Framing and matting

Dear Artist, Recently, Michele Sinkez of Hebron, Connecticut wrote, “I overheard a collector say that white mats are a poor choice because they distract from the art. He said that deep-toned or neutral mats are best. Are colored and oversized mats the current trend? Is there a universal or professional standard when it comes to framing and matting?” Thanks, Michele. There is no universal standard, only conventions. And these conventions, as you suggest, are regularly tossed about by the fickle winds of fashion. To make things more interesting, trends and taste are localized. A frame that looks good in Phoenix will not be seen in Philadelphia. Overseas is even more perplexing. What we consider tasteful (and expensive) Western frames regularly appear in European dumpsters. On the other hand, curly, skinny, golden European jobs cause Western artists to consider self-induced ear removal. “We love your painting,” a French collector recently wrote to me, “but your gallery framed it to look garish and ostentatious. Sacre bleu!” That painting had a wide white liner. White may suck the life out of art, but at least it’s pure. White in frames is like basic black in frocks. Nowadays, the walls of homes and offices are painted in all manner of deep tints and classy hues. Fashionable galleries regularly repaint their walls to match the trends, and mats and outers are matched to join the fun. There’s an argument that galleries shouldn’t compete with collector’s homes–the concept being that they work best when they’re neutral way-stations for art en-route to a proper home. Like the flamboyant frames that dealers sometimes put around your work, the business is often ruled by the unique character of the gallerist. Further, wealthy North Americans are codependent with the Interior Design subculture. Some friends in the oil business were swept away by a designer who “conformed” all the frames in their extensive picture collection. Within a year another designer had swept through and changed them all back to match the pictures. One of my framers has such an extraordinary love of interior designers that he invites them to private family barbeques. Best regards, Robert PS: “Everyone carries his own inch-rule of taste, and amuses himself by applying it, triumphantly, wherever he travels.” (Henry Brooks Adams) Esoterica: I leave final framing to my widely-dispersed dealers. For me, a frame is a studio tool for getting work stopped. On display on my secondary easel, a simple frame around a work-in-progress helps isolate it from its neighbors and lets it quietly speak to me. Even messed-up, unsuitable frames help paintings to talk. I refer to my secondary easel as my “Caritas Easel.” Caritas is a Latin word that means “to cherish, appreciate and give special attention to.” The attention you give to a framed painting on the Caritas easel is different from the attention you give to work on your regular, primary easel. A framed painting helps the artist sit back, have a cigar, drink scotch, and be wealthy.   Frames that don’t compete with the art by Jos A. Smith, Easton, PA, USA  

“The Priest of Dark Flight”
original illustration
by Jos A. Smith

There is an old Chinese saying: A frame should not be darker than the darkest part of a painting nor lighter than the lightest part (for what that’s worth). The Impressionists framed their paintings with simple molding painted a neutral color. It was the collectors who put them in the overpowering gilt, ornately carved frames to flaunt their wealth. Eli Wilner, a leading authority on frames and frame restoration, re-framed all the Impressionist paintings as they were originally framed for a memorable exhibition at the Chicago Art Institute a few years ago. You could actually enjoy the art without the frames competing for your attention and casting shadows. Over the years I have been on a number of juries for national exhibitions, and cannot count how often a drawing or painting that would have been accepted, was rejected because it was poorly framed. There are 2 comments for Frames that don’t compete with the art by Jos A. Smith
From: Elle Smith Fagan — Jul 09, 2013

“Eye-ease Green” was hailed as the finest color to aid viewing of things on paper, when I was a girl, and I will go and find “Eye-ease Green” for fonts and mats and frames and more sometimes. But then, after exhaustive study, I revert to white mats to help the viewer enjoy watercolor’s famous sparkling whites, and quality but not-too-heavy frames, except when doing historical images that ask for them. I do concur with John Churchill and Elizabeth with the use of stock studio framing. Then the decorator or buyer can frame as they desire.

From: P. Y. Duthie — Jul 09, 2013

Do people attend juried shows so that they can admire the framing? Are these shows intended to be “pretty”? Major public galleries display national treasures, worth millions, in their original frames. The frames show the passage of time, with faded paint,and numerous cracks, scratches and dents. Thankfully, the masterpieces are not subjected to juries focused on framing!

