Step by step
1. Whatchya got there?
Okay, first thing's first. What did you bring for us today? This is going to set the stage for how we proceed. We are going to embark on quite different journeys if you brought a vintage photograph of your Mother's Aunt's Cousin's Husband's Sister's Pet Armadillo versus a signed Michael Jordon Jersey. So let's take a look.
2. Design parameters
We would love to say we're good enough to read your mind and know exactly how you envision your picture or painting framed - but we can't - we're not psychics (not yet...)
We're going to need you to tell us what you had in mind. It's okay if you don't know what exactly what you want - we're here to help with that - but a general idea of the direction you want to go will be helpful. Things like your personal decorating style and the colors of the room you plan to put your piece in will help as well.
As a rule we try to "frame the art", and have the piece stand on it's own, but we also want your art to fit in with your decor. We may see your piece in a rustic gilded ornate frame with rich textured dark upper mat but if your house is modern with white walls and straight lines, that might not work for you.
3. Size Matters
It shouldn't but it does. We're not going to put a three-quarter inch frame around your forty inch by sixty inch still-life oil painting of fruit. You have to think about scale. Little frames on big pieces look like an afterthought and we know you don't want that. Conversely, you probably won't want a six inch frame on a delicate three inch by five inch botanical watercolor (you might but then we'd suggest a properly scaled mat between them, but we'll talk about that later.)
It's not just about how it looks either. Your frame has to carry the weight of not just your art, but the mats, the mounting board, backer board, glass, and itself.
The orientation of the art is important too. A tall, skinny piece doesn't require as big of a frame as that same piece turned on it's side. A thin frame will bow under it's own weight if there is too much space between the sides. Nobody wants a saggy frame.
4. To mat...
Mats serve many functions. Given the choice, we would say to mat everything. We love mats.
Mats act as a visual buffer between your artwork and the frame. Frames right on top of your image can have the effect of making it look trapped or constrained and we want your art to be comfy.
Mats also act to help hold your piece in place. We do use other mounting methods to hold the piece in place but mats keep even pressure around the perimeter when pressed up against the glazing (fancy framer talk for glass or acrylic.)
Another reason we like mats is that they keep the art from direct contact with the glazing. Keeping art - especially art done on paper - off of the glazing is important for a couple of reasons. Moisture can cause your art to adhere itself to the glass and as the paper expands and contracts it can cause a bubbly appearance or even rip.
Keeping your art off of the glass is also important because as it ages it releases gases (called out-gassing.) If the art is directly contacting the glass, or too close, these gasses can transfer a hazy version of your image to the surface which impedes clarity. This phenomenon is called "ghosting" and is very creepy indeed.
5...Or not to mat...
Of course, there are situations where you don't have to use mats and some where you can't use them.
In situations where you want to keep the art off of the glass but don't want to use mats you can opt for spacers. Spacers are thin acrylic sticks with an adhesive face that can be cut to size and affixed to the inside of the frame and hidden behind the inside edge (called the rabbet.)
Unfortunately, spacers only work when the work is small enough or rigid enough to not sag in the middle - saggy art not only looks bad but it can fall off the spacer and hit the glass.
You also would not use mats if you have a canvas painting. Counter-pressure from glazing help mats hold art down and since you typically do not glass a canvas painting, mats are not very effective for this purpose. If you want to visually distance your canvas from the frame you can use a liner - but that's a whole other topic...)
6. Let's pick some stuff
Alright. We figured out the direction we're headed and now it is time to have some fun.
A lot of people have the impulse to just start ripping frame corner samples off the wall. And while this is certainly an entertaining way to go about framing it is not the most efficient method for narrowing down your choices.
Let us first pick the mat(s) we are going to use. The color of the mats is the most effective way to pull focus on your piece and that, as well as the margin of the outer-most mat, is going to dictate the size and color of your frame.
Of course, if there is a frame that you love and absolutely must have, we can work backwards and use the mats as a tool to relate the frame better to your piece... We're good like that.
Now we are going to decide on the type of glazing you want to use (if you're using any.)