How to Frame Art: An Interview with my Framer

written by Sophie | Art Business

Framing is a big part of many artists’ work. But the choice of a good frame can be tricky. Not only can the choice be very personal in taste but it also needs to support and enhance the art work, and not dominate it. 

Some frames are chosen to suit an interior, others to suit the art work. But what to base the choice on? A good framer can be of great help and I am happy to know one who has helped me numerous times with the choice of frame. 

Claire Russell is one of the few framers who knows how to frame and handle a pastel painting. Framing pastels is often done wrong and I have encountered many who made a mess of it. I ended up framing most of my pastels myself until I met Claire. 

I can now leave my paintings, oils or pastel,  with her and trust her completely. She has an excellent sense of colour and always knows which colour will enhance the painting best. 

Claire Russell

" My job as a framer is to frame an object securely, but to frame it so that the framing work can be reversed, potentially taken out, and worn/used again, if desired."

Claire runs a framing business in South Gloucestershire. I asked her some questions about framing that hopefully help you with your framing problems. Feel free to ask any framing questions in the comments below and she’ll do her best to answer them all.

In our interview we discussed the framing of pastels, of course, as well as textiles such as lace and embroidery, oil paintings, the choices of glass, mounts and much more. I hope you’ll enjoy the read!

1. How to Choose a Frame

Hi Claire, Many people find framing quite tricky, so can you give some basic pointers on how to choose a frame for an oil painting? What colours to choose, and how to decide on width?

Hi Sophie, oil paintings are one of the easiest mediums to frame. They are usually on canvas or board and so they don’t require glass or mount, just the frame.

Colours should compliment the painting and not over power it. For example, if the painting is predominantly dark I would opt for a dark frame and vice versa with a light painting. I would look at the overall tones in the painting; is there a common hue that runs throughout the painting? If there is, this colour is often a good one to pick out in the frame.

The same principle applies to the width of the frame; it has to compliment, not overpower the art work. A little painting can look stunning with a wide frame, providing the painting is fairly bold in nature and the frame is simple in design, and has no fussy embellishments. However, as a word of caution, a wide frame can also dominate the painting! It’s all about balance. 

The framer will have a variety of small corner pieces of the frame to offer, but, it can be quite difficult to judge the overall effect from this small sample. This is when you can rely on your framer a little. The framer sees frames and art work all day, every day and they often have a good eye for balance and how the finished frame will look. So it’s ok to ask their opinion. If you are not sure however, then opt for something narrow rather than wide.

We have so much choice in this day and age there is no need to apply centuries old techniques to securing a canvas in the frame.

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2. Clips

Many artists frame their own paintings on canvas so what sort of clips would you recommend? There is so much choice! I once had a framer who nailed a painting into a frame (going right through the canvas). I didn’t think that was the right way of doing it? Should we use z-clips, canvas offsets, spring clips? 

No, definitely do not use nails to secure a canvas painting to the frame, for that very reason! We have so much choice in this day and age there is no need to apply centuries old techniques to securing a canvas in the frame.

I prefer to use spring clips, as they pin the canvas into the frame securely without having to screw anything into the canvas.

3. String

What about string? What should we use to hang pictures? Should we worry about the weight?

A good quality, low stretch polyester cord should be used. This will have a certain percentage of UV protection and has a breaking strain of 220lb (100kg), the strongest breaking strain being 605lb (275kg) so no, you shouldn’t need to worry about the weight.

However, nylon cord, string or wire should be avoided as they will go brittle of fray over time and liable to break easily.

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4. Works on Paper

What about paintings on paper, like watercolour and drawings. How should they be framed? 

Works on paper should be framed using a mount. If no mount is used the paper will ripple once it is in the frame. 

Mounts come in a huge variety of colours and quality grades. I use an acid free, conservation grade mount board as standard. I don’t like to use any grade below that, as it has a high acid content which yellows, fades and damages the picture. 

Watercolours need to be mounted but fixed into the mount more securely along the top edge of the painting, as the tape doesn’t stick as well to the deckled watercolour paper and it is much more heavy than normal paper.

Any works on paper should never be taped all the way around to secure them to the mount, otherwise the paper will bow causing a cushion like appearance or become rippled.

Any works on paper should never be taped all the way around to secure them to the mount, otherwise the paper will bow causing a cushion like appearance or become rippled.

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5. Glass

Can you explain a bit about the choices of mounts and glass? 

There are several choices of glass, from standard float glass, UV filtered glass, anti-reflect and water white, so what do all these terms mean?

  • Float glass - used as a standard picture frame glass and is the cheapest – A 2mm thick, clear glass. However, if you look along the edge of the glass it will have a greenish tint, this can add a very slight tint the artwork.
  • Water white glass – A 2mm float glass as the standard but has no tint, great for fine art when you want to see the colours of the painting in their true form.
  • UV filtered glass – A 2mm glass which has a chemical coating which filters out 99.9% of the harmful UV rays which eventually fade paintings and mounts. However, there is a warm orangey tint with this glass.
  • Anti-Reflect water white – This 2mm glass works like magic and is a 21st century replacement of the horrible 1970’s non-reflective glass! It has a special chemical coating which makes the artwork appear to have no glass at all and as a bonus, it has a 70% UV filter too. This glass is perfect for dark pictures where you will get a lot of reflection. It also comes in with a higher UV filter, suitable for museum quality art works.