  Interior designer taking charge by Elaine Campbell, Kalaheo, HI, USA   I am both an Interior Designer and an Artist. I insist upon having my own art framed the way I want it framed… to complement and complete my work. I paint what I want to paint in colors I want to use and feel that framing or even not framing is entirely up to me, as long as I own the painting. Now, as an Interior Designer I expect my clients to hang my works as I have chosen. When installing original works of other artists, one never knows what the artist intended. Thus, I feel free to reframe if necessary and then mainly to complement the work.   Tyrannical rule prompted exit by Terrie Christian, Plymouth, MN, USA  

“Minnesota Shiners”
watercolour painting
by Terrie Christian

Sometimes matting and framing rules can have an impact on an artist’s creativity. This happened to me when an art group I had been a member of for a long time changed their rules to white or off-white mats only. I tried to fit in after that, but what was happening to me was trying to make art that would go with the rule. Then, since a board had changed the rule without a vote, I got a membership vote on the issue. When the group stuck with the change, I had to leave. It was interesting when I did, because my creativity soared after leaving. I had to get out of the box.     Save trouble with a ‘working’ frame by John Churchill, The Cotswolds, UK   Apart from mixed media which seems to mean anything with anything, done on anything, generally only watercolors and giclees are matted. They are meant to live long and prosper, and so put into archival mounts. These are generally white or variations of white. Mats which have color in them, it is thought, can pass this color to the artwork, contaminating them. Litho prints are often dressed up in multicolored mounts, but they have a shorter life. A painting does look a bit different in a frame. I prefer a “working” frame, simple narrow black or dark grey. The purchaser can then put on what they want and feel they’ve made a contribution. There are 3 comments for Save trouble with a ‘working’ frame by John Churchill
From: elizabeth Barry — Jul 09, 2013

Yes I agree; I just call them “studio frames”.

From: Jan Ross — Jul 09, 2013

John, I agree with you 100% and follow the same ‘guidelines’. While it may not mean anything to some artists, if one is entering a National Juried Show for watercolors, at least, these are the requirements, too. In business, there’s a saying, “KISS”…Keep it Simple, Stupid”. Since our art is our business, I agree!

From: Anonymous — Jul 09, 2013

Not directly art-related, but I’ll mention it anyway: I love the “KISS” acronym but hated the “Stupid” part, so I’ve redone it as “Keep it Simple, Sweetheart.” Just sounds not so abrasive to me.

  Framing before delivering by Sandy Davison, Lansing, Michigan, USA  

pastel painting
by Sandy Davison

I would love to relinquish the framing to my galleries, however working in pastel it becomes the protection and the packaging. Also, framed paintings just look better than unframed ones to most people and not all those in the art business can “take in” a painting out of a frame. If they don’t embrace the work, they lack passion in selling it too. Pastel has many advantages, and the matte surface and super deep color is one of them. In my preferences, like the Impressionists who mostly favored matte surfaces without varnish, the work will ultimately be handled according to the dictates of the market it circulates in. Almost all the Impressionists’ work was varnished (often against specific injunctions on the back of the stretchers) during their lifetimes and once it was out of their hands. The fashions of the market will always change what they can change once it’s in their hands. For pastel, at least they cannot varnish it! I’ve used very deep “wheat,” “earth” and “moss” colors surrounded by a gold fillet and found they worked well with the subjects of my work and also for the function of isolating the painting. However, one regional group of gallerists loudly requested ‘white mats and white frames.’ This prejudice seems like an old style nowadays — maybe they need to check with their decorators.   White or grey gallery walls by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA  

oil painting
by Peter Brown

Fundamental to the presentation and framing of art pieces are the mechanics of the human eye. The iris serves as an automatic gatekeeper for the retina. The iris is sensitive to white, and will close down to accommodate that exposure. Depending how large the painting is, a white mat will often subdue the color values in the art presented. This affect is most noticeable in works 16 x 20 and smaller. Small work views best in a thick frame, especially if the wall color is light or white. I once had a gallery painted to my specifications. I ordered a neutral gray of 25%. (0% is white, 100% is black) When I entered the gallery, I suspected that someone had over-ridden my wishes and had the walls painted a standard white. I eventually found a piece of typing paper and taped it to the wall. The walls were indeed 25% gray. I just couldn’t see that without a reference point. White walls in galleries became the fashion during the period of Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting. The paintings were generally very large and difficult to light. White walls worked to bounce light around the room, and the expanses of painted canvas were large enough to trap the eyes inside the edges of the paintings. The white walls didn’t interfere with a proper viewing.   Compliment but don’t steal the show by Kitty Gorrell, Friendly, WV, USA  

original painting
by Kitty Gorrell

We have been custom framers for many years. Although all your information was certainly factual and important, I feel you missed giving the questioner a good answer. First, if the mat or frame draws attention away from the art work in any way it’s the wrong choice. ‘Dress’ the artwork to compliment, support and protect but never detract. Second, an old framer’s trick and advice we often gave to our customers: When in doubt in choosing a mat, place a corner sample on the artwork. Look away and focus your eyes on something else, then look back. If your eye instantly sees the mat or frame first, before the artwork, it’s the wrong choice. Again, compliment but never steal the show. And, white usually steals the show. There are 2 comments for Compliment but don’t steal the show by Kitty Gorrell
From: anon — Jul 09, 2013

I agree 100%.

