Mounting and framing original artworks on paper
Framing original art work isn't as simple as one may think. I found out the hard way the do's and don't's of framing original works on paper after leaving higher education. Before I talk about this though, I'd like to start by giving you an insight into how my art business started and how I obtained this insightful knowledge of framing.
After achieving a distinction in my year's Art Foundation and successfully passing my Fine Art Degree in 2006, I still had so much to learn. Although my art education had given me a tremendous amount of self confidence in my personal practice, I had not been taught the fundamentals of how to protect artwork when it is about to be framed or how to preserve it afterwards. This is quite important, especially when selling art. There was also no teaching on how to conserve paper or canvas when stored in a studio. I know I wasn't on an art conservation course but a few hints and tips would've saved me so much hassle in the long run. No amount of education could prepare me for the outside world and my journey only truly began after I set up my art business back in 2011.
It took me a couple of years after university before I knew exactly what direction I wanted to take with my work. I was, quite frankly, utterly confused and ended up getting a part time job in a local pharmacy. A few years after leaving higher education, in 2008 and whilst still working at the pharmacy, I began renting a small studio situated at the back of Wolverhampton Art Gallery in the centre of the town. It was called the Makers Dozen Studios and I ended up remaining there for another eleven years until moving to the Old Church at Gailey, South Staffs in November 2019.
It all started in 2010 when I began looking after a horse called Boswell at a local stables. I had him on part-loan for about three years. I've had a passion for horses since I was a child and had the urge to get back in the saddle again. It was Boswell who inspired me to start creating again. Four years of being 'lost' and now I'd found my artistic self again. This beautiful horse paved the way for new inspiration and for the first time in years the fire began to burn once again and has been roaring ever since.
Looking after and spending time with horses again gave me the lightbulb moment of creating portraits of people's horses. It began with a few people at the stables commissioning me to draw theirs after seeing a trial drawing I'd created of my friend's horse. After a few successful local commissions, I then decided to set up a Facebook page and a website to start promoting my work. As they say, the rest is history.
Below is that very trial drawing I did of my friend's horse back in 2010 (Notice the way the drawing has been photographed for my documentation. Looking back at this image it is nowhere near up to the standards I use today. The quality of the photo is poor. Now, I use a flat bed scanner instead of a camera to capture the image perfectly for documenting).
So how and when did I begin to learn the in's and out's of framing? Well, it all started in 2011, in my early twenties when I spent time with the amazing artist and framer, Jenny Gunning, from Ironbridge Fine Arts and Framing, situated in Ironbridge, Shropshire. I had just completed a huge challenge to create one hundred drawings of horses in one hundred days, consecutively. The project was a way for me to re-connect with my drawing and to regain some kind of consistency I'd been lacking for some time. I now had one hundred pieces of work in my portfolio and there was only one thing I wanted to do with them, to exhibit all one hundred. Some people thought it was an insane idea but to me it seemed the right way to go and I was determined to make it happen.
My dad had introduced me to Jenny Gunning and I'd known her for about a year at this point. It was Jenny who guided me through the entire process of mounting and framing all one hundred drawings. Provided I worked hard, worked eight hour days and with a little help from her, she said that I could get it all done in a week. As you can imagine I was a little sceptical of the time scale but had every faith I could do it. So, I stayed with her for one week, slogging away in her workshop while she taught me all about mounting and framing at the same time.
Jenny educated me in the subject of 'Conservation Framing'. Conservation framing is a term used to describe the use of materials and techniques which provide protection and longevity to framed works of art on paper. I had never heard of such a thing until now. Things like this you just don't learn about in school, college or university. I learned that specialist materials such as acid-free museum board is used at the back of the artwork instead of regular mat board or foam board and acid-free tape is used to then 'hang' the artwork to the mount, instead of using tapes such as standard masking tape. Being acid-free means that the work stays protected and that the tape doesn't yellow over time and prevents leaving marks on the original work of art. Even the type of glass can make a difference to how your art is preserved. Light reflective glass is not cheap but is an option if you want your picture to be extra protected from the light. When looking for a good quality framer who knows what they're doing, they should have the Fine Art Trade Guild logo (below) present on their website and/or somewhere visible in their shop. This proves that they have done all the necessary training in both framing and conservation framing. Again, I had no idea this even existed until I was told.
I asked Jenny if conservation framing was the only way to frame works on paper, and she said that there was another way which she would never recommend for original artworks. This is called, 'Dry Mounting'. Dry mounting is a process in which the back of a picture is covered entirely in an adhesive and then bonded to a board. This process is irreversible and de-values the original work of art because it no longer retains its original state. My face dropped as she told me this! I knew then that I'd made a major mistake with a few of my drawings. I had taken them to a framers and they had done that very same process of dry mounting!
After staying with Jenny and managing to get all one hundred drawings mounted and framed within the week AND exhibited at a local gallery, I decided to approach the framer who had been using the dry mounting method. They weren't very keen on me questioning them and their methods and in turn I wasn't happy with what they'd done to my work. I looked around for their Fine Art Trade Guild logo and there wasn't one to be found! From that moment, I made the decision never to use that framers ever again and haven't done since.
If Jenny's framing shop had been a bit closer, I would've used her for all my framing but as it was she was just too far away. So, I had to find someone else more local who could frame my work. I finally found a framer who DID do conservation framing and who HAD got the Fine Art Trade Guild logo displayed on their shop door. That framers was The Framer's Gallery in Wolverhampton. Wayne and his team are amazing at what they do and they've been framing my work now for eleven years. If it wasn't for Jenny Gunning and all her help and advice all those years ago I probably would still be having work dry mounted and by the same framer, not knowing the consequences of the long term effects.
If you have an artwork on paper you wish to get framed, my advice to you would be to do your research beforehand. Once you've found a framer ask them if they do conservation framing and whether they are Fine Art Trade Guild qualified. If they aren't or they don't do conservation framing, stay clear and find someone else who can. You want your beautiful piece of art to stay as it is for years to come, not glued for eternity onto a piece of board. You want to be able to change the mount and frame if need be and you can't do this if it's stuck down. More importantly you want your investment to retain its value, because after all, buying art IS an investment. Don't jeopardise this for the sake of getting it framed for cheaper or by someone who has no idea what they're doing.