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Framing mixed-media artwork.

Although framing in the world of fine art takes on a different role than that of the custom frameshop, similar basic principles apply that can help any gallery owner or artist present fine art in a way that will enhance the perceived value of the piece and bring about yet another attractive selling point that will help close the sale. With this concept in mind--and an eye for high-end moulding and design trends--Art Business News and Greg Perkins, manager of merchandising and education for Larson-Juhl, are proud to bring readers The Fine Art of Framing: High-End Trends and Techniques for Galleries and Artists.

When Art Business News asked me to write an article on how to frame mixed-media artwork, I immediately agreed. Being a collage artist, I recognize the growing popularity of this art form and thought it was the perfect time to talk about the various ways it can be framed. As I started to think about what I would write, I realized how different this topic is from some of the other how-to topics I have written about previously. For other art categories, the content was mainly focused on different frame-design options. With this subject, I realized there were some technical issues to cover before getting into design.

With any other type of art, there is usually a common thread that runs from one piece to the next. Using acrylic paintings as an example, they might be on different substrates, but they all include acrylic paint. The category of mixed media has become a catch-all for virtually any type of art consisting of two or more mediums. From a titling standpoint, it might seem apropos to address the individual pieces this way, but when you look at the entire category, it seems a bit discombobulated. Therefore, to suggest how to frame pieces of mixed-media art requires a slightly different approach.

I find that a good starting point is to decide whether there is a need for glazing, be it glass or acrylic. Keep in mind that mixed-media artists are often pushing the limits of their materials and are sometimes using unorthodox combinations of medias. This can make the need to glaze less obvious than usual. For example, a painting on canvas is typically not glazed, but when an artist adds another medium, such as pastel, glazing becomes important. On the other hand, when a photo is printed on paper, it typically should be protected, but a mixed-media artist might transfer the image to canvas and embellish it with acrylic paint, which would make glazing unnecessary. Once you make a decision on glazing, set a direction for the frame design.


Do you know what should and should not be glazed? If the artwork includes any of the following elements, it generally should be covered:

* Exposed paper

* Unfixed chalk or pastel

* Objects that have been attached and could fall off if bumped

* Anything with deep relief that could collect dust

* Pieces that could be adversely affected by airborne pollutants, such as smoke or grease


Before you start thinking about a specific frame design, consider the amount of depth the art requires and where that depth is needed. Mixed-media art can be created on paper, matboard, stretched canvas, wood or a host of other substrates. Some of the pieces will require an additional backing board, but others are fine without one.

Another depth consideration is the front surface of the art. The surface of one mixed-media piece might be completely flat, but another could have a dimensional object adhered to it. If art with dimension on the surface requires glass, the depth of the substrate and surface will all have to be accounted for. If a dimensional piece is properly sealed and isn't fragile, it is fine to leave the glass off and allow the dimension of the art to project forward.

Frame Design

If one medium in a piece of mixed-media art is predominant, you can choose to frame it the way that medium would generally be framed. You can also take advantage of the opportunity to frame it in a different way if the combination of medias has changed the framing requirements. For example, if a paper collage is totally varnished, you might be able to frame it like a canvas.

Color, Style & Scale

Three key considerations for any frame design, including those for mixed-media artwork, are color, style and scale. For the most part, I would apply them the same way I would with other types of art. Again, because there is such disparity from one piece of mixed-media art to the next, it is difficult to make any blanket statements about framing them. However, the following guidelines will generally apply:

* Choose colors for your project as you would for any other type of art. Keep in mind a neutral presentation usually allows for all of the subtleties in the art to shine on their own. If more color is desired, determine the main point of interest in the art, and choose colors that allow it to remain prominent within the overall frame design.

* The style of mixed-media art is often more ambiguous than it is in a single-media art piece. For example, in a collage, the artist might use old components to make a contemporary piece of art. Many of these pieces can be framed in a traditional/classical way or in a more streamlined and contemporary fashion.

* Scale is extremely important. Many mixed-media pieces consist of layers of paper and sometimes include dimensional objects or other textures. If anything, these pieces will likely need wider mat borders and wider mouldings to create the right sense of balance.


No two mixed-media creations are alike, so why should their framing be? The following is a look at five unique mixed-media works and the tailored framing design that complements each. (All featured images are available as giclee prints at



"Stamp Collage VI" by Eugene Motz

Featuring postage stamps and parts of old documents, collages such as this one can be framed similar to a canvas, pro vided the collage or other artwork is on a rigid backing and the artist has sealed all of the paper with varnish or another type of durable, protective top coat. In this case, glass is not needed.

In order to frame the collage like a painting, I chose not to use a mat because it would have added to the scale and prominence of the art. Instead, I opted for a wider moulding to serve that purpose. Because of the intricate detail in the art, I felt it was important to balance it with ornamentation on the frame. However, a lot of intricate detail could have competed, so I opted for simpler, bolder ornamentation.



"Pathways IV: Waiting" by David Owen Hastings

In this example, the artist mixes paper and fabric in his work. Part of the collage was actually sewn onto the background to keep it in place and add interest to the art. Due to the delicate nature of the piece, I used glass to protect it. I chose a double mat in white to maintain an upscale look instead of bringing out colors that would have made a more decorative statement. I selected a frame in a light, neutral color to soften the transition with the mat and focus attention on the subtle details in the art. The linen texture on the frame adds visual appeal.



"Bus Stop" by Kate Endle

I considered two different options for the frame design for this mixed-media work on paper. One option was to use a narrow, minimalist frame with a light and airy mat border to maintain the look of the thin papers, fine patterns and small shapes in the art, but I chose another direction. In my opinion, the artist's whimsical approach allows for some whimsy in the frame design, which often translates to larger-than-life or exaggeration. I chose to exaggerate the scale of the frame by stacking two mouldings. Because the shapes of the mouldings are clean and simple, the scale works.


"The Usual Suspects" by Bonnie Wilkins This artist combined actual leaves with gauze and paper in this mixed-media piece. The dried leaves are fragile, so glass was a necessity. Rather than using the standard double or triple mat to keep the glass off of the art, I opted for a moulding combination featuring a black liner, fillet and ornate frame. I find the curvilinear pattern of the frame's ornamentation to be a nice juxtaposition to the sharper shapes in the art. The glass was placed between the liner and fillet.




"Flight of the Dragonflies" by Greg Perkins This mixed-media piece includes a variety of papers that have not been sealed, which means glass is necessary. In addition, it has numerous dimensional objects on its surface, so a shadowbox presentation was appropriate. I chose a tone-on-tone design in a light color that is similar to the lightest color in the art. This choice serves two purposes. First, it reduces the contrast to the white background of the art, making it less important. Second, the various patterns and textures of the framing all blend together, allowing the deeper tones in the art to stand out.


ABN Contributing Editor
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Title Annotation:the fine art of framing: High-End Trends and Techniques for Galleries and Artists
Comment:Framing mixed-media artwork.(the fine art of framing: High-End Trends and Techniques for Galleries and Artists)
Author:Perkins, Greg
Publication:Art Business News
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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Next Article:Empowering your gallery business.

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