From: anon — Jul 10, 2013

I think you mean “complement”

  The wisdom of white mats by James Stoeckel, Hilo, Hawai’i, USA   I have been a picture framer in Hawai’i for 35 years, and have had my own shop for 30. I use white mats on paper art almost always… the problems I’ve run into? Color and multiple matting looks great… in the beginning. White mats look ‘loud’ …at first! I have learned that it takes a very long time for the brain to ‘see’ colors, and have noticed that color mats, and especially multiple mats, tend to ‘turn on you’ after a while. As the colors ‘sink in,’ we start to see the discrepancies in the colors i.e., the blue in the mat is just not quite the blue that we first saw, and is just slightly the wrong blue for the art. White mats are the exact opposite: at first, they seem too bright, too loud, etc., but as we get used to seeing them, they ‘calm down’ …to where they almost disappear. Occasionally, the white mat we chose turns out to be not quite the right white, so we change it. Rather than a white top mat and a color bottom mat, I get a better look by adding a “V-groove,” which adds a line as decoration rather than another color. I explain this to all my customers, and also guarantee the mat colors. If the mat is correct, one will look at the art first. If the mat is not right, one will tend to look at the frame first. Virtually all my customers become very satisfied with the way we framed their art, and all understand that the best part of simple, single, white mats is they become very stable and look great for a long, long time. Color mats start getting boring or irritating within a few months. At the first frame shop I worked for, the owner did lots and lots of fancy matting. For years, I did the same thing, but slowly realized that many customers were not enthusiastic about our work. I would sense the feeling that they felt like they spent too much on the framing, etc. Part of that feeling was because the fancy matting did not visually last very long, and left a feeling of dissatisfaction. I believe the truth of the matter is what is called, “Mat Pushing” – If I can sell triple matting to all my customers, I can make an extra $5,000 a year. I prefer happy customers. I believe that is why I have customers who would never go anywhere else. I am very grateful. By the way, I see many mats that are too small, but hardly ever see one too big! There are 2 comments for The wisdom of white mats by James Stoeckel
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Jul 09, 2013

I totally agree with you about using a “white” of some persuasion on artwork… if you are using a mat. I enjoyed your discussion. And, I love that you want happy customers that come back again and again… not fancy mats.

From: Jan Ross — Jul 09, 2013

Thank you for having integrity and advising your customers in a way that keeps them happy!

  Watercolour and coloured mats by William McAllister, Bath, Bristol, UK  

“Cool-of-Day — Coronado”
watercolour painting
by William McAllister

Colored mats make my skin crawl. Certainly not for any aversion to color (I am an artist after all), but because colored mats are very acidic. Archival purity is a matter of special importance to me. Watercolors take an unwarranted back seat to oil paintings, because many feel that they will not last as long as an oil painting. But I will match any painting of mine against 99% of the oils being painted today. So many painters have lost any knowledge of the chemistry in the art, that my work will outlast theirs. Certain environments create their own framing requirements as well. Collectors of my work in Hong Kong, for example, must have special frames made that include desiccants to absorb the heavy moisture in the air and prevent mold and mildew from forming. But don’t let a colored matt come in contact with your paintings. There are 4 comments for Watercolour and coloured mats by William McAllister
From: Helen Opie — Jul 09, 2013

What bothers me about coloured mats on watercolours is the difference in the type of the colour: watercolour pigments mostly sits atop the paper and light bounces back up from the paper’s surface giving a stained-glass-like glow. Mats are made from paper that has the colour integrated in the fibres so there is no light bounce. Surrounding with a coloured mat makes the mat look dead in contrast to the glowing colour of the art itself and its dead weight detracts from the painting’s glow. I find this a distraction and a detraction and prefer off-white mats (“antique”) that are less glaring, but not competing with the colours of the painting. The same seems to be true of pastels.

From: Jan Ross — Jul 09, 2013


From: Anonymous — Jul 09, 2013

William seems to have two styles of painting – those that look like he’s done it himself and others that look like it’s done with the watercolor filter in photoshop, that I know some watercolor artists are copying. At any rate the painting above looks like a trace and color-in exercise.

