Monday, August 22, 2011

Framing: Hinging for Floating Artwork

A perfect way to ruin a good drawing is to throw it in an ugly frame.  This is a problem considering that most frames are either expensive or embarrassingly low quality.  Face it, the odds of selling a drawing are much slimmer if they are unframed.

Pencil pieces can be particularly difficult to frame well because they almost never look good in black frames and tend to look cheapened by affordable mats.  This means, à la mode considered, you should float works done in pencil and/or with bright color in a white frame (charcoal, ink, and dark colors still look fantastic in dark frames).  I have previously mentioned how there is a particularly nice and inexpensive frame from GWI Frames listed in the "Square Corner Frames" section under "Wood Frames".  At this time the frame is listed as item 83041 but that may change over time or be listed differently in their PDF catalog.  Remember, their website is outdated so you will need to get their PDF catalog emailed to you or contact them by phone 1-800-622-6209...and no they are not paying me to tell you this.  Believe me, it is hard to find decent shadow box frames that are either cheap or not too deep.  Keep in mind, these are pre-built frames.  What I do for many drawings is buy the frames I want to use first, then cut the paper.  If you already have a finished piece of artwork at irregular dimensions, then you will need custom framing.  A good custom framer in the Bay Area is Dave Fallis at SF Framing.  Here is Dave Fallis's contact info:

Dave Fallis
Frame SF

Now I will show you how to make a GWI frame useful.  Here is what you'll basically need to frame your drawing:

Pictured above:
1. Frame (duh)
2. Drawing (duh)
3. Archival Mat Board
(I like to use a very subtle off-white for my pencil drawings.  They are done on a very cool, bright white paper so any other variation of white that is a little warmer looks nice.  Stay subtle.)
4. Metal straight edge
5. Box cutter or X-acto knife 
6. Cutting surface (I have a sheet of plexi)
7. Scissors
8. SELF ADHESIVE hinge tape
(I prefer linen over paper hinge tape.  Do not bother with water activated hinge tape!  It doesn't work worth a damn and it will drive you crazy.  It may not be as archival as some starch based hinges but you will never have the time to learn to use those so don't bother.  Leave that for the archivist.)
Optional: You may want a palette knife, butter knife, or something flat to make the hinging process easier.  I will explain on the appropriate step.

This is what makes the GWI frame special.  It has a built in 1/2 inch riser.  You would be amazed at how hard it is to find pre-built bargain frames with these inside.  In some cases you can construct this out of foam core but it is never as sturdy and, most likely, it will not fit inside the frame.

(note: I am flipping off the cheap mat, not the children in the photo.)

Dump the cheap mats that come with bargain frames.  If you are not too concerned about your drawing being archival and it is on straight edged, as opposed to deckled, paper, then feel free to use it and ignore the rest of this post.  Though I would still recommend buying an archival mat from an art store.

note:  The glass on cheap frames is usually not UV protected either.  Avoid direct sunlight on artwork in these frames.  If you want UV (ultra violet protected) glass or plexi then you are going to have to buy it separately but it isn't cheap.  Another thing about plexi is that though it is durable and safe, it carries a lot of static electricity, do not use it over charcoal or any powdery mediums.

A nice piece of archival mat board is what you want for the art.  This can be purchased at any art store and is relatively inexpensive given that you can use one sheet for multiple frames.

Most art stores have the archival mat boards separated from the others but if you ever are unsure a general rule is that archival mats are white and fresh on the edges.  Non archival are usually brown, or worn on the sides.  The mats that come with the GWI frames actually have white edges but, considered their cost and manufacturing, I am not taking any chances with them.

Cut your archival mat board to the same size as the mat that came with the frame.  Make sure it fits well in the frame before continuing.  This is where I use the plexi.  It seems obvious to have a cutting surface but lets face it, if you are new to this and I didn't mention it here then there is a good chance you would have done one of the following:

1. Ruined your carpet or kitchen table.
2. Realized you didn't want to ruin you carpet, try to cut the mat vertically, and mess up the cut.
3. Try to cut the board with scissors and ruin both the scissors and the board.

After your mat is cut properly, center your artwork on it and make sure that everything stays centered.  If you like you can put a flat, clean, and heavy object on the art to hold it still.  Professional framers use leather sand bags.  Obviously, that is excessive for framing on your ugly living room rug (as seen above).

Now cut yourself some linen hinges.  For this piece (6 x 8 inches) I am cutting them about an inch long, and then cutting those in half.  I will be using six:  One for each corner and one for the middle of each length.  It may be excessive but I do not feel like doing it twice.  If you ever need to remove the art from the mat you can cut it off from the mat by cutting under the art with a square edge palette knife.  It slices from the side of the hing pretty easily.  I am not familiar with how to remove the hinge tape from the art itself.  Most archival hinge tapes are removable and have there own directions to do so.

