You’ve probably seen this miracle before. Take for example an adorably messy drawing of the family dog that your niece drew in the second grade. Give it to a framing expert, who then places it in a double mat and custom frame under glass. This is not the same crumpled page that somehow made it home shoved to the bottom of her backpack – it’s now elevated to something amazing, precious, classy! It’s incredible what presentation can do for artwork. That family is going to TREASURE that crayon doodle for generations, you just watch.
Do you work on paper? (Colored pencil, ink, charcoal, graphite, digital, photography, pastels) Then you’ve run into this before. Nothing new here. I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of matting and framing. In fact, I’m the best person to ask about how to AVOID cutting mats by hand, since I hate it so very much. Ugh. I’ll tell you – working in standard sizes seems like a seriously left-brained way to be creative – but you’ll thank me later. Really.
I was young and foolish once. I remember a time when my dad was kind enough to help cut wood on his miter saw to build custom frames. (Aw dad, I love you!) I know my way around a Logan mat board cutter and have done it all – cutting archival foam board backers, bevel mats, etc. I think it was a couple of years ago before I finally “liberated” all of my giant sheets of matboard. It felt good. Cathartic, actually.
Today, being a mature and reasonable human being, I now see my time is better spent actually making art rather than face this kind of struggle. Nowadays, and I kid you not, I start with a standard pre-purchased mat and use that for my template. I trace around the interior of the store-bought mat to crop or start drawing. If I make prints, I use this measurement within Photoshop as the print size. Of course just about every standard pre-purchased mat fits into a standard frame size already. Booyah.
So – you don’t work on paper. Good for you. Acrylics on Canvas is the easiest, if you can paint around the sides you are good to go. But there are STILL presentation issues to consider. If you think the gallerist, curator, collector or buyer is NOT going to ever see the back of your painting, then you are mistaken. And….if you varnished or sprayed your work to seal it (you did, didn’t you?)….then did you do the edges? If there’s any color that dripped on to the back, did you seal the back? I’m sorry to bring this up, really, but it’s true. That’s going to be touching someone’s wall. Their wall might be white. Nobody wants paint rubbing off on their white walls. Ask me how I know what can happen…..shhhh.
Have you heard of “floating” frames? It’s an interesting option… a way to present a canvas without worrying too much about drippy or unfinished painting edges. You can even put a flat (inexpensive!) canvas board in one of these for an instant upgrade.
Bingo. Protects the work, protects walls, done and done. Yes, buying frames costs money. However, if it’s an original you intend to sell, and putting it in a frame helps it sell, it’s worth it. *Pro tip: Keep every single frame you’ve ever purchased and swap unsold art for new. If you need new frames, keep buying the same plain color of bare wood, distressed/finished wood, white painted or black painted wood, whatever fits your work. Just keep re-using the same frames for every show. (and you ARE keeping to the same standard sizes anyway, aren’t you?) You’re welcome.
Don’t forget about your tags. Wait…you’re about to tell me, it’s cool, or part of your concept, to hand-write them. Yeah, I know it’s easier. Yes, I know your hand-drawn font styles are amazing. I have done it myself. I think that a clean, printed tag encourages sales. I leave it up to you to judge.
Now it’s your turn to comment. How do you present your work? How have you changed your art presentation through the years? If you appreciate or collect artwork, how does the presentation of the piece affect you? Go ahead and tell me I’m crazy about the store-bought mat tracing thing – I’m ready. But I tell ya, for me, it sure beats the alternative.
Leah Jay (Jakusovszky) has been an artist and illustrator in San Jose for 25 years. She creates using a variety of media including watercolor, acrylic, pastel, ink, and collage. Her illustrative work has been featured in many books, and highlights from her career include directing 2001’s WTC Memorial Art Project to facilitate artist’s responses to 9/11 and successfully crowdfunding her artbook “Amphibian Love” to benefit Save the Frogs in 2015.