From: Susi Franco — Jul 11, 2013

Taking a cheap pot-shot at another artist while hiding behind the convenient shield of anonymity ( can also be expressed as cowardice) is not excusable. If you don’t have the true courage of your convictions, Mr. ‘Anon Jul 9,2013’, you ought not be posting inflammatory comments. When you opt to post your own work here for all to see/critique, then your observations on someone else’s work MIGHT have some validity. If you’re not an artist, then your comments are even more spurious.

  Frame to the art and not to the room by Nick Rosal, New York, NY, USA  

“I used to be a superhero/Anxiety”
oil painting
by Nick Rosal

I have the luxury of seeing this particular subject from many points of view. As an artist, a gallery and frame shop owner, head of production for an art publisher at one time and many years working with interior designers, the ends are all the same: make sure you see the art in the frame when you are done! Being a NYC shop, I have seen Ms. Sinkez’ trend in the tri-state area with collectors (NY/NJ/CT). My feeling is, if you frame to the art and not to the room, the only trend you will create is good design and care for the art you cherish. Collectors purchase art because they are visual people. The frame on that art is part of that visual. As far as the white mat black frame? It’s purely economics and streamline design for the gallery and artist. Frame everything the same so the work stands out on its own with minimal design interference while keeping the cost down on simplicity. To answer Ms. Sinkez’ question on whether there is a “universal or professional standard when it comes to framing and matting?” I offer the following general tips: — Your mat can never be too big, but it can be too small (if you feel you need to err, err on the larger size). — The width of your mat should never be the same width as your frame (let the eye rest somewhere). — Don’t hi-lite a color in the art! If you have a single red dot in a dark background that is the focus of the artist’s image, putting the slightest pinstripe of red in the bevel of the mat or outer edge of the frame will diminish the drama of that color. See a color you like in the piece? Pick another! — Think in terms of “temperature” – is the art warm or cool? Pick mat tones that exist and are in harmony with the work. The fact of the matter is, framing design is just as personal and particular as the choice of art that you want framed. However, your art will guide you to the type of frame to pick. An obvious example would be modern art in modern frame and traditional art in a traditional frame. But, that simple rule can help you decide the more subtle choices with framing design. Warm-toned paintings fit nicely in gold frames and cool-toned paintings in silver frames. The same idea of color harmony can be carried through on works on paper with mats and framing. Your framing design choices become limitless when you take the approach of color harmony and throw it out the window and use a contrasting color approach, albeit understated. In the end and for my taste, the frame needs to pick up the essence of the art subtly. Let the power of the artist’s palette, strength of stroke and lyric of line be the design that speaks to the audience more than the frame. That is why it’s on the wall!   Leave it to the buyer by Michal Ashkenasi, Israel  

acrylic painting
by Michal Ashkenasi

I leave matting and framing to the buyer. Most of them ask me anyway to send it without a frame, because it is cheaper to ship, and so each can choose to his own liking. I have my “Caritas easel” in the studio, but do without any frame. I try to be objective (is this possible with one’s own work?) and most of the time I ‘feel’ when it is right. But I leave the newborn at least two weeks on the caritas! As an ardent reader of your twice-weekly letters, I am happy to say that even after 3-4 years, I still enjoy them and wait for them! I’m only sorry I live so far away and am not able to participate in one of your workshops! There is 1 comment for Leave it to the buyer by Michal Ashkenasi
From: Diane Artz Furlong — Jul 09, 2013

I love your beautiful painting.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Framing and matting

From: Freda Alschuler — Jul 04, 2013

Framing is a ‘painful’ word for me. Excuse me for the expression. I have spent many thousands of Swiss Francs for shows to present work beautifully (in my eyes). When I hear comments for example: ‘Oh, the frame is not the right colour’, or size or style, dosen’t work over my sofa, or the best one is No comment on the painting but ‘I love the frame!!’ I have stopped spending my hard earned cash for the framing and the equipment and suggest that the buyer chooses his own. Of course an example of a framed painting is always important. Art suppliers and Framers are the ones earning the money on us pooooor artists. BUT — I am a passionate artist and love painting and can’t stop……

From: Freda Alschuler — Jul 04, 2013
From: michael morgan — Jul 05, 2013

As a slight deviation from framing and matting, I knew a very eccentric artist/writer and story teller in Adelaide, Australia.His name was Bernard Hessling,Born in Yorkshire.U.K. As a identity, he was always asked at Art Shows etc. what he thought of the artworks on the wall. Puffing out his pear-shaped belly, he said in his Yorkshire accent “Beautiful Frames “!! This was his universal response. !! Michael Morgan Australia

