Whether you’re hanging a painting, a print, or a photograph, it’s important to choose the right kind of frame to showcase your art. But while it’s one thing to know you need a frame, it can be quite another to actually choose a frame. What color frame should you choose, and how thick? Do you need to mount the work on a mat before framing? Should the work be protected behind glass, or left exposed to the open air so it can breathe? Do you even need a frame at all?
You might want to choose a color coordinating frame that picks out key colors in the work of art, or a large, ornate frame that adds gravitas to the piece. Works done in more fragile mediums may require the protection of a mount and glass, while oil paintings may be better off without any glass cover. The next time you need to frame a piece of art, whether it’s a print, a photograph, or a painting, here’s what you need to know.
Works of Art on Paper Should Be Mounted Behind Glass
Prints and photographs, as well as works done on paper in mediums like watercolor, pastels, charcoal, and pencil, are more delicate than paintings created on canvas or even painting boards. Paper is fragile by nature, so prints and photographs should be framed. Most people choose to mount prints and photographs behind glass, because the mat creates an extended border that can make the print or photo pop, especially if mat and frame colors are chosen to pick out important colors in the work. However, you don’t necessarily have to mount prints and photographs on a mat if you don’t want to.
On the other hand, original works done in charcoal, pencil, pen, watercolors, pastels, or other paper-based mediums should be mounted behind glass on a mat. Works done in these mediums could smudge if they’re allowed to touch the glass, but because they’re more fragile than works done in acrylic or oil paints on canvas, they need the protection that glass provides. Mounting works on paper to a mat also lets you avoid having to tape the artwork itself to your frame.
Oil Paintings Need to Be Exposed to the Air
Acrylic paintings dry by evaporation, and so they can be put behind glass if you’re worried about them getting damaged or dirty (which they might — if exposed to heat, acrylic paintings can crack, and the paint can soften, too). But oil paints dry by oxidation, and while an oil painting might feel dry to the touch a few weeks after being painted, and usually even be handled by that time, it actually takes decades for an oil painting to completely dry out.
That means you need to frame oil paintings so that the paint itself remains exposed to air. If you put an oil painting behind glass, it will trap moisture and the painting could rot. Always choose plein air canvas frames when framing an oil painting.
Choose a Frame that Complements the Style of the Work
Not every frame is suitable for every work of art. Photography tends to lend itself to sleek, minimalistic, modern frames because it is a modern medium. Watercolors, pastels, pen and ink, and pencil or charcoal drawings could look good in a wider, more ornate frame, but these kinds of works could still be easily overpowered by something too large and ornate. Keep in mind that when you mount something on a mat behind glass, the mat is creating a frame effect, too. If you choose a double mount, that’s even more of a framing effect, so you may want to avoid an ornate or thick frame, or choose one that picks out a key color in the work. You can also float mount works on paper, and that looks best with a minimalistic frame that allows attention to remain on the work of art.
Oil paintings have been around forever, and thick, ornate frames tend to lend them a distinct gravitas that a more modern, thinner frame just won’t do. Acrylic paintings can also pull off a large ornate frame. Choose a frame color that complements your decor — if you have wood furniture, choose a frame in the same wood so that it blends in.
Sometimes No Frame Is Fine, Too
These days, plenty of artists just stretch their canvas around the back of the stretcher and place the staples out of sight, so that the picture can be hung without a frame. Modern and abstract works look good this way, as well as works with important components close to the edge of the picture (since a frame cuts about ¼ off the edge of the image all the way around).
Choosing the right frame for your piece of artwork can be just as hard as figuring out where to hang it. Pick something that offers your work the protection it needs and sets off the composition, so you can pass your art down to your grandkids and beyond.