To Frame or Not to Frame? (Framing 101)

Framing is personal.


“How should I frame this piece?”


Well, it’s almost like asking, how should I dress for this dinner party? It depends on more factors than I have fingers. It depends on your personal taste and budget. What is the space where the artwork will live? Is this frame temporary or pretty permanent?


When I lived in Vancouver, I befriended a local framer, and I could be found in the back of their shop almost every week. I picked up so many framing tricks then. Even though I now outsource most of my framing needs, that experience was valuable in my basic understanding of framing.


Here are some general guidelines that hopefully demystify framing somewhat for you.





✵✶✺ To Frame or Not to Frame? ✵✶✺


First of all, why do we frame artworks? We frame artworks for mainly two reasons: for hanging the piece and for protection.


1. Artworks by nature are delicate, especially works on paper. With proper protection, your artworks can be preserved in their pristine condition.


2. This one is self-explanatory? You can’t hang a piece of paper. Well, you can use tape and blue tac etc, but it would leave a nasty mark on the paper.


P.S. I also love buying art, especially small works on paper. There just isn’t enough room in my world to display all of them. I leave a lot of them in the original protective sleeves and just lean them against the wall on a shelf or something. Yes, in an ideal world, I would frame them all and display them proudly on my wall of love. In an ideal world, I would also… (delete a million words)






✵✶✺ Can I just buy a frame? ✵✶✺


Yes absolutely! Especially if your artwork fits readymade frames perfectly.


Just know that there are special skills to put the artwork into the frame. And Ikea frames are fine as long as you know that they’re flimsier.


For more affordable pieces, I would just buy readymade frames and pop them in. For more precious pieces, I may want more finesse and protection.



✵✶✺ To Mat or Not to Mat? ✵✶✺


A mat board is a piece of very very thick cardboard. That’s it.


The framer would cut a window into the mat board where your artwork pokes out. The main reason we use mat boards is so that the artwork wouldn’t touch the glass/plexiglass directly. Once you have a valuable artwork stuck to the glass, you will never make the same mistake again.


P.S. Always choose acid-free mat boards. Acid-free materials is PH-balanced and do not turn yellow with time. It means your artworks also won’t turn yellow in time. If you have seen yellowed newspaper, you understand what I’m talking about.


P.P.S. The size of the mat border is personal. Typically it’s 2-3 inches/5-10cm around the artwork. There is a neat trick to make the piece look more substantial and impressive with a thicker mat border. This trick works well for small pieces.






P.P.S. Note that a tiny bit of your piece, say ¼ inch / 0.5cm per side would be covered. It is necessary that the mat board sits on top of your artwork. I leave a border around many of my original pieces, so that my collectors doesn’t have to sacrifice the edges when they put a mat around the piece.



✵✶✺ To Mount or Not to Mount? ✵✶✺


Some artworks are made on delicate surfaces and may not lie completely flat. The larger the piece is, the more visible it is. Embroidery, Chinese rice paper, handmade paper, photographic prints came to mind.


I get this question about my woodcuts all the time. How do you frame them?


I propose these two options:


1. Mount the piece first.* Now the piece is beautifully flat. You can frame it like any works on paper. I recommend a mat board in a light natural wooden frame.


Pros: The piece will stay beautifully flat and this option could be a tad cheaper.

Cons: Once you mount the piece, it’s irreversible. You also lose the beautiful deckled edges.





2. Keep the piece as is, deckled edges and its ephemeral qualities and all! Float mount it! (more on float mounting under speciality framing below)


Pros: You get to enjoy the beautiful deckled edges and the ephemeral quality of the piece

Cons: The piece may not lie completely flat due to the nature of its material.





*This is the traditional Chinese mounting technique using homemade starch glue (or seaweed), not to be confused with the Western dry mounting technique with a sheet of glue and dry mounting machines. Chinese mounting is a specialised technique that I take to my mounting specialist in Hong Kong. It can only be done by hand. Cheap Chinese machine mounting is possible and available even in Hong Kong but not recommended. (Too many things can go wrong!) I can do it confidently with smaller pieces, but no way I am doing it with anything larger than 18x24”. I am so picky that I actually go to two different places for mounting and framing. My mounting sifu (master) is incredible! Hit me up for a referral.



I love the deckled edges of this handmade paper.

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P.S. If you have one of my woodcuts and live in a part of the world that has no access to Chinese mounting, just float mount it! You can even just ask your framer to pop a mat board on top of the unmounted woodcut print if you don’t mind the rippling. Just make sure he/she doesn’t use tape or glue it down hard because the paper is super delicate. If you really really want, I can send it to my mounting master in Hong Kong for you for an additional service fee.


P.P.S. Whether you mount or not, it’s really a personal choice. My friend/collector Danny was going to mount “Gawura”, his whale commissioned drawing. During the discussion, the framer suggested that mounting is irreversible and for the longevity of the piece, it’s better not to mount. In the end, Danny decided to do what’s best for the drawing and sacrificed a bit of rippling effect.





✵✶✺ How Much does it Cost? ✵✶✺


If we talk about custom framing (we are), it’s like asking how much a custom-made gown or a custom-made cabinet would cost.


While there is no magic number, here are a few guidelines:


  • · The larger the frame, the more expensive it is. This is probably self-explanatory that the larger the frame, the more materials it requires. We only see frames in their final forms, but framers order them as very very long rods and cut these rods to size and then glue and staple them into a frame. If your frame size miraculously maximises the rod length, it could make everyone, including your bank account, happy. If your frame size creates a lot of wastage…


  • · Where the frame and mat are made can make 5x or 10x price difference. Most high-end wooden frames have gone through fumigation, so the frames last almost forever. Cheaper frames skip that step. High-end wooden frames could also be made of solid wood instead of pulps. If the frame is temporary, it doesn’t really matter. However, I’ve heard a horror story from a framer friend in which her customer brought in a damaged drawing inside the frame because the insects living inside the frame ate into the artwork.



✵✶✺ Wood or Metal?✵✶✺


Another personal preference. I personally prefer wood for its warmth. Metal was super popular in the 90s and may come back.



✵✶✺Specialty Framing✵✶✺


There are so many specialty framing techniques. A common one is float mounting. Literally, your piece float inside the frame. Well, not by magic but by very skillful hands putting a gentle dab of acid-free glue behind the piece.


You want float mounting when you want to show your piece in its full glorious entirety. You want to show its edges, its thickness and all. You can use similar techniques for objects as well (like autographed sports jerseys) but that’s beyond my area of expertise.


P.S. The more specialty framing your piece requires, the more your budget goes up. It requires more time and expertise, and possibly stress as well.



✵✶✺ Conclusion✵✶✺


How you decide to frame your artworks is really a personal choice. I am always happy to share insights, feedback and referrals with my collectors and community. Feel free to leave comments or questions below.



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Love what you are seeing? Check out The Animal Collection of Polluta Propaganda Woodcuts.


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