6. Frame Width

How do you choose the width of the frame in relation to the mount and the picture? 

I always start with the mount first to make sure it complements the artwork fully, this can take much longer than choosing a frame. For example, if the frame is to go on a delicate watercolour painting then a pale mount and narrow but simple frame usually works well, then you can work out the proportion i.e. the distance of the frame from the artwork. 

Don’t have the frame too close to the artwork as it can crowd it in. If the frame is fractionally smaller by skimping on the mount, doesn’t mean the frame will be any cheaper.

At the same time, don’t have a big expanse of mount, as the painting will just get lost inside the acre of mount. Move the frame sample around on the mount and take your time to see what looks best to the overall portion of the picture.

7. Pastel Paintings

Before I knew you I tried many framers for my pastel paintings and many didn’t have a clue how to frame pastels. They sprayed fixative without asking, gave the picture a ‘good old knock on the back’ to loosen any pastel particles etc. I ended up framing most of my work myself. I am so grateful to have finally found a framer that knows what she is doing!

So, how do you frame a pastel painting (in short)? 

In short, like any other, but with even more care and patience!

It is important that pastel paintings have more clearance between the glass and painting, at least 5mm, as static from the glass can lift off pastel dust. A double mount, gutter mount or spacer should be used in between the glass and painting.

When assembling the frame, it is easier to use flexible points to fix the painting into the frame, so that the pastel painting can be easily removed and replaced as many times as it takes to remove all the pastel dust from the glass.

Have you got any idea why so many framers do not know how to do this? 

I think as a medium, pastel paintings are fairly rare and the framer may only know how to frame regular pictures, photos, watercolours and oils. Also, there is no compulsory training requirement for picture framing, so I am assuming, that some framers buy an existing framing business and start framing, thinking "how hard could it be"???!!

Sophie Ploeg Blog Framing

Claire Russell

"I had framed a portrait for a gentleman of his ancestor and when he exclaimed that it was ‘so wonderful’ he got very emotional and shed a tear! "

8. Framing Textiles

I know you also frame textiles and embroideries. Can you explain how you frame an embroidery, or perhaps even a piece of lace? Is it like stitched to a backing board or something?

Before framing any needlework, preparation is key. All embroideries, tapestries and cross stitches should be properly laced top to bottom and side to side, with a polyester wool or good tapestry thread and a good steady tension, over sturdy acid free board. Needlework should never be pinned or stuck down, otherwise it ripples and will get rusty marks from the pins!

To frame lace or textiles such as football t-shirts, it is very carefully stitched with thread or fishing wire (for heavy objects) to the mount backing board so that it is invisible to the naked eye from the front and appears to float. Although this way of framing textiles is more time consuming, I prefer this method as the thread will last longer than conventional nylon tags that get poked through the garment, potentially ruining the textile. 

My job as a framer is to frame an object securely, but to frame it so that the framing work can be reversed, potentially taken out, and worn/used again, if desired.

9. Longevity

Can I assume a frame will last as long as the painting?

Yes, if done properly it should last as long as the painting. Although the framer’s job is really to protect the painting, so when the frame is knocked and damaged the painting will remain in perfect condition. That’s when a good frame restorer comes into play! 

 Should I worry about my painting fading or discolouring?

If you are worried about a painting fading or discolouring you should opt for a UV glass. UV glass will cut out 99.9% of UV rays. It is a little more expensive than normal glass but it is worth the investment. 

Sophie Ploeg Blog Framing

10. Framing Stories

What has been your worst ever or most hilarious framing experience?

My worst ever framing experience was a frame restoration job I had done for a customer and after many hours of work, I was very pleased with the result. However, the customer was convinced I had done nothing to restore it as it looked untouched and he refused to pay! Hilarity doesn’t come into framing…it’s a very serious business! 😉

However, there are many positive framing experiences. One in particular was quite moving, I had framed a portrait for a gentleman of his ancestor and when he exclaimed that it was ‘so wonderful’ he got very emotional and shed a tear! 

What is really hard to frame?

Heavy objects – Dagger, marble plaque etc. Or anything soft can be very fiddly – Football/rugby shirts, hats, flags etc.

What do you enjoy most in your framing job?

Great question! I love my job, as I’m a very creative person and I get to see a huge variety of art/craft work come through my door virtually every day. YUM!

Also, new framing challenges that appeal to my problem-solving side, keep me on my toes – I am happy to boast that as of yet, I haven’t had anything I couldn’t frame!!!

Claire Russell

Claire has been running her framing business, from her Studio in Stone since 2003. Offering over 1,000 off the peg mouldings and specialising in hand finishing, frame restoration and gilding, she continually receives work from all over the south west.

Russell Fine Art Services, The Laurels Studio, Stone, Nr Berkeley, Gloucestershire, GL13 9LD. Tel: 01454 269268

Thanks so much Claire! I am sure this is super helpful to many people.

If you have any more questions for Claire, please leave a comment below and she’ll do her best to answer asap.

Published: May 22, 2018

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  1. It's good to hear that oil paintings are some of the easiest art to hang up on the wall. My brother is thinking about ways to get more art in his home. He wants to make sure it's very modern and matches the theme and style of his house.

  2. I love your point that the colors of the frame should complement the art, not overpower it in any way. My spouse and I are trying to get in touch with a local artist so we can buy and hang their art. We want to get more art on our walls so that our home looks unique and aesthetically pleasing.

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