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Jul 05, 2013
From: Tom Bailey — Jul 05, 2013

I follow what I consider a good rule of thumb: never use a mat that is lighter than the lightest light within your painting. Seems to avoid much of that glaring, garish distraction. I paint primarilly in pastels and have noticed that mats are increasingly being abandoned altogether. One related pet peeve is when shows and exhibits oulaw all but ‘neutral, off white mats’ for all entries. My view: let the artist decide which, if any, mat best sets off their paintings and then judge them on the total impact. PS: Even without a ‘Caritas Easel’ I somehow find it relatively easy to “sit back, have a cigar, drink scotch”…and, if I can do all that, I feel pretty darn ‘wealthy’ in my own way, too.

From: ReneW — Jul 05, 2013

Convention in mat selection for watercolor is predominately an off-white such as linen or a very light beige. Sometimes a contrasting double mat works well. In watercolor competitions a plain simple mat and light colored oak or maple frame is often advised. The key to success in art work is presentation. Your art work should be the focus not the frame or mat.

From: Jackie Knott — Jul 05, 2013

Is it me or has framing become even more outrageous in late years? We all know a cheap frame can kill a sale but still must display a painting properly; even when you know the buyer is going to replace the frame. I saw one guy at a show who had about twenty-five paintings all with the same frame – he bought the stock and made his own. The design may have worked for several but not all. Just curious, is anyone satisfied with buying your frames online? I discovered my favorite gallery has their back storage room crammed with frames they have replaced. I have bought some magnificent frames from them, some slightly knicked and some pristine, for an embarassingly low price. All I had to do was ask.

From: Ramona Dilvich-Chavez — Jul 05, 2013

The biggest problem I have with white– as an oil pastellist– is keeping it clean during the matting and framing process. I don’t care for white, but see it as a one-size(color)-fits-all solution. Unfortunately even on my best day the pristine white becomes adulterated and often unusable. Gray is my most common solution.

From: Lise King — Jul 05, 2013

Art is like a house, the décor must suite the house, the custom framing must suite the artwork. That is why one has it custom framed. Otherwise, why pay to get it professionally framed…? There are many considerations when you frame a piece and having the artwork there in front of you is very important… King’s Framing & Art Gallery

From: Barbara Youtz — Jul 05, 2013

I agree that a frame that would be acceptable in one part of the country would not be in another. In South Carolina I heard a gallery owner speak about frames and she said most people like the skinny frames similar to the Pottery Barn Look. When I traveled North a few months later many of the frames I saw in the galleries were wide heavy gold or even black frames. I go with the less expensive frames thinking that when someone buys the painting they often replace the frame anyway. If they can’t afford to at least the painting is the center of interest and not the frame. I’m sure that 10 years from now artists will be having the same discussion.

From: Linda Hicks — Jul 05, 2013

Didn’t Turner want his paintings hung on, if not maroon, something like a cross between deep barn red and choco…no…that is not correct either…whatever…found at the Tate….???

From: Barbara Hawley — Jul 05, 2013

I have an artist friend who frames his paintings in black frames. He recently was asked by a gallery to change his frames (before he could exhibit) to warm brown frames so that they would fit better in the gallery’s “warm” interior. I was appalled by the request. I assume you’ve heard of everything but I’d never heard this.

From: Patricia Heller — Jul 05, 2013

But Robert, that doesn’t answer the basic question. If entering a watercolor in a show, the mats must be subdued, the frames simple metal with plexiglass glazing. If you sell online, do you bother to mat a painting at all? From what I’ve seen, most people re-frame a painting to their particular taste and furnishings so I would think the simpler and least expensive without being cheap, would be the best way to go. I was hoping for a more definitive answer as I truly value your input on all subjects re art.

From: Elihu Edelson — Jul 05, 2013

It should be obvious. White or light mats work best with dark pictures, and darker mats or inserts work better with light pictures.

From: Lena Leszczynski — Jul 05, 2013

Perhaps your friends found the interior designers were improved by a bit of char-broiling!

