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Picture Perfect

How to choose mats and frames that bring out the best in your artwork

framed picture
Photograph: Tyllie Barbosa

When it comes to framing art, Nellie Seigel, sales manager at Artists’ Frame Service (1867 N. Clybourn Ave., 773-248-7713), knows there’s always more than one right answer. “It’s very personal,” she says. “But the point of framing is to make the art look as good as it can.” Clients sometimes worry too much about matching a frame to flooring or other elements in a room; she urges them to take cues from the artwork instead. “Jay [Goltz, who founded Artists’ Frame Service in 1978] says a frame should answer to the room but not take orders from it,” she notes. Good advice. She recently walked us through some choices for framing a small print of a colorful Tuscan scene.

Warm palette or cool? You don’t want the frame or mat to fight with the colors in the artwork-or overwhelm them.

A mat that’s roughly twice the width of the frame often looks pleasingly proportional.

Whether the style of the work is angular or softly impressionistic, as here, a frame shouldn’t contradict the lines of the art.

Contemporary, traditional, or rococo-this is where room decor may be a factor, along with the period and style of the art.

The Process:

Frame Game The frame gives your artwork presence, defining its space against the wall and drawing a viewer’s eye into the image. Frames come in a huge assortment of colors, materials, and styles-some elaborately three-dimensional, others barely there. In general, wide or complicated frames work best with large works of art, simpler frames with smaller pieces.
frame edges

matting for frames
Mats Matter The purpose of a mat is to provide visual breathing space between the frame and the artwork, and to physically hold the art away from the glass. Acid-free archival mats prolong the life of your piece. Choose a color that is related to tones in the art but doesn’t distract from them.

Glass Act Any light is damaging to art over time, but what’s the point of art kept in a drawer? Museum glass provides protection from ultraviolet rays. If reflections are an issue, use “conservation clear” glass, which has an anti-reflective coating, instead of old-style non-glare glass, which has a slightly frosted appearance.
glass for framing photos

What’s Wrong With This Picture?
The same print in the same frame (here, in different sizes) makes a different impression, depending on how it’s matted.

frame with too-narrow mat Too-Narrow Mat
The double matting is a good idea, but the white mat is so narrow, the print looks choked by its tight collar.

Seeing Stripes
A mat cut to the same width as the frame creates a static, striped effect. With no dark undermat to define the edges of the art, its light areas wash out into the white mat.
frame without dark undermat

picture with colored matting Too Much Color
The red undermat and emphatic yellow in the larger mat distract from the image. It’s better to let the art do the talking.

Framed artwork and supplies: Artists’ Frame Service


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