Monday, 23 January 2012

Frames and Canvas

Picture Framing

For my own paintings, I make my own frames. Life would be very expensive if I had to send off my pictures to be framed professionally each time. This applies mainly to watercolours and acrylics as I usually paint oils on "3D" canvas which doesn't require a frame. More about that later.

Some artists paint their pictures to match one of the standard sizes that one can buy in the shops.

I read a Forum recently about framing which asked artists if they framed their own material. There were several replies by picture framers, one of which said that "artists know nothing about framing", which I thought was a bit of a cheek (but it made me laugh!). Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? Pere, a carpenter in the village where I live makes three profiles for me which I've published on my web-site: http://www.mezcla/framing_UK.html l buy these in 3m lengths and then cut them to size on my mitre saw. I have to be careful the cut doesn't get distorted by movement of the wood or the blade; it's not ideal. I did have a look at power mitre saws which would give a more precise cut but they were all a bit fearsome for what I wanted. For watercolours, I mount the picture conventionally with mount-board and 2mm glass which, conveniently, I also buy, cut to size, at a really good price from Pere.

For acrylics, which often I paint on 3mm MDF, I have a frame profile (B) which creates a kind of display case where the picture is actually mounted on a backing board a little behind the glass. I know there is nothing terribly original about this but I like it a lot.


Now to another order that I place with Pere. I've recently become interested in making my own canvasses. What converted me was going to a shop in Girona to find that a 50x50cm (x35mm) "3D" canvas was almost €18. From Barna Art in Barcelona, the price is €10 but one has to allow for shipping. From the UK, the price drops to €8 if one buys a pack of 5 but the shipping costs are prohibitive. There was only one thing to do. I went back to Pere and ordered some profiles 35mm thick to match the side of the canvas which I can cut on my mitre saw.

On my last trip to Barcelona, I went to Barna Art, which is not far from the Metro at Paseig de Gracia, just a walk away. Not only did I spend a leisurely time looking at different materials, cotton and linen, both primed and unprimed but I also managed to pick up one or two tips about making my own canvasses. I was keen on buying unprimed material as I had learnt that the material would shrink on the frame (bastidor in Spanish) after being primed. Normally the wood frame is referred to as made up of "stretcher bars" which implies that they can be adjusted after the material has been fitted. But I'm not buying stretcher bars as this limits me to the size of canvas that I can make unless I hold a large stock or wait for the shipment to arrive. My profiles don't stretch; they are completely rigid, being glued and stapled at each corner. Another item that has always intrigued me is the wedge that gets slotted into each corner of the bastidor. When I used to buy ready-made canvasses, often the wood frame appeared to be so rigid that it would be impossible to stretch it even if one bashed the wedges into the corners. I think I understand their role better now. I suspect it is more a case of "locking" the wood frame into a rigid and square shape, rather than actually increasing the dimensions after the canvas has been purchased. If the material has been fitted well and stretched onto the bastidor, then it shouldn't be necessary to stretch it further. Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it!

As you can see from the photo, I came back with a good selection of samples and material; a mixture of linen and cotton both primed and unprimed. I started off by making up a couple of canvasses using frames from which I'd removed the original material due to failed paintings. I used unprimed material and, having seen the shape of a frame which had been distorted due to too much shrinkage, I was careful not to stretch the material too much but I found that, after priming, the material (each a different type) had shrunk by different amounts. But not by a great amount. So, obviously one can't depend on shrinkage to achieve a tight canvas. Since my profiles are quite thick and strong, I use my stretching tool whether or not the material is primed. But, a word of warning, don't stretch the material too much if it is unprimed and the frame isn't very strong as it could well distort the wood after the primer has dried.

Another advantage of making my own canvasses is just what I've described. That is, if a painting is a failure, then the whole canvas isn't a write-off. I just rip the material off the frame and stretch a new canvas.

Rather like framing my own watercolours, it all feels part of the creative process.

Here is a photo of my bastidor-making department, I'm waiting for the glue to set. Then I'll turn the frame over and bang a strong staple across each corner. I guess I should be using corner clamps, that will be next time. I just wrap masking tape around the corners to hold them together.

The bastidor on the table is 50 x 28 cm which represents an aspect ratio of 16:9, the same as a widescreen TV. I imagine a great deal of time was spent choosing the most pleasing ratio for television screens so I thought I would copy it. My "mini" paintings on MDF are also 16:9 (24 x 13.5 cm).

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