The Art of Framing

David Barnett Gallery
Apr 2, 2019 9:11PM

In any museum or art gallery, you are bound to see magnificent works of creativity and craftsmanship. The beautiful canvases, photographs, drawings, and prints are sure to capture attention and imagination. But there is one element that viewers often overlook when focused on the masterpieces: the frame.

The first purpose of a frame is to protect the artwork and hold it in place. If the artwork were to fall from a wall, a frame would protect it by taking the brunt of the damage and thereby protecting the artwork itself. Framing also prevents damage from the hanging process itself: it negates the need for pins through an artwork or adhesives leaving residue. Artwork is also protected from deterioration over time: current framing standards protect pieces from UV light as well as from moisture warping and insects.

The other purpose is to showcase and highlight the strengths of a work of art. An elegantly carved and gold-leafed frame can provide a stunning and eye-catching setting for a Rococo painting, and a sleek, straight frame can give space for a modern, abstract painting to stand out while not distracting from the image. However, your treasures don’t need to be worth millions of dollars to be worth framing. At the David Barnett Gallery, we suggest framing anything that has monetary or emotional value that you would want preserved and showcased for the future. This could be old photographs, family heirlooms, jerseys, or artworks.

A frame with a mixture of modern and ornamental elements on a Raymond Breinin painting.

An ornate frame on a Daniel Ridgway Knight painting.

Framing practices have changed over the years, and that includes a number of technological and scientific updates to the materials used. Oftentimes, frames made over 20 years ago were not made with archival materials, meaning that the artworks housed in those frames will likely deteriorate over time. This is especially true of works on paper, as any acidic materials that are in contact with the artwork may cause the artwork to yellow and become brittle. One of the tell-tale signs of acidic and otherwise non-archival framing methods is a brown paper backing on the frame, which was common practice in the past. Therefore, we recommend that any valuable objects that were framed a long time ago be evaluated for re-framing.

To get an artwork framed at the David Barnett Gallery, the first step is to set up an appointment. With all of the choices that go into selecting a new frame, we want to be sure to give our full consulting attention. Consultations and framing quotes are free at the David Barnett Gallery. Next, prepare your artworks for transport. To safely move existing frames, we recommend wrapping them in foam or towels. Unframed artworks are especially fragile, so we recommend placing them in a sturdy mailing tube or durable portfolio/folder. With works on paper, it is especially important to handle the works with care and avoid folding, creasing, or tearing.

David Barnett selecting frame options

At the appointment, you will work with David Barnett, the director and owner of the David Barnett Gallery, to choose your framing options. We have over 1,000 frame samples, from ornate to contemporary, and for any size budget. Whether you’re creating a frame for a contemporary abstract painting for a modern penthouse or an antique wildlife watercolor for your cabin, we have beautiful moulding choices for you.

David Barnett writing up a frame order.

David Barnett, as an artist himself, is an expert at selecting design options that bring out the best in an artwork. For example, he may offer a gold-colored frame sample in order to bring out the colors, or a silver one to keep things neutral. The period of the framed object is always taken into account when selecting the profile and ornamentation on the frame. We also have hand-carved gold-leaf frames for the pieces that are especially important, as well as metal-leaf mouldings that mimic the aesthetics of gold-leafing for a fraction of the price. For certain artworks, we may also suggest a floater frame. This is most common for contemporary paintings on canvas or thick wood panel. A floater frame will prevent any of the image from being lost under the lip of the frame as well as protect the canvas from falling or much transport damage.

Floater frame on a painting by E. Hyppolite.

Floater frame on a painting by Hsin-Lin Chiao.

Floating an artwork is also an option for works on paper. Floating a work on paper essentially means that you will not have a mat, accent, or fillet covering any part of the object or work on paper. This is a great option if a signature or important visual element is near or on the edge of the artwork. However, sometimes edges of a work on paper have deteriorated and will be safest secured by a mat. When selecting to float or mat an artwork, we always design the frame to give the artwork breathing room and space to stand out. We typically recommend a white or off-white mat and try to match the color and relative warmth of the paper of the artwork itself. Silk and linen-wrapped mats are also available to give your artwork a high-end visual impression.

A selection of white mats.

Finally, UV-protective glazing will be chosen. We have four different options at different price points, all of which protect artwork from fading. Some are shatter-proof, some reduce glare, and others do both. We will discuss the location of your artwork and the lighting situation in the room to determine the best glass option for your project.

The tools of the trade.

After a framing order is processed, the order and the artwork go to Darryl, the head of the David Barnett Gallery framing department for over 5 years. If the selected moulding is in stock, he selects quality sticks and cuts them in-house. If not, we order the moulding from one of over a dozen possible suppliers, including some that custom-carve their frames. The frames are then joined, or put together, with great attention to exact detail and the continuation of any design on the frame.

A view of our moulding stock.

These tools press the corners of a frame together to create a lasting and perfectly square bond.

After the frame is cut and joined, the mat or mount boards are cut and assembled. All areas are carefully constructed to make it seamless and museum-quality. For example, if a silk-wrapped mat or liner is desired, the entire mat or liner is constructed and then the silk is applied to the entire thing in one piece, instead of leaving seams.

A custom linen liner.

Once the mat or liner is prepared, mat for paper artwork and liner for painting on canvas or board, the artwork is prepared for mounting. For a work on paper, this means choosing an archival, acid-free matboard or foamboard, depending on the proposed mat coverage, and adhering the artwork to the back using small, reversible paper strips. The key to archival framing is clean, acid-free materials and reversibility. The artwork is often adhered in 2 places if it is small and floated, or is secured under a mat.

The David Barnett Gallery frame shop.

The glass is placed in the frame. Unless UF5 Plexiglas is used, the artwork must have spacers to keep it from touching the glass—this may have a small amount of chemicals that could leech into the artwork. However, with a small space, this is not an issue. The artwork is then fitted into the frame with the optional mat or liner, and the back is secured and finished with archival tape and picture wire. The framing is complete!

Frames can be an integral part of an artwork’s display, though they are not created to overshadow the masterpieces they hold. Next time you are in an art museum or gallery, take a look at the choices made for the pieces on display. What new things do you notice?

To schedule a framing appointment at the David Barnett Gallery, simply send an email to inquiries @davidbarnettgallery.com or call us at 1 (414) 271-5058.

David Barnett Gallery