To prepare the hinge remove the adhesive backing and fold one hinge over the other as shown above.  The unfolded piece's adhesive should face down toward the mat board to hold the hinge sturdy and the folded side's adhesive should be facing out, so half of the hinge holds to the mat, while the other half holds to the art.

This in the only part that can get sensitive.  Now you have to place the hinges under the art.  THE FOLD OF THE HINGE NEEDS TO FACE OUTWARD TOWARD THE EDGE OF THE ART.  This is imperative for making the hinges easier to cut (if you need to remove the art from the mat) and it holds the art down better so the edges do not curl and peel off from the paper.  Security is key.  This is where having a palette knife or even a butter knife can be helpful.  You can use it to hold down the top of the hinge from the edge of its folded side so it binds nice and tight.  The biggest mistake you can make is letting the hinge fold out loosely from the flat hinge, letting your artwork curl out with very little adhesive attached.  Again: MAKE SURE THE HINGE FOLDS RIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE SUPPORTING CROSS HINGE (AS PICTURED ABOVE).

You can use an extra piece of mat to press the hinges down without damaging the artwork.  Move around the artwork with the hinging.  Do not hinge in one place then move across to the opposite side.  It will make it more difficult to add the hinges to the sides of the piece if the corners have already been placed.  Also, IF THE ARTIST'S SIGNATURE IS ON THE BACK BE SURE NOT TO HINGE OVER THE SIGNATURE.

Once all of your hinges have been placed give a last good overall press on the artwork.  Be sure you are pressing with a flat object on a firm surface.  You do not want to get this far only to end up creasing the artwork or smudging it with your fingers.

Now you can place the artwork on top of the riser in the frame.  Make sure the glass is clean and dust free.  IF THE WINDOW OF YOUR FRAME IS PLEXI (OR ANY PLASTIC) DO NOT USE WATER, PAPER TOWELS, OR WINDEX BECAUSE IT CAN DAMAGE THE VIEWING WINDOW.  You will need to use a fine micro fiber cloth with plexi cleaner.  Since I am currently selling the drawing above for $80 in the frame, you better believe I am not springing for UV plexi too.  Also, be sure your artwork is facing the right direction in regards to the hanging apparatus on the back of the frame.  It is easy to change if you are wrong but you might as well avoid one last "Bffff, duh" moment.

Now your art looks presentable.  Go make yourself an art career.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


This is what used to be an arcade, in what used to be Cottonwood Mall, in what used to be Holladay, UT. It was also where I almost got into my first, and what would have been only, fist fight. At the time, while I was losing my junior high school social battle (I was in an arcade), this arcade was losing its retail battle, and the mall was losing its real estate battle, and Holladay was losing its districting battle. There is a lot of power in the difference between these images and my memory. History has a way of changing our own interpretations between the two and, in the end, neither can be trusted. Here is what is left of Cottonwood Mall.

It wasn't much then and it's even less now. Contractors and investors had big ideas about upgrading the lot into an expansive outdoor shopping mall with a stadium seating movie theater. That was the rumor at least. In hindsight it seems like a pretty obvious bad idea. I would like to imagine that someone with enough money to invest in a project of that scale would have know that by that point in time malls were on their way out and big box retail was on its way in.

Now, big box retail is succumbing to online shopping and eventually, though hard to imagine at this point, something will replace online shopping. What medium could possibly replace the internet? Maybe nothing. Maybe we will just move on to companion technologies. Internet + biotech + nanotech = ? Then again, maybe we can't grow forever.

I try not to look too far down this road. These are interesting ideas to have burrowed deep in your head while painting but they never seem to translate too well to canvas. Sure, they may draft nicely as concepts but they ignore the subtle beauty of simplicity; the draw of how clear an idea can become when rooted to its base components.

(You may remember this escalator's 5 second cameo in SLC Punk)
It can be difficult enough to stay focused on these components anyway. We are pretty far behind understanding the technologies that we depend on every day, so how can we possibly simplify the way we view them? What do we even look for? Even though it completely controls our lives technology is too dense to casually pick apart. On top of already being a mental and physical conundrum it is becoming a social one as well. How complex a trend in 2011 can be and how quickly we can move past it! Remember when a mall used to be exciting? No? Well, you're young. And in another generation, they will be younger. It's times like these I feel fortunate to be drawn to landscape painting. Such a complicated world still somehow feels so simple. Then again, do I really know what builds a tree? Or even dirt?

