Frame of Reference

Martha Stewart Living, September 2008

Giving favorite images the custom treatment doesn't require an expensive trip to a frame shop. A few simple steps paired with readily available supplies can transform precut window mats into elegant showpieces worthy of their contents.

Mats adorned with delicately outlined borders, graphic photocopy transfers, and decorative paper are all amateur-friendly projects. Combined with classic framing techniques, the final results look purely professional.

Ink and Pencil Mats

Mats rimmed with contrasting borders and lines give a polished look to black-and-white photos. [See image 2 above.] You'll need a mat (preferably archival quality); a clear plastic ruler; India ink or black, white, or colored pencils; drafting tape; gouache or metallic inks; a watercolor brush; and a pen and nibs (if using ink).

1. To create a painted inner border for the window mat, use the ruler and a pencil to mark outer edges of the area to be colored. Apply strips of tape along drawn lines. [See image 3 above.]

2. If using gouache, dilute a dab with water in a small bowl, mixing to the consistency of cream; metallic inks can be used without diluting. Apply gouache or ink with brush. Let dry before gently removing tape.

3. For additional borders, use ruler and pencil to draw guidelines. Trace lines with India ink or a pencil. For crisp lines, keep ink nibs clean and pencil points sharp as you work.

4. Add shaded borders if desired by filling in between lightly drawn guidelines with pencil strokes.

Photocopy Transfers

Graphics from royalty-free clip-art books, available at most bookstores, become the inspiration for embellished mats. [See image 4 above.]

The photocopy transfers should complement the artwork they surround. A trip to a copy center, where clip art can be enlarged or reduced as desired, yields raw material for mat motifs.

For this project, you'll also need a mat, scissors, drafting tape, and a colorless blender marker to transfer designs to mats. Keep in mind that images will be reversed when applied.

Photocopy transfers yield the best results when applied to light-colored, smooth-surface mats. Black-and-white copies provide contrast when paired with color images, but color copies will also work. Ink-jet printouts, however, will not transfer.

1. Measure window-mat dimensions as well as those of selected clip-art elements. Take these measurements with you to a copy center, and scale photocopies up or down in size as needed when making copies. At least some of the clip-art images should be large enough to extend beyond the inner or outer edges of the mat. This will keep the patterns from having a scattered, disjointed look.

2. Trim designs from copied sheets, leaving a 3/4-inch white border around each. Arrange cutouts, facedown, in a decorative pattern on the front of a mat, and lightly hold in place with drafting tape.

3. After performing a few tests on scrap paper, begin to transfer larger elements to mat by burnishing the backs of the copied images with a colorless blender marker. [See image 5 above.] Apply marker firmly in a circular motion. Stop occasionally to carefully lift the edge of the piece being transferred, and check that the pattern is being rendered fully and neatly. If you see light spots or inconsistencies, reburnish area. Continue to transfer smaller elements; when finished, gently remove taped pieces.


Paper-Covered Mats

Embossed or patterned papers add eye-catching dimension to framed artwork. [See image 6 above.]

Mats can be completely or partially covered with paper. (Avoid using valuable images with decorative paper, which may not be archival quality.)

You'll need a mat, decorative paper, a cutting mat, a pencil, a clear plastic ruler, a cork-backed metal ruler, a craft knife, a craft brush, and craft glue.

1. To cover a mat completely, lay decorative paper facedown on cutting mat. Place window mat faceup on top, and trace around outer edges with pencil. Using a plastic ruler, draw lines 1 inch in from each inner window edge on paper. [See image 7 above.] Draw a diagonal line from each window corner to intersection of inner lines. [See image 8 above.] Use a metal ruler and craft knife to remove inner rectangle, and then cut along diagonal lines at each corner to create 4 flaps.

2. Set mat aside. Use a craft knife to trim outlined shape from paper. With brush, apply glue to back of paper. Center mat facedown on paper, flip, and, working from inside out, smooth to adhere. Turn mat over, and fold flaps inward onto the back of mat. Burnish beveled edges of window opening with fingers to make crisp edges.

3. For a treatment covered partially with paper, follow steps above, but place mat faceup on glue-covered paper, and fold flaps forward onto front of mat.

Framing, Step by Step

1. On a clean work surface, place window mat facedown and mounting mat faceup, with top edges touching. Join sections with 1 1/4-inch self-adhesive linen tape. [See image 9 above.]

2. Place image on mounting mat back. Flip window mat down, centering image in window. Secure position with a weighted object. [See image 10 above.] Flip window up. Make linen tape T hinges by placing short vertical strips, sticky side up, 1/2 inch under artwork's top edge with 1 inch extending beyond edge. Place horizontal tape strips, aligned with image's top edge, over vertical pieces. Remove weight. Flip window down.

3. Remove backing from frame and discard. Remove glass, place atop 1/4-inch-thick foam board, and trace outline with pencil. Cut traced piece from foam board with craft knife. Set glass on a towel, balancing it on its bottom edge, and clean both sides with window cleaner and paper towels. Replace glass in frame. Fit matted art, facedown, on glass. Place foam panel on top. With a flathead screwdriver and small hammer, tap framing brads into inner sides of frame. Start on either side of each corner, and then add brads at evenly spaced intervals. [See image 11 above.]

4. Cut brown kraft paper a bit larger than frame and place on a cutting mat. [See image 12 above.] Apply a border of craft glue to back edges of frame. Flip frame over and onto paper. Let glue dry. Trim excess paper with craft knife.

5. Flip frame and place on towel. Smooth edges with fine-grain sandpaper. Use a spray bottle filled with water to dampen backing. With a blow-dryer set on high, dry paper until tightly drawn across frame. [See image 13 above].

6. To attach hanging hardware, measure 1/3 of the way down from top of frame and make a pencil mark on each side. Screw in D-ring hangers at pencil marks. Using wire cutters, cut a piece of hanging wire 11 inches longer than frame width. Insert 1 end of wire into 1 of the ring hangers and double-knot, leaving a 4-inch tail. Wrap tail around longer piece of wire. Repeat on other side, leaving enough slack to hang picture. Before hanging, place 1 self-adhesive, rubber surface protector at each bottom corner of the frame. [See image 14 above.]

Text by Julie Mihaly



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