I’m in the middle of a coloured pencil piece, right now, but it’s going to be a lot longer before it’s finished. I thought the pebbles on the last picture were long-winded, but this one takes the cake. It is very intricate and I find I can’t work too long on it before I get tired and have to take a break. I’m pleased so far, but it will be a while before it is ready to post, so I thought I’d do an interim post on a different subject.
I have long been impressed with just how ‘professional’ a piece of artwork looks once it has been framed. I’m always concerned that the pencil works might look a bit amateurish, but that seems to disappear when a mat and frame is added. I’m not talking about professional framing, either, although I do know of a few of my pieces that have been subjected to that great honour. No, I use photo frames from the local dollar store! We have one in the village that seems to get a never ending supply of frames, in different finishes, and all below $20 max. I do know of artists who scour garage/yard sales (or car boot sales for those in the UK!) to pick up old framed pictures that can be re-used; I’ve not tried that yet but it sounds like a good idea.
Most photo frames can be bought with mats, but I don’t often use the ones that come with the frames. There are three reasons:
1.) often these mats are flimsy, there should be a reasonable thickness and a neat bevelled edge to provide the best look
2.) they are often a very bright white, which I don’t think is the most flattering colour to offset the artwork
3.) I’m really bad at keeping my artwork sizes to the standard mat sizes, such as 5 x 7 inch, 8 x 10 inch or 11 x 14 inch. It always expands to fit the paper, so I nearly always have to cut my own mat to accommodate that!
Why use a mat? Well, it’s imperative with watercolours and coloured pencil pieces to keep the surface of the artwork off the surface of the glass, as it can be damaged by contact. The depth of a standard mat is just enough to do that and provide a nice ‘3D’ setting for the piece.
I’ve been framing and matting pictures for years. Back in the UK, I purchased a hand-held mat cutter (it provides that bevelled mat edge) that I used successfully for many years, and which came with me when we moved.
As you can see, it’s pretty basic. The holder holds a razor blade at an angle and at a specific depth, Working on the back of the mat board, you draw the rectangle to be cut, hold the metal ruler along the outside edge of the line, push the blade holder up against the ruler, making sure that the blade sinks into the card, and then push the holder along the ruler to the other end of the line. It needs firm hands on the ruler and the cutter, or wobbly lines ensue; also it can be difficult to judge where to start and stop the lines. Additionally, you need a cutting board underneath if you are not to ruin your desk or table. It sufficed, but it wasn’t ideal, and nowadays I don’t seem to be able to keep the ruler straight enough (the perils of aging?). Anyhow, I decided that an upgrade would be nice and purchased this one off Amazon.
Still made by Logan, this is the Compact Classic Mat Cutter (model 301-1), although at 35.5 inch long and 8 inch wide, it doesn’t feel that compact! It seems to be a substantial block of melamine-like material, fitted with a metal rule the length of the block, a ‘scale’ that can be set to various distances from the ruler and it comes with a bevel cutter (looking a bit like the old one) and a straight cutter (for the outside edges of the mat). It actually takes the same size razorblades as the old cutter. The fixed ruler can be used to cut against (with the flat cutter) when cutting a mat to size, and then the bevel cutter actually slides along it, preventing the need to hold too many things steady at once. The bevel cutter also comes with a mark that you can use to line up the start and stop of the cut, so no more guesswork for that. It does a great job of making quite professional-looking mats, in whatever size I end up needing.
I get the mat boards from Michaels. They have a lot, running from cheap to expensive. The ones I tend to use run at about $10 per board, 24 x 36 inch, which is generally enough to cut several mats-I think these are their own make. I tend to stick to three basic colours, white, a yellow-cream and black. I have a real fondness for black mats, as they do tend to make the coloured pencil artwork ‘pop’.
So, how do the framed pieces look? I may be guilty of a bit of narcissism here, since I do seem to have a lot of my pieces hanging on our walls. Interspersed there are other artists works and prints, and photographs by Mark (mostly my own framing, though) so it’s not all me! I took these photos of the pictures on the walls, in various light conditions, so they aren’t great, but sufficient to give the idea.
Rather than post them all separately, I made a collage of some of my framed pictures. This does show the wide variety of dollar shop frames I have!
‘Churn Road’ is one of my earlier works, and maybe a bit naïve-looking, especially in the treatment of the background, but it actually makes a striking piece, framed and matted in black.
‘Talking Turkey’ remains one of my favourite pieces, and it has a quite commanding position, off our kitchen on the way to the dining room-maybe an odd choice for a picture of Turkey Vultures! I really like the simplicity of this double mat with the slightly larger dark frame.
‘The Girls’ pops from the black mat, with a narrow white mat edge innermost, and frame.
‘Catnapping’ looked much better with a white mat, and has pride of place on our study wall.
‘Song Sparrow’ was a coloured pencil piece on coloured pastel paper and it was difficult to decide on a mat colour. In the end, the yellowy-cream colour made the best contrast between the picture and the contemporary-looking goldy frame.
I used the same type of frame for our wedding picture-it made an appropriate frame for the subject, and a pale cream mat was also more appropriate for the subject matter than anything black (well, I think so, at least)!
For my most recent piece ‘Cape Island Camo’, I used a larger black frame that already had a white mat. The hole in the mat was slightly bigger than the artwork, so I cut a black mat to take up the gap. Due to the vagaries of my painting techniques, the sizing is about half an inch shorter on the long axis than the shorter one, giving a slightly lop-sided look to the double mat. I thought about recutting the white, but decided I actually like it like this. It really sets off the piece and draws the eye in.
Finally, ‘Halcyon Days’, a piece I did for my parents a year ago and posted home. I was much more careful to keep within the bounds of a standard photo frame with this as it was always going to be posted off, and I didn’t want to add to the size of the package by including a mat. They were able to buy a picture frame with mat (from Asda, which is Walmart for North American readers) and frame it themselves. I was astonished when I saw how nice it looks, in situ.
So, a mat and frame can make all the difference between ‘ok’ and ‘wow’ with some of these pictures, at least in my opinion. I’ve now got to the position of having to remove older pictures in order to frame any new ones, because I’ve definitely run out of room on the walls!