Is landscape painting still relevant? How old fashioned does it look in its own medium, which is also old fashioned? The power of nostalgia should never be underestimated but it should never be depended upon either. There has to be more to your art than just a gimmick and a viewer should be involved further than just their comfort in memories. Their memories cannot be trusted and neither can the intentions of your artwork, though, in the end, they are both worth fighting for. Otherwise, you never know where you may find it one day.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Get There 1.5

I know at some point I should consider taking better photos of this process but I just can't afford to take the time to set that all up right now. Snapshots with my little point and shoot are just going to have to do for now.

At this stage I need to start adding more details. Particularly to the line where the vegetation hits the dirt. I've been playing with brushing on darker paint and scratching it off, leaving the lighter layer below visible.

I normally would just paint the dark and then add the highlights with my smallest brush (probably somewhere around a 000, can't remember to be honest). It also doesn't help that I am constantly biting my fingernails.

I also realized at this point that I completely forgot about the horizon. Ideally, all of these layers should have been painted right after I finished the sky and before I started the land in the foreground. The base coats of the horizon work best if you paint them all the way to the bottom of the canvas, with all of your foreground painted on top (I'm not sure if that technique is all that official, much less a good idea, but it seems to work well for me). Fortunately, I began the distant mountains at the right time while the sky paint was still wet. This allowed me to give them a nice distant, hazy look by adding some lighter tones into the dark and neutralizing the value range. If you want to sound like a douchebag you can call the effect sfumato, but if you prefer to simply sound like an asshole you should just call it atmospheric perspective.

The scumbling* pictured above and below is pushing the midground mountains further into the distance but the paint is probably still too transparent. I might have too much linseed oil in it, or I forgot to wash the turpenoid out of the brush before applying the paint. Oops.

The distant mountain ridge in the photo above still feels a little sloppy on the far right. The speckled effect from the wood can always be a nice effect but it is a little sharper than the one I am after for this painting.

I had to mix up some semi-transparent umber for the soft bottom edges. Though it had to be a little toned down with some gray it really helps build some volume on the land and make the bright tones really pop. I dabbed it on with a small frayed brush to make a little bit of a rocky surface in the dirt and dabbed it with my finger to smooth it into the tones of the ground.

The image above shows the difference once it has been added. This color could also be used in some of the vegetation to even out the palette. I applied it to the darker sides of the midground vegetation (see below).

This painting is getting pretty close to being finished now. When I jump on it again I will add some more details and determine if I can let dry for varnishing.

*Scumbling: A word used also by douchebags to describe the process of applying a thin layer of opaque paint on the surface of a dry, base layer with an almost dry brush. Nobody in the world can seem to agree if it is a glazing technique or simply a drybrushing technique, applying thin layers of paint to a textured surface, leaving a speckled effect, without any transparent layer blending or physical blending. I believe it is the latter drybrushing technique. You should probably never use the word.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Self Preservation

There has been a lot of news lately about drastic cuts in federal funding for the arts. I am concerned about how little this mentally affects me. The impact of the economy on the job market will more than likely define our generation more than its impact on art institutions. Job security is not a lifestyle anymore. I do not know a single person who feels that they are at a company that can eventually provide retirement options for them. Fifty years ago you could save for retirement working at a hardware store. Since we cannot depend on our institutions, the only way to move up is to move laterally as a community. This lifestyle extends beyond the workforce.

Every artist I know felt stuck back when they turned 25 and had no prospects for a career. They either had no education, a bad education, or a nightmarish student loan for their good education. Federal funding for the arts mostly seems to affect artist that do not suffer much from any of these three problems. Add this to the fact that private funding and loans are becoming too dangerous to touch and it becomes clear why most of us have no choice but to find our own education.

Sadly, education is where museums let us down. We have been raised on the belief that museums are institutions created for historical preservation and research. Instead, they are a tool for tourism and the pathetic battle for cultural legitimacy. In America, commercial galleries are now filling the role of museums. After all, they have no entrance fee and are a good resource for seeing established, as well as up and coming artists. Unfortunately, commercial galleries business models are dependent on sales, which corrupts the historical and critical aspects of the artwork. Visit galleries regularly, but be skeptical of the information provided. As far as museums are concerned, corruption is a means of survival. Given the inflated cost of contemporary art, self interested board members, and exhibitions being exploited to boost the value of donated collections, there is very little room for a museum to have a non objective viewpoint. They are crucial institutions, but they are struggling against the whims of economy.

In light of these factors and the necessity of a free and informative internet, nothing is more offensive than an artist playing their cards close to their chest. Anytime I see an artist refuse to indulge in their working process I just assume that they fear it would be too easy for imitators to replicate. Good artwork takes practice and skill that imitators do not have the patience to learn, not hidden resources. In any case, these covert approaches to originality will be futile against the internet so root yourself in effective work habits and start sharing with your peers. It is true that the internet has become saturated with useless information, but in light of that fact I would rather have a saturated internet than a compromised institution.