From: Jeanie Zaimes — Jul 05, 2013

Disturbing is the word for the current trend, even in local art leagues, to dictate the color and styles of frames and matts. To me it’s one package. Who died and decided things had to be framed and matted their way? Jeanie Zaimes

From: Kathy Kaser-Nichols — Jul 05, 2013

A few years ago I attended a reception for a juried show at our local gallery. The judge commented negatively on a bold painting of an Indian woman where the matting was cut out to include a couple small graffic Indian motifs. I was sitting next to the artist and couldn’t resist telling her, that hers was the only painting in the room that my eyes kept coming back to over and over. The others weren’t worth any more than a glance. The frame, the matting and the picture were cohesive and stunning.

From: Bruce Repei Hamilton, Ontario — Jul 05, 2013

I think it is wise to avoid anything “gimmicky” when framing if you want your work to be looked at seriously. I stick with shades of white for most of my watercolours when it comes to matting with a thin, wood or metal frame. I have been using IKEA frames for my watercolours for years with success. They are tasteful and they even give you an acid free mat, but it is never the right size of course. I had small watercolours done at a framing gallery years ago for $80. each. for a white mat and thin black frame. Nicely done, but when you sell a picture for $300. or so you don’t want $80. going to the framer. The other method is economical, can be built into the selling price and allows for the client to change it if they want. Ultimately, I think the frame should be chosen for the artwork only – forget about décor and interior colour schemes. A good artwork will stand on its own and look well regardless. I learned that by observing art in museums. I was looking at a beautiful French impressionist work in oils in Chicago. I like to examine art close up and I saw that the frame was solid wood, carved , painted many times and honestly beat up. Perhaps it came from Paris 100 years ago. I don’t know. But It embraced the painting beautifully and I loved it. Wouldn’t change a thing. And it was the only frame like it in the gallery room of many works.

From: Percy Sloan — Jul 05, 2013

In a way the ultimate “caritas” frame is the golden one. While it pays no attention to the colour-coordinated needs of the painting it surrounds, it does honour it with at least an imitation of a most valuable metal. Early ormolu frames were gilded bronze and thought to befit the holy paintings they embellished. U.K.

From: Bill McAllister — Jul 06, 2013

Framing is a matter for personal preferences and fashion to decide. Colored matts, however, make my skin crawl. Certainly not for any aversion to color (I am an artist after all), but because colored matts are very acidic. Archival purity is a matter of special importance to me. Watercolors take an unwarranted back seat to oil paintings, because many feel that they will not last as long as an oil painting. But I will match any painting of mine against 99% of the oils being painted today. So many painters have lost any knowledge of the chemistry in the art, that my work will outlast theirs. Certain environments create their own framing requirements as well. Collectors of my work, in Hong Kong, must have special frames made that include desiccants to absorb the heavy moisture in the air and prevent mold and mildew from forming. But don’t let a colored matt come in contact with your paintings.

From: Anne Copeland — Jul 06, 2013

I am often appalled to see horrible matting and framing that distracts from an otherwise great painting. For me, the thing I hate to see most is an overly ornamental frame on a very soft and subtle landscape, etc. I know those ornamental frames have their place, but the painting should be the central focus, not the frame. I have often thought that artists who make poor choices in matting or framing really don’t have a truly integrated sense of what makes good art. I can apply the analogy of quilting; it is often said that the quilting is what makes or breaks the quilt. When I see a quilt where someone has had a longarm quilter quilt over the entire piece with the same pantogram, it is really disturbing. There is just no excuse for quilting running across a person’s face or body, or across an important design element without consideration for form and function. I feel the same way about matting and framing. I am OK with people who know what they are doing making unique choices in mats and frames. There is a time and place for the unusual. But overall, it is always the matting and framing that makes or breaks the painting. Calimesa, CA, USA

