society. But like it or not, presentation is a huge factor in the marketability of art... and if you try to take shortcuts in framing, it becomes patently obvious to the mildly observant viewer.

So what does one do? When I had my first show I decided that I would buy all the raw materials myself and save money doing it. I went out and bought big sheets of foam core, and had panes of shatterproof glass cut at a local auto glass business. I still needed to figure out how to affix the glass to the backing, and what to use for mountings. I decided I could use business document clasps and purchased them at Staples. Then a clerk at the art supply store convinced me that I could use some sticker mounts with plastic ends. He told me that they could hold thrity pounds indefinitely. I forget what they were called (zips?) but that's probably a good thing- I would never want to reommend their use. They worked fine while the art was displayed, but later on they broke off and I cracked a few frames. Luckily no one got hurt.

The foam core was thick and very difficult to cut neatly. The edges even had to be sanded afterward. Fortunately I had assistance from a friend with a steady hand and experience with a straight razor. Then I had to make a template to center the prints on the backings. It was the middle of summer, and the sweat from my brow dripped and stained the foam core. I used acid-free, two-sided tape to affix the prints. This was meticulous and draining work. I struggled to get each one perfect. The images were pressed directly against the glass because I didn't use mattes. This was a mistake, and a hassle as well. Any moisture made the photo surface smudge. Ultimately my homemade solution looked good, but I resolved to find an easier way in the future. And I would have to because I couldn't re-use those frames, since I wrote the titles directly on the foam core.

For my next show I just broke down and invested in thirty pre-made, manufactured frames. I chose to use natural wood grained, matted frames from Nielsen Bainbridge. I bought them from Utrecht in the South Side (Pittsburgh). I got a fairly good deal, paying about $16 a piece. It was a large outlay, but it has paid off since. For the price, they are remarkably professional looking. Of course, this option requires a standard-sized print. The matte opening I chose was for 11" x 14" images. I have sinced re-used these several times, and they seem to be holding up quite well. The wall mountings included are kind of cheap, so the best option is just to rest the frame directly on two nails. If you are not willing to spend excessive amounts on custom framing, this is the way to go.

When it comes to actually sitting down and putting 30 or so images behind glass, it helps to have a friend willing to lend a hand. Particularly if you set up an assembly line system. Windexing the glass, pulling off the backings, taping (use acid-free artist tape... not the double sided version), and signing the work are all discreet steps in a larger system of efficiency. Put on some energizing music and try not to think about how much there is to be done. Keep the cats out of the room, and maintain a clean surface to work upon. You're done before you know it, and you can look forward to the joys of hanging your work!


Blogger Merge Divide said...

I feel obligated to apologize to anyone who read this entire post with the expectation of finding anything interesting hidden in its form. One does feel obligated to establish a floor, as well as a ceiling. This is the most boring post I have ever written.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Dagrims said...

Actually, I found your post interesting. I never thought about the labor and cost that go into framing photographs for display. I know that spending nearly $500 for some frames must have been a huge decision for you.

Don't underestimate your ability to turn what you consider a mundane activity into an informative and interesting article.

8:21 PM  
Anonymous jefg99 said...

I'm just happy to own one of your first frames from your original show.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


are you calling me cheap, or just rubbing my poverty in my face? (just kidding, of course... can't convey ironic tone over net)

I'm glad someone got something from this post.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


And I'm just happy that it hasn't found it's way into the garbage yet. You might want to be wary of the mount on that piece. However, I haven't had any difficulties with the 8" x 11"s. Ah shucks.. you wouldn't sue me anyway.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post!
all artists will appreciate it.
sometimes i'll feel very fortunate.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could have asked your local framer and gallery owner for help. Chances are that he could have worked within your budget and made the few bucks that you gave to the mail order company that does not support art in your town.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

You definitely have a point. But for what I had available as far as finances are concerned, the local framer wouldn't have made any profit. The opportunity for him/her would have been charity work.

11:21 PM  

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