Framing Artwork Part One: Works on Canvas
Updated: May 6, 2021
I work with many artists who all struggle with the same question: "How do I professionally present my artwork on a budget?" I've created a video tutorial to help answer some of those questions and show you some framing techniques I've learned throughout my career from professional framers and other artists.
Below I cover tips for selecting a frame, instructions for framing a canvas piece and attaching a hanging wire, a video tutorial with step-by-step instructions, followed by a list of suggested tools.
Stay tuned for a second video where I will cover framing artwork under glass.
Update: Check out the second tutorial on framing with glass.
Before we get started on the tutorial, let's talk about the reasons you need to frame your artwork:
If you are displaying your work in a gallery they will want it framed and hung with a wire. Most galleries will not accept your work if its hung with a gator clip or has an easel back.
A decent frame will ad value to your artwork. Most works, especially those on a thin canvas, look incomplete without a frame.
If a piece is poorly framed with an old outdated frame or a bruised and marred frame it will devalue your artwork. If you do not value your work enough to take care of it and place it in a decent frame, other people will not value it either.
A frame protects your artwork.
Of course there are some instances when you may not need a frame. If your work is on a deep gallery wrapped canvas and you've painted around the sides, your work may be presentable without a frame. However, even if your work does not require a frame, you still need to properly wire it and prep it for hanging in a gallery. The edges of your work still need to be clean and presentable.
How to select a frame.
Good quality frames at reasonable prices are available through several art supply websites, but how do you know which ones will be of good quality and fit without seeing them in person?
Find the correct size: Frames are measured using the dimensions of their window. When you are framing a 16x20 inch canvas piece you will need a 16x20 inch frame.
Check the depth of the frame. If your canvas is about 7/8th of an inch thick, you probably need a frame that has a depth of 1/2 inch to 1 inch. The depth of a frame is sometimes referred to as the rabbet. The rabbet is the area from under the lip of the frame to the bottom of the frame.
Check the material. Composite wood and plastic frames can damage more easily and split when you put screws in them. Their finishes can also rub off or chip more easily. That's not to say that they cannot be used, but you need to be careful with them; especially if they are narrow or thin. Metal frames are usually made to use with matted artwork under glass and are usually not suitable for canvas work. Solid wood frames tend to be a higher quality and weather the best. You can also find solid wood frames at a reasonable cost.
Here are a few websites that offer decent quality frames at a reasonable cost:
How to attach a wire to hang your frame.
Wire comes in different gages and you should use the right size for the weight of your artwork. Wire packaging will tell you how many pounds it can hold. (I usually use plastic coated wire because it is easier on the fingers)
Generally, wire is attached to a frame by screwing in a D-Hook. I also use screw eyes for very small pieces. Both can be found at a hardware store.
Hooks should always be attached 1/3 of the way down your frame. (Attach 1/3 of the way down your artwork if not using a frame.) There are truly no exceptions to this rule. If you attach your wire any higher or lower, your work will flop on the wall and the hook used to hang it will probably be visible. Hooks should be attached on the center of the frame or canvas stretcher if not using a frame.
There is a correct way to attach your wire to the hook and it does not include tying a knot!
This tutorial gives examples for framing canvas pieces with a traditional frame and a floating frame. The floral painting featured in the tutorial is by Carrie Tredo and the collage is by Sara Baker Michalak.
Tools list and websites to order them:
Acid Free Frame Sealing Tape
Frame Clips in various sizes
20 lb coated framing wire
Small metal screw eyes and small D-Ring Hangers
Brown Framing Tape