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jul 06, 2013

Hi Anne! Quilters make (functional) quilts. Artists make (fine) art. And I’ve know quilters who couldn’t even decide if they were artists- who stay in a safer less-demanding reality that- beyond technique- doesn’t require them to have to explain anything to anybody. Some artists (who work with textiles) still farm-out the (verb) ‘quilting’ to quilters who have little to no relationship to the art-making process- but have simply been hired by the artist/quilter to finish their art/quilt- because for some reason the (verb) ‘quilting’- the process that ends up holding all the supposed layers together- making it a (noun) ‘quilt’- is not something the artist/quilter wants to do. And I’ve known both women and men who fit this profile- but Nancy Crow immediately comes to mind as a person who makes the visual surface- but then has her wannabe minions do the (hand or machine) finish work. I once heard a long-arm sewing machine ‘teacher’ on a television show state that if the machine’s not running- the quilter isn’t making any money. So stitching and stitching and stitching is how a long-arm machine operator makes money. And a machine-made stitch is a continuous line- which is why so many (noun) quilters who (verb) quilt other people’s functional ‘quilts’ and/or art simply agree upon a repetitive pattern. Then- both artist and quilter accept the finished product as is- even though the ‘quilting stitch’ may have nothing to do with the visual art- because nobody wants to stop again and again to tie off all the loose threads so the thing doesn’t fall apart after it’s made. Myself? I make art. It’s layered and (mostly) hand stitched on the surface- though constructed with a regular sewing machine. My surface work is totally integrated into my structural and visual pattern. I would never let- or even engage someone else in this process- as it would be impossible to explain to anyone what I wanted them to do- as the surface work is as much a part of the finished art as any other part- and only happens as I’m finishing something. Also- I rarely use a single line method- preferring shorter stop-and-go lines- often in dozens of different colors that play out against the hundreds of textile colors and surface patterns- and have to be individually tied off. In other words- I have an interlocking construction pattern that fits together upwards of a hundred different surface design/pattern textiles- using every color- that when built is then finished with even more stitch patterns (in multiple colors) up on the surface. And beyond that- my binding (mat/frame) is an integrated textile that’s usually in the piece. And folks look at a finished piece and then comment to their friends that I must be insane!

From: camille bodey — Jul 06, 2013

Your comment on to do or not to do certain mat colors must be up to the individual artist to figure out? If you have a choice of bright white or ecru which would you likely choose?

From: Eugenia Algaze Garcia — Jul 07, 2013

Adding to the confusion…..the archival acid-free museum matboard at our art supply store only comes in white and are expensive. The acid free matboards may come in different colors but are not archival quality, so start to turn yellow after a number of years. The decorative mat boards are inexpensive but are not acid free and will yellow within a few years.

From: Bill McAllister — Jul 08, 2013

As I commented before, the acid turning the matt yellow is also being absorbed by the paper you painted on. Using colored matts is a sure way to drastically shorten the life of your work, and contributed to giving watercolors a bad rep. Suck it up, pay a bit more for the matt and then you can call yourself an artist.

From: Bess Noble — Jul 08, 2013

I recently had a pastel painting accepted into a national juried show. The juror conducted a “walk-through” before handing out the award and shared her thoughts about each painting she had selected. When she got to mine, she told me that she was immediately attracted to my painting when she had viewed in on the submission digital image. But that she was very disappointed that I had matted it in a dark mat and that my frame looked cheap. I was humiliated. The juror didn’t know that my framer had talked me into changing the mat from white to a complimentary dark green. The framer said that white mats were passe. After the walk-through, I approached the director of the show to find out some more information. The director told me that the juror had been going to award me a prize based on the submission image, but because she was so turned off by the mat and frame, I didn’t get even honorable mention. The juror wanted only white mats but didn’t bother publish that in the show’s prospectus. Ironically, she awarded best in show to a watercolor that had a brown mat!

From: Biljana Baker — Jul 08, 2013

The best way to test, if the mat and frame are correct for the painting, is: close your eye and then open them. If you see the painting first, then it is framed correctly. If you see the mat and frame first, then it is framed incorrectly. I like wide white mats with 1/8″ inner of a colour that is dominant in the painting and very simple frames.

From: Xed Zeray — Jul 08, 2013

I have the same problem with white mats as Ramona, above. The issue must be common among oil pastellists who do not apply any sort of fixative. Fixative seems widely considered to be a mistake for oil pastels which never completely dry, though I’ve yet to read anything on the subject from preservation expert. I have somewhat diminished the problem by using a hair drier on the finished work to help the odd “flakes and bits” bond to the underlying OP film, and so far have not seen any deleterious effects from the application of heat. But, to get back to one of the issues, pure white is one of my last resorts with an oil pastel.

From: MAXX MAXTED — Jul 09, 2013

Looking now at the various va Megeren fakes of Vermeer one can see the stylistic nuances of the 20’s and 30’s in them. We have all become more visualy literate now. It is hard to imagine how the dealers and collectors were fooled, unless the simply collected the ‘name’

From: carolyn doherty — Jul 09, 2013

I think that you must be a great painter when someone tries to copy your work. Are you the least a tiny bit flattered?

From: Terrie Christian — Jul 09, 2013

A way that I have solved the archival need of the artwork is that I buy white mats and then paint them with Gesso, black often, or white, or with acrylic paints that enhance the artwork. This gives the artist more creative control and the assurance that the work will last for years.

