Aesthetics and preservation are the two most important issues a collector should take into consideration when framing valuable works of art. The frame you use is supposed to protect your artwork for years but often times a bad frame can have the opposite effect. Below is a useful guide from Bark Frameworks to help prevent permanent loss and damage to your art.
The frame itself is only one consideration in frame design. The other topic to consider is the mat. The design of a mat, how it works with the art and with the frame, is a subtle issue. To supplement the tones available in rag board you can mount your work with silk, linen and hand-made paper. You can also choose unique French mat designs for more valuable artworks, depending.
The major questions raised in properly framing works on paper are these:
1. How is the work attached to the back mat?
It is recommended to use neutral pH Japanese paper hinges. A few different kinds of paper are used, selected for their proper strength relative to the weight of the art work being hinged. Having tested a number of recipes, some framers make their own rice starch paste, using just rice starch and distilled water. Generally, it is good practice to attach hinges give way than that the art work be torn or stretched. Sometimes additional hinges are necessary and other hinging methods may be required. (N.B. The tape called linen tape or Holland tape, which is commonly used by framers, is not of conservation standard for hinging art. Nor is it recommended to use pressure sensitive tapes, even those advertised as “archival”).
2. What kinds of mat board and backing material are used?
It is recommended to use only 100% cotton fiber mat board (known as rag board). It is usually buffered – made slightly alkaline – to resist environmental acidity. We use 4-ply (1/16 inch thick) rag board behind the art work and if you use a window mat over the art, it should be of 4-ply, 8-ply, or 12 ply thickness. These mat boards are available in many tones. They can be silk, linen, and paper covered mats. Since neither silk nor linen are considered to be of archival quality, framers should isolate the artwork from these materials. Behind the back mat is a backing board of Fomecor or acid-free corrugated board. For backing large works, framers should make laminated panels. One matting issue, which is not often mentioned, is grain direction. Papers (and mat board) are hygroscopic and, with changes in humidity, will expand and contract across their grain, By accounting for this tendency when your framer selects materials, you can minimize these effects: waviness and strain in paper, or broken hinges. There are a number of such considerations when working with mat board. Utilizing acid-free materials is only the most basic one.
3. What kind of glazing is used?
Glass and acrylic glazing are used. Acrylic, Plexiglas and Lucite are all common brand manes of acrylic glazing. Bark Frameworks recommend glass with smaller art works or when the frame is unlikely to be shipped, and especially with works on light-weight or unsized papers or with works which have a fragile surface, such as charcoal or pastel. Since glass does not hold a static charge to the degree acrylic glazing does, it will not lift the paper or lift bits of drawing medium as acrylic may. The other advantage of glass is that it is not easily scratched. Its major disadvantages are that it breaks easily and is heavier than acrylic. Under some conditions, coated anti-reflective glass may be used.
Acrylic glazing has the singular advantage of being relatively unbreakable. It is also light in weight, and has virtually no color, whereas glass is slightly tinted. But acrylic scratches easily and holds a strong static charge. Furthermore, acrylic glazing which blocks ultra-violet light is made to a standard which allows certain defects, especially black specks, which are more common than defects in glass. It should be noted that even with this glazing, framed works are highly vulnerable to damage from sunlight. Non-reflective acrylic-glazing is also a great option because the coating on the acrylic glazing also renders it non-static, a decided advantage over conventional acrylic.
There are a number of acrylic products which effectively shield ultra-violet radiation, and abrasion resistant acrylic glazing is also available. Glass manufacturers offer several variations on standard picture glass: the anti-reflective glass mentioned above, UV shielded, and laminated among others.
4. Is the art work separated from the glazing?
Ideally, the art work should not come in contact with the glazing material. Ink or other media may stick to the glazing and be impossible to remove without damaging the art. If glass or acrylic presses against works of art on paper, wrinkles may be pressed into the paper. This is especially likely to occur in the summer when humid air causes paper to expand. It is also possible that condensation may form on the inside of the glazing with shifts in temperature and relative humidity. In that case, if the paper is pressed against the glazing the paper may adhere and be damaged. In order to separate the glazing from the work of art Bark Frameworks may use window mats, either 4-ply, or more often, 8-ply or 12-ply. In many cases we use fillets, which are spacer strips from 1/8 inch to several inches deep. At Bark Frameworks they use acrylic glazing which is at least. 118” thick (about 1/8”). On very large works they use 3/16 inch or ¼ inch acrylic. This thick glazing is less likely to bow into the artwork or cause visual distortion.
A frame may be:
- an object of interest its own right,
- a complimentary environment for viewing a work of art,
- a safe envelope in which an artwork is installed and protected, and from which it can be removed without damage
Traditionally, most frames satisfy either of the first two roles but fail at the third. They may actually damage artwork, or fail to protect it, or employ techniques which are irreversible. As important as the other roles are, the role of protective envelope is essential.