tAMPA — Most of us don't think about frames until we have to choose one. Then, because we don't think about them, the hundreds of choices available overwhelm us.
Me included, and I study art (and, yes, take note of frames) for a living.
I wish I could give you 10 Easy Rules of Framing, but there are none. Like the art you buy or the mementoes you treasure, the framing process is subjective. So I go to a professional. I recently asked Mark Feingold to help me select a frame and mat for a print I wanted to give a friend.
Feingold is manager of Clayton Galleries in Tampa and a master framer. Don't let those last two words intimidate you. If you want to spend $2,000 on framing, he can easily accommodate you. But he's just as comfortable connecting you and your art with a $200 (or less) framing package. That's what all good framers do.
"My job isn't to dictate to people," Feingold says. "I'm like a designer, trying to incorporate their tastes and needs and to guide them, if they want me to. Sometimes people will bring in fabric or wallpaper samples they want to match."
Feingold has been involved with art for most of his life. He is an artist but spends most of his time putting other artists' work into frames as well as installing exhibitions. He has worked at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida, the Tampa Museum of Art and numerous galleries. He has been at Clayton Galleries, owned by Cathy Clayton, for about 17 years. The gallery's main business is to show and sell contemporary art, but it is also one of the premier frame shops in the area. Feingold has created and repaired frames for masterpieces in the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, for example.
My "masterpiece" was a large, inexpensive botanical print. It's basically a poster, about 17 inches by 21 inches. But a pretty one on good, acid-free paper. I wanted it to look really special.
Framing a work on paper — a drawing, painting or limited edition print — should always involve four things: a frame, a mat, backing and glass. The mat acts as a buffer. Small amounts of moisture can form under the glass and if they come into contact with the paper, cause mildew spots. A good framer uses archival mats made of high-quality, acid-free fibers that will last for decades and not damage the art. The backing, usually some kind of mat board, holds the art firmly in the frame, which keeps everything together.
"You're creating a self-contained environment," Feingold says.
Oil and acrylic paintings on canvas or wood don't need the protective glass because they're sturdier. Mats and frames for them are usually just for looks.
The cost of framing depends on the size of the work and the materials with which it's surrounded.
The mat can be a paper product or a fabric such as linen or silk. You can double or triple mat and add small wood inserts around the mat called filets.
You can choose regular, nonglare or UV glass depending on where the art will hang. Many people like Plexiglas for big works because it weighs less. Clayton Galleries sells frames starting at $4 per foot and going up to around $400 for handcrafted ones. Those are made with no visible seams at the corners, tongue and groove joints, lots of carving, 22-karat gold leaf and stenciling, all done by hand. The less expensive frames are still solid and of high quality.
"Frames become a part of the piece," Feingold says. "They can make a statement, but they shouldn't overwhelm the art. The most expensive frames are really for investment art."
Since my print wasn't valuable and had a border already, I didn't need the mat or glass. But I did need them to make the print look better than it is.
I could have gone to a craft or big box store that sells premade mats and frames and spent a little less. Many of those frames are not solid wood and are held together by staples. Often the corners are imperfectly aligned.
But cost and quality weren't the only reasons I rejected that option. Getting a terrific finished product required looking at far more possibilities than I could have imagined.
The print itself was so colorful, I decided on a simple treatment. We began with the mat. We needed an off-white that would closely match, not contrast with, the background paper.
Well . . . no.
"The difference in tones are subtle and can vary widely," Feingold said as he pulled out several dozen samples made of fiber, which is like a cardboard. The differences were dramatic. Most were obviously wrong. Too yellow. Too gray. Too white. I was ready to settle for a mat with a pinkish tint. He wasn't.
"Sometimes it's a compromise," he said. "Most of the time it clicks."
He pulled out several mats wrapped in textured silk. One was perfect.
Against it we tried several dozen frame samples, and many would have worked. That's where the subjectivity came into play. I liked several gold-toned frames. Some with a more natural wood finish. I adored a handcrafted one.
In the end, I chose a frame underpainted with black, mottled and distressed with metal leaf. It looked elegant. Only a little formal. I could see it looking good on any wall, important since it's a gift.
Truth is, that gorgeous handcrafted frame would have, too. Feingold talked me out of it, reminding me it would cost about $600, way beyond my budget. This one came in under $200. But now this inexpensive print looks like a whole lot more.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.