From: Isabelle Prenat Victoria BC — Jul 09, 2013

Hello Mr. Genn!!! I had to laugh when I loked and the “fake” Genn… It looks NOTHING like your beautiful work!!! My goodness it was obvious without even having to click on the thumbnail!!! What freak tried to pass this horror as one of yours? Sometimes fakes are hard to confirm but this? Unbelievable… Kudos to the gallery owner who contacted you but I think any collector who knows your work would have had no problem noticing the poor attempt at copying you… Take Care! Isabelle

From: Rosemary Avery — Jul 09, 2013

As a would be artist l have to agree with a responder that the matting/frame should match the mood of the painting – although in a juried show one is advised to have white matting only. What never fails to astound me – is this – people looking for a painting to – lets say – match the sofa or the pillows on the sofa (interior decorators are to fault for this all too often) – l just have to bite my tongue and say – “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’ nough said – love your letters.

From: Susi Franco — Jul 11, 2013

When I first began painting 14 years ago, I was doing watercolor ( which I was not very good at, by the way). Matting & framing became major considerations, both aesthetically & financially, were often drawback to my showing work. Nowadays I always tell buyers the frame ( they choose) should not “rob” the painting and that would be about all I say regarding framing. I switched over to Oils many years ago and haven’t looked back; the whole mat thing became a non-issue. I think art associations & galleries that literally penalize artists for using what they consider to be the “wrong” mat or frame is preposterous. I feel this practice throws the baby out with the bathwater and bypasses the value of the work itself. I began doing print-on-demand a few years back and the framing nightmare went away. Now when I have to frame, I frame conservatively ( unless it is portraiture) and stick with gold plein air or black plein air frames, which are a non-competitive & classic setting for my intense palette. As for gallery walls necessarily being a certain pale/neutral color, I’ve been in an excellent Newport RI gallery with cobalt blue walls; the work is curated of course, literally pops out at you ( in a good way) from those walls. Also have seen galleries with kind of cadmium red dark walls, and peach/terracotta walls; amazing how the work “lives” in those settings. The legendary & peerless Barnes Collection was housed in rooms with various color walls including a sort of Naples Yellow and a soft peach, which even Matisse himself approved. I think certain factions of the art community can get carried away with their self-importance and daunting “rules”, not saying there shouldn’t be respect for convention & cultural habits, just that they shouldn’t over-rule the gravitas of the work they’re supposed to be promulgating.

From: John DeCuir — Jul 11, 2013

THE RETURN OF JOHN THE BAPTIST – FAKING CARAVAGGIO Robert: Seeing your newsletter on painting fakes, I couldn’t help but share an event which took place when working on the film Cleopatra in Rome. My father and I had the habit of visiting Porta Portese, (the Sunday morning flea market). Our mission was to hunt down props and dressing for the film sets. One morning we discovered an old piece of canvas, speckled with droppings, that looked like it had been used as part of a chicken coop. On returning home it was cleaned and we discovered that nearly all the oil had fallen off the surface of the canvas, except for a few patches of paint. I challenged my father as to why he would have wasted time and money on such a worthless piece of junk canvas. He then turned the canvas over and showed me the signature on the back. It read Caravaggio. For many months of weekends my father worked over that canvas, painting oil overlays on the unpainted sections, baking each layer in order to build up his layers of paint to match the depth of the original patches of paint. Concurrently he thoroughly researched the life and work of Caravaggio. It would appear that Caravaggio had painted a series of paintings on the theme of John the Baptist. On the remaining patches of paint, there was just enough information to discern the re-occurring reed cross and the petulant chin of Cecco, his model. After a careful analysis, dad induced that the discovered painting was one of the Baptist series (Caravaggio and his pupils painted many in this series). Upon completing his version of the painting he submitted it to the Accademia di Belle Arte in Rome for an opinion as to authenticity. Months went by and finally a letter came confirming the originality of the canvas, stretcher, nails and most importantly the signature. The letter went on to confirm the veracity of some portions of the painting. However, they were sorry to say that the majority of the painting was a forgery. The letter did note that the faked portions were done with great skill and of considerable merit and that it had taken the staff several weeks of study to come to their conclusions. Dad was very proud of the letter and had it framed and hung next to the painting. Unfortunately his apartment was burgled and (while leaving many other fine and expensive paintings) the “Caravaggio” was stolen. Later he told me that the thieves were caught and the painting returned. The police report was framed and hung next to the returned painting. Dad would joke that he valued the police report far more than the letter from the Belle Arte. It seems he felt the thieves had a better eye for classic art, as they were often forced to appraise what to steal and what not to steal in a matter of minutes, …before making a run for it…

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Spring thaw

oil painting by Sylvio Gagnon, Canada

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