More than most framers, we frame “close,” meaning right up to the picture, without a visible mat. Many would categorically state that etchings and drawings must always be matted. But one of the joys of framing is the infinite variety of pictures there are to frame, and with a deeper understanding of the principles of framing, faced with such variety the framer finds that the rules are not, it turns out, absolute and universal.
I like framing close whenever I can. Of course, it’s how oil paintings are generally framed, and was also popular for many other media until early in the last century—before the final phase of the centuries-long process of the separation of paintings from the other arts. Ten years ago I wrote an article for Picture Framing Magazine on framing photographs close, which is available here. In the Portfolio you can find many examples of watercolors framed close (here; Tthis HW Hansen is one of my favorite examples), and we’ve almost always framed Robin Moore’s watercolors close. Etchings and engravings too are often successfully framed close; these two by Karl Bodmer, just posted in the Portfolio (one of them at right), are good examples. It’s least often successful on drawings and black and white etchings, especially small ones (framing these these Picasso prints close would simply overwhelm them), and most of the time we respect the conventional rule: we almost never frame pen and ink or pencil sketches close. The problem with framing etchings and drawings close is that they’re usually just too small and delicate. As I said, I like framing close when I can, but with these media, I usually can’t. It’s just too heavy-handed no matter how refined the frame.
But this week we finished up two exceptions—a pen and ink by the Mexican artist Francisco Zuniga (1912-1998), and an etching by Roi Partridge (California, 1888-1984). They’re very different pictures, but considered together, they demonstrate four important principles that allow framing close in wide frames two pieces that most people—most framers, anyway—would probably insist on matting.
First, they’re both big enough. Drawings and etchings are the lightest of all media, and a wide frame can eat them up. Also, a frame helps a picture become part of the architecture of the room, so a really small picture requires matting to sort of “beef it up” in scale and allow it to hold its own against the relative massiveness of architecture. But the drawing, at 19″ x 25″, and the etching, at 11″ x 14″, are both big enough to handle a wide frame. Furthermore, the drawing has plenty of margin outside the image itself, so a mat wouldn’t have helped in providing space and preventing the drawing from feeling crowded.
Second, the subject matter in each case is massive and is very deliberately rendered to convey massiveness. The wide frame actually enhances this key characteristic. When the picture is so much about form, as these two examples decidedly are, the frame offers the opportunity to carry the flat, pictorial rendering of form in to the actual, three-dimensional sculptural form of the frame and thus amplify this key theme and virtue of the picture.
Third, the frames avoid overwhelming the pictures by being designed sparingly and with sensitivity to the lines and forms. For the Zuniga we used our No. 344 , at a 3-1/2″ profile width, a scoop with a soft, flattened bead at the sight edge and cushion form at the back; a cut-in back lightens the visual weight of the profile. (I just made a page for this frame in the Catalog, here.) For the Partridge, we used a No. 138.4 at 2-1/2″ wide, which is also cut-in at the back, has a very shallow curl at the back (outside) edge of the face and a very subtle rounded sight edge and fine bead to provide definition and to echo the strong, confident line work. Without every element justified by the image and directly echoing those forms, powerful as they are, the widths of the profiles would impose an alien, competing form on pictures executed in essentially delicate media. In the case of the Zuniga, the refined, tight-grained character of walnut feels right, its smoothness harmonious with the model’s skin. By the same token, the granite surface of the subject of the etching allows for a frame in coarse-grained oak.
Finally, the wide profiles provide the separation and space that mats do, so that these delicate media don’t get lost on the wall (as they would in narrow frames without mats).
What I like most of all about framing close, and the reasons I do so whenever I can, are first of all the unity and connectedness it provides between the picture, the frame, and the architectural setting; and secondly (and related to that by the idea of connectedness) the direct experience the viewer has of the picture framed in this fashion. Framing “close” means not only that the frame is close to the picture but also that, without the intervening mat, the frame brings the picture closer to the viewer. It has more of the effect of a window on the subject of the picture rather than a display case for an interesting piece of paper.
An added benefit is that wide frames generally project, and claim for the picture, more importance and significance. (Problems arise when that principle is carried too far and projects pretentiousness; but that’s far more difficult to do with sparingly designed natural—and naturally humble—wood frames than with gilded frames.) These are both wonderful pieces deserving the emphasis and permanence such frames give them.
I should add that there are archival considerations in framing close. Above all, a valuable, original picture must not be cut down to fit in the frame (unless it’s by a living artist who’s given you explicit approval to do so). If framing close would require trimming down the paper outside the image, then by all means mat the picture (and use a narrow frame; a wide frame outside a wide mat pulls the eye away from the picture). Also, a gasket mat or other spacer needs to be installed under the frame rabbet (which is often cut wide) so that the picture isn’t against the glass. Finally, even with a widened rabbet, the paper can be in close proximity to the acidic wood of the frame. To avoid the acids migrating in to the paper, line the rabbet with a metal tape, such as Lineco Frame Sealing Tape. With these measures taken, rag board behind the picture and u.v.-filtering glass or acrylic over it, the picture is archivally framed.
There are certainly right and wrong ways of framing. But rules can be so strict that they spoil opportunities to frame more effectively. With respect for the light touch of the draftsman and printmaker, many drawings and prints can nevertheless benefit from framing close in wide profiles.« Back to Blog