On the scale of top 10 life stressors, one being death of a spouse, two being divorce, framing a picture should rank as third. Framing art has always been painful for me - worse than eyebrow waxing.
Several times, I have subjected myself to the frame-shop experience: I bring in a humble piece, say a watercolor I bought with grocery money from a starving local artist at a street fair. A seemingly innocuous clerk with a pasty complexion greets me and carries on about how fabulous the art is. (Framers always fawn over anything framable, including a crayon drawing of mouse turds.)
A deep discussion about matting options begins, followed by deeper discussion of liners and frames. After the sun rises and sets three times, I decide on what I think will look nice. The pasty person whisks away the humble art and returns with an itemized bill for archival matting, liner, mounting, nonglare glass, hanging hardware, and, oh, yes, we almost forgot, the frame.
"Holy Toledo, can I pay part of this with one of my vital organs?" I ask.
"Would you like to pay now or when you pick it up?"
Though I should be over it after 20-some years, I still carry around a bad memory of framing my college diploma. The framing cost almost as much as the four-year tuition. Imagine the injustice I felt when I learned that my husband's college actually sent him his diploma not just framed but matted! His grades weren't even better than mine. Apparently, the school included framing in the tuition, which seems only right. I mean, after spending all that money for a diploma, it should at least come with a nice frame, because framing it well will likely cost as much as you will earn in your first year out of college, unless you're a journalist, in which case it takes two years.
My point, and yes there is one, is to ask about this when researching colleges for your children. Say to the admissions officer, "Excuse me, I'm curious. At the end of four years, assuming all goes well, and my child receives a diploma for all the money I'm about to pay you, will that diploma include the frame?"
After a few bruising run-ins with the frame world, I took matters into my own hands and tried framing my art myself. That also ended badly. I'm not too swift with an X-Acto knife, and let's just say I'm lucky to have 10 fingers and a kitchen table still standing.
Then I had what can only be called a bright idea: I would buy framed art! That way I could get two birds stoned at once, or whatever that saying is. The frame would be included in the art price and would be framed properly, one could assume, because the artist would have done it, or maybe the gallery. And who would know better?
I had finally found peace with frames, until Aaron LaPedis came along. LaPedis is an art expert, host of PBS-TV's Collect This! and owner of Fascination St. Fine Arts, a gallery in Denver. Curious to see his expertise in action, I asked him over to take a look at my art, which is kind of like asking a Ferrari dealer to test drive your Hyundai. To be fair, LaPedis didn't come in and just start criticizing - he was quite tactful about what I was doing wrong. Here's what he taught me:
On hanging. Eye level, yes, but whose? I'm 5-foot-3 when standing straight as a plumb line, and my husband is 6 feet. LaPedis' advice: Hang art midway between the eye levels of the two adults in the house. You shouldn't have to tilt your chin up or down to view it.
On lighting. After commending the lighting on my living-room art, where halogen lights in eyeball sockets hit two paintings, LaPedis could find no other place where my art lighting measured up. In the hall, I had an eyeball socket lighting a large portrait, but it had an incandescent bulb. With halogen lighting, you'll see details you never noticed. On other pieces, I had no spots. Good lighting can make a painting look 50 percent better, he said. Bad light explains why people come home with a painting disappointed because it looked better in the gallery.
On matting. Many preframed paintings I bought came with frames that sat directly on the canvas. These need liners, preferably linen liners. He showed me paintings with and without mattes and liners and proved that art almost always looks better with them. But if you add them, you need a larger frame, and we're back to selling vital organs.
On backings. Some framers cover the back of art with thin paper to make the underside look finished. Any art on canvas needs to breathe, so the back should be open.
On glass. All art on paper (photography, watercolors) should go under protective glass. Art on canvas should go without.
On preservation. LaPedis spotted some black-and-white photos of my family and noted that if I wanted them to last, I needed to remount them using acid-free matting. By looking at the cut edge of the matte, he could tell it wasn't acid free. If the matte is archival quality, it will be bright white all through. My mattes were white on the surface, but the core was yellow. Ask for "conservation framing" to assure you get acid-free materials that prevent art from deteriorating. Also, be sure fine art gets no direct sunlight, and avoid hanging it in damp areas, such as bath or laundry rooms, or near air vents.