How To Build Your Own Frame

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by Tanya Singh

The right frame can significantly enhance the final look of a painting and the wrong one can completely ruin it. The artist’s work does not end with just the completion of the work of art. The frame, too, is a very important aspect of the process of creation and quite literally of the painting itself. Like Eli Wilner, CEO of Wilner & Co., a New York frame dealer said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “the best frames are an extension of the art they surround, not its antithesis”.

build your own frame

“Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.”
Gilbert K. Chesterton

While we do not necessarily agree with Chesterton, we cannot deny that a tastefully chosen frame can compliment a painting and really draw attention to it. Framing is an integral part of creating as well as exhibiting and every artist should have some basic knowledge about it. More often than not, artists choose to send out their works for framing. There is nothing wrong with that and perhaps, it is the easier option. However, making the frame yourself is not as difficult as it sounds. Also, this way, the artist has complete control over the quality of the frame as well as the expenditure.

Here is an article about framing and how you can do it yourself.

Where To Begin?

The first and foremost thing to consider while building your own frame is to decide the kind and quality of the frame. Choosing the type of frame can be a very challenging task. There are several things, like the length and width of the frame, its color, and even the material to be used, to keep in mind while making this decision and the task can get quite overwhelming.

Following are a few tips to help you with this decision –

Always choose a frame that matches the style of the painting. An antique crafted frame with a contemporary work of art will certainly not do justice to the art or to the frame. The material and style of the frame should be chosen keeping in mind the style and time of the painting.

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The frame should not be so extravagant so as to overshadow the painting. This will completely defeat the purpose of the frame. Frames are used to enhance the painting and separate them from the rest of the wall or the room and not to distract the viewer. For example, a brightly colored frame for a painting done in earthy colors will immediately attract the viewer’s attention towards itself and completely outshine the painting.

build your own frame

The best way to choose the color of the frame is to simply pick a shade from the painting itself. This makes the frame look more like an extension than a boundary.

Try to use wider and larger frames for small paintings and smaller and thinner frames for large paintings. This is advised so that the frame and the painting look proportionate to each other. However, there are always exceptions.

Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication, and more often than not, a thin white or a dark wood frame works perfectly fine. A simple frame will instantly transfer all of the viewer’s attention to the work of art itself.

Lastly, feel free to experiment. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to selecting the right frame. Experiment as much as you can with materials, sizes and colors until you find the perfect match for your painting.

Understanding Frames

The next step after choosing the kind and quality of the materials for the frame is to start the building process. However, before that you must familiarize yourself with the several parts of a frame to help you understand the building process better.

The four main parts – frame, glass, matting and backing

The Frame

The most important and visible part is the structure itself. This is the part that will protect your artwork and enhance its look.

The Matting

Matting is something that is only used when framing paper works and photographs. You can choose from a wide variety of materials and colors. It is basically a filler for the empty space that separates the artwork from the frame. It may also be referred to as the mounting in some cases.

The Glass

The glass is what covers your painting to protect it and keep it free from dust and dirt. The glass used in frames must be non-reflective to ensure a proper and unobstructed view.

The Backing

This is the support of the frame. It supports your artwork from the back and protects it from collecting dust. It is usually the size of the entire frame (including the matting) and is made from cotton rag board. Paper works and photographs require extra backing as compared to canvases and canvas boards.

How To Build Your Own Frame?

Building a frame is a task governed by precision and perfection. Even a slight mistake in the measurements can prove to be a major difficulty. It may be a challenging task but it is not something you cannot do yourself. Correct measurements are the key to building a strong and sturdy frame.


Here is a step by step guide to help you through the process –

Step 1

Take the measurements of the painting and, accordingly, plan the measurements of the matting (if being used) as well as the frame. This is the most important step and will significantly influence the final outcome.

Step 2

Choose the material you want for the matting and determine how wide you want the matting to be. A good estimate is roughly ¼ of the width of the image. Draw the outline for the matting as well as for your work. The drawing should look like the outer mat is encasing the work of art inside or simple, a rectangle inside a rectangle. The inner rectangle must be equal to the size of your painting or slightly smaller. This depends on the edges of your work and if you can afford to cover up some area on all sides.

Step 3

Cut the outer edge of the matting. The area that is marked for your painting or the inner rectangle must also be cut out. Place the artwork inside the mat and check the measurement before you proceed.

(Steps 2 and 3 are only applicable for paper works and photographs)

Step 4

Choose the material for the frame. This is an equally important step in building your own frame. The decision you make here will determine the strength and the quality of your frame. When choosing the type of wood, look for the sturdier and thicker option whereas while picking out metal, choose the kind that will last longer.

Step 5

Cut the edges of the frame according to the measurements of your painting or the matting, as the case may be. All edges must be cut diagonally at the ends so that they can be assembled properly. The best way to do this is to mark an angle of 45 degrees by hand first. This whole process can be a little complicated and you must make sure that you leave enough margin for the artwork or the matting on all sides. Keep cross checking by placing the work beside the frame to make sure the sizes are correct. You must also make sure that the width of the frame is sufficient to incorporate the glass as well as the work.

Step 6

Cut a frame rebate in all the edges from the back. This gives the frame depth from the back to ensure the glass and the painting do not fall out of it. This can also be done by creating a thinner frame and attaching it to the back of the original one.

Step 7

Color or paint (if required) the edges of the frame and let it dry completely. Painting the edges before they are assembled ensures neatness in your structure.

Step 8

Put the edges together and stick them using glue. This will give you one final chance to check your measurements. When the glue has dried, use hammer and nails to assemble the final structure. Make sure that this is done neatly and with utmost precision.

Step 9

Insert the glass followed by the matting and the work.

Step 10

Use the backing to seal off your frame from the back and add to the sturdiness. You can use a staple gun to seal off the backing. Cover the sealed backing with some tape to add to the seal.

Step 11

The last step is to check for any damage to the painting or add any final touches.
Do remember to give the frame some time to settle before hanging or transporting it. If you intend to hang it, make sure you attach the required elements while the frame is kept flat on the ground. This will protect the glass as well as the work from accidents.

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The frame is often disregarded or completely overlooked. Magazines, newspapers, and even exhibition catalogs use images of artworks where the frame is cropped out. However, does the idea of looking at the Mona Lisa with its exquisite frame not sound much better than looking at just the canvas as if the painting were still incomplete? The four sides of the frame are indeed “the most important parts of a picture” as Henri Matisse rightly described them and what other way is there to ensure that your frame is not a mere outline but an internal part of your painting, than to build your own frame?


Looking to develop your artistic career and build a presence in New York City and worldwide? Book an online career development consultation meeting today.

Tanya Singh is a budding art historian and writer. She is currently pursuing her postgraduate studies at the LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. With a versatile portfolio, she has over three years of experience in writing as well as editing.


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