Some years ago, friends of mine moved in together, unpacking their belongings in one of those gorgeous apartments you rent that totally spoil you for the house you can later afford to buy. When they moved out, five years later, they still hadn’t hung any of their pictures. She had come to the relationship with a great stock of contemporary art – abstract photographs, modern prints and things that looked difficult, but were actually really brilliant if you let them grow on you. Meanwhile, he had three large “cheeses of the world” posters, which he loved very much.
Compromise proved impossible, and then the posters inexplicably “got lost” in their next move. I always felt if he had framed them more imaginatively they might have stood a better chance. A good frame and mount can make a mediocre art work or poster look brilliant, while bad ones can completely kill a picture. Still, hanging and framing are two processes that seem to be shrouded in frequently expensive mystery.
I find I get paralysed by the choices in mount boards, frame depths and colour options – it’s incredible how much these simple-seeming choices can change the look and feel of a piece. But leaving artworks wrapped in tissue paper or poster tubes isn’t good for them either.
When it comes to framing, if possible consult with the artist, or failing that the gallery where you bought your piece. You don't have to take their advice, but it's a very good start. Next stop is the picture framers themselves, though there the array is so bewildering you can (like me) end up with that rabbit-in-the-headlights panic that can lead to poor decision-making. Ruth Carroll, curator at the Royal Hibernian Academy, suggests making friends with your picture framer, so that they can get to know your taste, but it's also a good idea to know a little about framing before you go in.
David O'Donoghue at Dublin's Stoney Road Press (stoneyroadpress.com) is a veteran of the process. The fine-art print makers are the Dublin agent for one of Ireland's best framers, Clonmel-based Artisan (artisan-frames.com), and are happy to give advice. First up – acid-free paper, tape and mount-boards: if acidic materials are put close to your art works, over time you can get discolouration and decay. Simple as that.
Next: glass. Regular glass is reflective; use that and you can end up seeing yourself and not your artwork. Stoney Road use clarity glass, which is non-glare and reduces reflections to less than 1 per cent, meaning artworks are viewed as intended: true in colour and minus distortions. It is also 67 per cent UV protective. Go up a level in price if you have something you really value with museum glass, which is also low reflection, but has a 99 per cent UV protective filter.
Fashions and trends
A common mistake is when people (and some framers) stick the entire art work onto the backing board. “When framing a work on paper or a print, only the top of the artwork is stuck to the backing board, leaving the rest of the artwork to hang naturally. If all the print is stuck down, it eventually leads to the print buckling and looking awful in its frame,” says O’Donoghue, who has seen this all too frequently.
“Framing has its own fashions and trends,” he says. “It used to be limed ash, then it was white box frame, now it is softer heritage colours that are being used.”
This means you can also give a new lease of life to art works that you may be forgetting to look at by re-framing them. With that in mind, take a look when you next go to an art museum. You can usually tell when an artwork last changed hands before it came to the museum collection by the state of the frame. The Impressionists, or rather their first buyers, loved heavy baroque gilded frames, while more modern collectors prefer a more pared-back look.
But gilding is coming back, according to O’Donoghue, and Artisan have a new range of gilded frames to choose from. Go deeper into the options and discover perspex boxes, which are brilliant for making even a beer mat look like a valuable work of art, or “found object”, as they say in the trade.
When it comes to hanging, a great deal depends on how valuable the piece is. If it’s an ultra-precious heirloom, or a fragile watercolour, pigment or drawing, you will need to be extra careful. Even with museum glass, you shouldn’t hang precious works that are liable to fade in direct sunlight. Equally, Carroll says precious or fragile pieces shouldn’t be anywhere they’ll be subject to heat fluctuation, which rules out over the mantelpiece or above radiators.
Carroll has seen a lot of catastrophes in her time, and so her advice – and warnings – are invaluable. Humidity is another problem, she says, so keep the bathroom and kitchen for fun or robust pieces, or things that, as she tactfully describes them, are “ephemeral”. She also warns against hanging things behind doors, where they get bashed daily, or hanging unframed art works in diningrooms, where chairs can be exuberantly pulled back at parties.
Now, go forth and frame.