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FRAMED!  Enhancing your art

ARTworks By: Tom Beckett

Framing. Often the last thing we consider for our art, but oh – what a difference it can make!

Like adding a dynamic necktie, fabulous shoes or jewellery to an outfit, adding flowers to a garden or a great spice to a favourite dish, framing takes what’s there and makes it even better.

In this article let’s be creative – putting aside the typical and thinking “outside the art”, exploring ways to enhance, refresh and revitalize!

While commercial consumer-ready frames are readily available to drop your piece into, we’ll focus here on Custom Framing – exploring options and learning to bring out the best in our wall art.

The photos that accompany this article demonstrate some of my recent “before” and “after” framing experiences.

Transforming your art

A treasured painting may look “tired” or “old” in its existing frame. I often hear that “It doesn’t ‘go’ with my décor”.  Reframing or modernizing the matting and/or frame can transform and revitalize the piece and make you love it all over again.

It’s perfectly okay to free a classic painting, perhaps a family heirloom, from the confines of its classic frame and give it new life with a modern frame.  Make it your own! One important guideline; if it is quality historical art, keep the original frame in case one day you decide to sell it. It adds to the overall historical value.

The other scenario – a painting on canvas can easily hang on its own, but can come to life with the right frame to enhance the image, colours and texture of the painting and make it stand out against the backdrop – your wall.

Creative framing and matting can also make your art more prominent.  Some clients find a piece of art that they really love but feel it’s too small for the wall they are thinking of placing it. A small painting or drawing, say 8 x 11 in., can be matted with a 4-inch matt and a 2-inch complimentary frame, creating a stunning 20 x 24-inch piece to fill a wall and make a statement.

Or, your taste may be on the dramatic side.  How about setting your art off with a matt or liner in an unexpected colour (rather than traditional white) with a great frame to compliment it. There are no rules.

Three elements


There are two types of frames: Frames for may I say, more “flat” art (i.e. works on paper & photography) and float frames for paintings on raised, deep canvases.  In that case, the art “sits” in a float frame without contacting the canvas. Not only does it set the art off, it also protects it.

For both types of frames, there are a myriad of profile choices – ornate traditional, flat modern, a variety of colours, widths, thicknesses and textures.    Not all will be suitable for your piece, but it’s a great idea to explore the options.

The choice you make may be based on:

·               The look and feel of the art

·               Colours in the art

·               Your personal style

·               The wall colour where it will hang

·               Thickness of the art and stretcher

·               Respecting the era of the art

And, not all your framed art needs to be similar. A traditional framed painting among contemporary framed art makes a bold statement and creates visual interest. My advice is to choose framing that makes each individual piece look it’s best.

Matting and Liners

Besides the frame, the other choice to make is matting or a liner.  These pieces are custom cut by the framer for your art to fit between the art and the frame. 

Generally, liners, most commonly made of wood and wrapped in linen, are used with framed paintings that are not under glass.

Both are an important choices as they help set the art off. They give the art “space” to visually enhance it and help to make each piece POP!

Perhaps a bold black matt for a black and white drawing? How about a wide thick 8 ply matt around a small piece to highlight it?  Or a wide white liner to bring a wow factor to a historic landscape? Blue, green, orange… or the more traditional white or off-white.

The art and your personal style will dictate the options!

Matts come in several plies, or thicknesses. The most common being 4 and 8 ply in thickness.   Although thicker matts are more expensive, a thicker matt can make a world of difference. Also, a consideration – single matting or a double matt in one colour or complimentary colours to highlight the art.

Perhaps consider keeping the frame and updating the matt or liner for a new look.


Always ensure your art is framed with acid-free matting.  Many less expensive or older matts contained acid which contribute to deterioration of the art. The acids burn and discolour the art over time.

If your matting has turned yellow, especially where it touches the art, it should be replaced to preserve it. As well, check the material behind the art to see if it’s acidic and if so, replace it with new acid free matt board or foam core. All adhesives/tapes/pockets used in the framing should incorporate acid free archival quality materials.


To glass or not to glass? One of the questions!

In general, works on paper should be framed with glass to protect them. Oil and acrylic paintings on canvas, wood, panel and masonite are not usually framed with glass. 

Although that is usually the case, I’m reminded of a beautiful 40-year old Robert Bateman painting that came into the gallery on consignment. It was framed under glass, which had acted to protect it against smoke and other environmental pollutants. When we removed the glass, the painting itself was in mint condition (and it is now being enjoyed by its new owner).

Generally, if you’re investing in glass to protect your art, I recommend UltraView/70 or UV/90 UVA glass for two reasons:

·               it has a reflection control coating so you don’t get a “mirror” effect distracting you from the art.

·               it provides UV protection for your art to prevent sun damage and fading.

To frame or not to frame?

It comes down to enhancing your art, making a room feel finished and and protecting your investment.  Professionally framed original art work using museum quality material and techniques have more value going forward.

A client recently purchased a canvas by local artist and musician Tom Wilson. It is a brilliant, bold piece.  He wasn’t sure about framing, but decided to leave it with me to have it done. 

When he saw the piece in its new piano key black float frame he was amazed at the transformation – it turned a great canvas into a finished art piece.  The frame enhanced the vibrancy of the piece, making the blacks pop and finishing it dramatically.

Yes, custom framing costs more than purchasing a commercially ready-made standard frame or, leaving your art unframed, but it’s a worthwhile investment for an original piece you love.

If custom framing is not in your plans or budget, another inexpensive suggestion is to paint the wall the art is displayed on.  Your art may look “ok” on a light-coloured wall but place it on a dark or bold toned wall and the art will look totally different.

We all don’t have an eye to envision what the finished framed art will look like, so it may be helpful to consult with an experienced art dealer, framer or designer to present some options to best enhance your art.

We’ve been assisting our clients and artists with their custom framing needs for over 40 years and would be pleased to assist you.

Tom Beckett is the owner/director of Beckett Fine Art, est. 1966, 196 Locke Street South, Hamilton, ON., Canada   www.BeckettFineArt.com 416-922-5582

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