How to Picture Frame: Step Two: Selecting Colors and Styles For Matting and Framing

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step 1

The first goal in designing for matting and framing is to satisfy the person you are framing for.  That means that if the customer wants the framed piece to blend well with existing room décor you must factor that into your design.  Consider color values, the preponderance of cool and warm colors, and the feel or mood of the artwork, as well as its theme.  Consider the existing room decor, if necessary.  And above all, keep everything in balance. 

step 2

A color’s value is where it falls on the white to black ladder.  When it falls more toward white it’s a tint; when it falls more toward black it’s a shade; in between are tones.  The picture of blueberries is comprised largely of shades.  In matting it, therefore, shades should dominate. 

step 3

Clearly the dominant hue is blue.  However, using the same blue as the light blue of the blueberries not only runs counter to the dominant value, which is darker, but would tend to overwhelm the viewer with that tone of blue, throwing the presentation out of balance.  A better choice would be the darker blue inside the blueberries.

step 4

Temperature in color refers to the relative preponderance of cool or warm colors.  Cool colors are the colors of spring:  blue, green, violet.  Warm colors are the colors of autumn: red, orange, yellow, brown. 

step 5

When looking at Degas’ Dancer’s in Blue one will immediately detect the dominance of gold in the artwork.  Yet gold is secondary in importance to the color blue, as blue is what the artwork is about.  This artwork is better framed with blue as the most prevalent color in the framing.

step 6

Obviously the artwork’s meaning is open to interpretation.  Indeed one of the most important considerations in selecting colors for matting and framing is the question of the meaning of the artwork.  The client should be asked directly, “Why do you like this particular piece artwork?   What is it that communicates to you?" 

step 7

When looking at Van Gogh’s Café at Night one detects a preponderance of cool colors that would suggest properly matting it in cool colors.  But wait.  Pause to consider what the artwork is really about.  If you conclude that the artwork is primarily about the café and that the street scene is merely incidental, warm colors would more effectively focus the viewer’s eye on the subject matter.

step 8

Generally, darker colors in the framing will help enhance a receding perspective in the composition.  If an image has a strong element that is receding such as the river sweeping off into the distance in Sisley’s Road to Hampton Court, a darker mat – perhaps one that ties into the dark green of the trees along the bank in the background - helps to enhance it.  

step 9

Lighter colors in the matting help to “pop” a composition that has bold elements in the foreground, such as Roy Lichtenstein’s Blam, which looks suitably dramatic in a stark white over a black mat.

step 10

When you are designing a piece for yourself, you are free to honor the artwork without regard to its surroundings, to, in effect, indulge art for art’s sake.  But when you are designing for a client you must involve them in the design process and respect their desire to have the artwork fit existing room décor.  Keeping everything in balance refers not just to the design of the piece but to the integrity of the framer-client relationship. 

step 11

When selecting a proper frame style, ask yourself if the composition is reminiscent of a particular historical period.  For example, Degas' Dancer's in Blue is reminiscent of late 19th century France, the Belle Epoque era.  A richly ornamented gold frame would tie in with this artwork's historical character.

step 12

While Blueberries (above) is not reminiscent of any particular historical period, it is clearly an image of nature, so selecting a very natural looking frame would work well, something with a lot of grain, and something that ties in with the cool colors that predominate.  A natural gray frame with plenty of grain would answer.

step 13

When you are stumped about what frame style to employ, look at the composition to see if there is any wood in it.  Van Gogh's Cafè at Night has wood in it.  The deck of the cafè is made of wood.  As it turns out, there is a wood frame in our collection that mimics closely the look of that deck.

step 14

Sometimes the art exemplifies a movement in style or architecture.  Lichtenstein's Blam is an example of pop art, one that resonates modernism in all its clean, straight lines and bright bold colors.  It calls for a simple, streamlined frame like this black lacquer frame with a dramatic in-slope.   

step 16

If you will be meeting with a client to discuss the design of a framed piece, or even if you are framing your own art exclusively, you will want to be armed with a set of mat board corner samples and moulding corner samples.  You can place them over the corner of the art to envision what the finished piece might look like.

step 17

Make note of the mat board colors and moulding styles you want.  Armed with your measuring notes proceed to for Step 3 in the picture framing process. It is now time to purchase your materials.