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ASK MRS. BIDDINGTONS Advice on Restoring and Preserving Art & Antiques
Dear Mrs. Biddington,

I have some prints and drawings stored away in a closet. I've been meaning to frame them. What advice do you have when it comes to framing works of art on paper? What precautions should I be sure the framers take to guarantee the safety and value of my prints and drawings ?
Thank you,

Dear Melanie,

Framing a work of art is a significant expense--sometimes nearly as costly as the art work itself. So, it is important that you know the proper materials and procedures for framing, whether you will be doing the job yourself, or taking it to a professional.

Frames are used to enhance a work of art aesthetically, as well as to protect it from dirt, dust and handling, while maintaining a controlled setting essential for the life of the piece.

In terms of aesthetics, you should choose what pleases you. The framed artwork will become part of your everyday environment, so be sure to choose frames and mats that you will enjoy. If you don't know what you want, ask for guidance; your framer probably has seen many different types of art, and knows what works well, and what doesn't. But don't let a framer pressure you into choices that are not appealing to you.

One piece of advice: Don't frame the art to match a room in your house. Choose picture frames and mats that will enhance the work of art itself, so that if you move, redecorate, or decide to hang the piece in another location, it will always look appropriate. Avoid framing that overwhelms the artwork. Remember: the art work is the star--the matting & framing are supporting players.

If feasible, consult the artist regarding his/her intentions for displaying the painting or print. The artist's input may contribute to a more meaningful presentation of the piece.

Before taking the art to your framer, a little background on proper framing materials and procedures is useful. Using the correct materials will help keep your print or drawing safe and guard its value, now and for years to come.

The whole array of art works on paper--drawings, watercolors, gouaches, pastels, etchings, engravings, woodblocks, lithographs, silkscreens & photographs--are almost always put behind a glazed surface for preservation. However, the work should NEVER be placed directly against the glazed surface.

This leads us to another issue: glass or acrylic?
Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Glass is cheaper, easier to clean, and more resistant to scratches. However, it is heavier, more breakable, sensitive to variations in temperature, and highly reflective so it often creates a glare.

Acrylic surfaces, often known as Plexiglas, are often suitable for framing because they are better thermal insulators, as well as shatterproof, and can be treated with an ultraviolet filter to protect the work of art. Large pieces of art should usually be placed behind Plexiglas because it is a lighter substance than glass, and therefore there is less chance of the piece falling off the wall. Yet, acrylic surfaces have a propensity for attracting dust and cannot be cleaned with regular glass cleaners. In addition, due to their inherent properties of static electricity, acrylic surfaces should NEVER be used in framing pastels, charcoals, or any other powdery pigment surface.

Regardless of what kind of glazing you select, works of art behind a glass or acrylic surface should be opened every few years to clean dust and allow the materials to air.

Works on paper are some of the most vulnerable art objects, and need the protection of mats and frames.

The mat provides a rigid support for the work of art, to prevent bending and folding and other damages that might occur to paper when being handled and touched. It separates the work of art from the glazed surface, creating a "breathing space." In addition, mats are used for their aesthetic properties, often strengthening features already present in the piece of art.

Depending on the work, you may want to have it matted to the edges of the paper, or have the image "floated." Floating a work of art means exposing the whole sheet with its edges. This technique is not as secure, but is often chosen for aesthetic reasons, particularly if the paper has rough or unique edges that are part of the work of art itself.

Either way you decide to mat your piece, the bottom margin is generally slightly wider than the top to give the entire image a visual weight. The sides should equal the dimensions of the top margin. Standard margin sizes are 3" to 4" inches on the bottom and 3" at the top and sides; these dimensions, however, will increase or decrease proportionally according to the size of the work of art.

All materials used in the matting and framing should be archival. This basically means that matting boards are acid-free and made of all-rag fiber. Any reputable framing store will use archival materials. Or, if you decide to frame the work yourself, you can find these items in a well-equipped art supply store.

The paper should be "hinged" to its support with Japanese rice paper and a wheat or rice starch paste. Hinging is like taping, but the acid-free materials used in the process ensure no damage will be caused to the artwork. (Masking tape and "Scotch" tape are harmful and should be avoided completely.) Any original work on paper or limited edition print should be hinged to guarantee the value of the work of art, and prevent it from being ruined. Never paste the sides or the entire back to a support--a process known as dry mounting. This technique is almost always irreversible and should only be considered when framing posters with no value.

It may seem overwhelming, because there is a lot to know regarding framing artwork. But it is essential for the protection of the piece, and can add another pleasing dimension to your artwork-- be it drawing, pastel, lithograph or etching. So don't procrastinate! Be sure to get your art framed right away so you will be able to enjoy them for years and years to come.

Augusta Biddington

with the expert assistance of
Margaret Morse

Photographs at Biddington's Art Gallery
Prints & Works on Paper at Biddington's Art Gallery

For more information on the materials and processes of framing works of art, consult these books:   "Frames and Framing" by Laird and Dunn; "Caring for Your Art" by Jill Snyder. Both books go in depth about framing techniques & also discuss procedures and materials for framing works on canvas.

Ask Mrs. Biddington Archives:
Ask Mrs. B--Framing and Hanging Paintings
Ask Mrs. B--Cleaning Paintings & Works on Paper
Ask Mrs. B--Framing Prints & Works on Paper
Ask Mrs. B--Lace Restoration
Ask Mrs. B--Lace Cleaning
Ask Mrs. B--Liquidating an Estate
Ask Mrs. B--Humidity & Fine Objects
Ask Mrs. B--Roseville and Removing Spray Paint
Ask Mrs. B--Care of Doll Hair


The thrill of the auction is over--for the moment. With art & antiques, pleasure also comes from acquiring the specialized knowledge involved in their preservation. Even experienced collectors may not know exactly how to care for fine art. At BIDDINGTON'S, upmarket, online art auctions & art gallery, our in-house oracle on fine art preservation and restoration procedures is Augusta Biddington. Mrs. Biddington is an old hand at old things. Unfortunately, Mrs. Biddington is no longer able to provide answers to specific questions.

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