What can you make with floral foam, pantyhose and a box?…

Well frame fresh flowers of course. It’s a simple DIY that just involves a little pre-prep and gathering of ingredients, but in the end makes a great statement piece for an event

(image: Framed Flowers for a wedding at the Art Institute of Chicago - By K. La Designs in Chicago)

Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Stretching a Canvas:

I’ve talked about canvas stretching before and perhaps I’m returning to it because I’ve been on a canvas stretching bender in my studio, but there was a lot that I did not cover in my last post.

 Whenever someone comes into the store with an un-stretched canvas painting it’s a bit of a struggle to explain everything that has to happen to make that painting look like what they expect it to look like. The conversation usually goes a little something like this:

Customer: Oh, I have this painting and I need to get it framed [presenting me with a rolled up painting]

Me: Sure, so you need it stretched. Did you want it stretched and framed? (now, I know that most people do not know what I mean by ‘stretched’ but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt)

Cusotmer: [Blank stare]…um…what?

Me: [pointing to a stretched painting on the wall] So, this is a painting stretched on stretcher bars, that’s the wooden frame in the back - but you can also get it framed…

Ok, now the conversation goes in a number of directions depending on what they want. What’s important to know is that there is more than one way to stretch a canvas:

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Semi-DIY Custom Framing

I recently went home for the wedding of one of my best friends. The wedding and the whole week leading up to it were great and filled with lots of occasions for gift giving. It was, of course, my pleasure to shower my friend with gifts (since she is one of those people who is too humble to think she deserves anything) but as per usual, my wallet never seems to fit my intentions with gift giving. This means I had to get thrifty and crafty.

As a special gift, I decided to make her and her husband a personalized piece of art - a 4 color paper cut-out to commemorate the day they officially became a Mr. and Mrs. Instead of giving them a piece of paper though, I wanted to get it properly framed.

Though I’m a framer where I live and therefore have access to heavily discounted framing supplies and every tool I could possibly desire, when I go back home to my parents’ house I’m relegated to the same supplies most people have sitting around their home.  

In order to frame the gift for them to my standards (no cutting corners for me - I’m a pro) I got smart about what things I decided to have custom done…here’s how I managed a professionally framed semi-DIY frame job on a budget:

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Bri Emery of DesignLoveFest posted a DIY mat tutorial on her blog recently and I thought it was too cute to pass up sharing. I am a big fan on white frames with white mats, but it was nice to see this tutorial spice up that combination a bit.

It’s very simple and the only advice I would add to her step by step DIY, is to try and keep all of your materials acid free. I know I talk about acid free materials all the time, but really it’s the difference between your hard work lasting 1 year versus 10.

Find acid free decorative paper at almost any craft or art store and acid free PVA glue will last a long time without yellowing. And if you can afford it, use UV protective glass as well. 

How to Hang your Artwork like a Pro:
I’ve hung a lot of artwork over the years - my own artwork, that of my friends and that of total strangers. In this experience installing work in my home, studios and galleries I’ve learned a few tricks. Some I was taught and some were learned after long and arduous hours of frustration. Here I give you all (or most) of my lessons learned.
All hangers are not made equal - the bits on the back of the artwork that you use to hang the art on the wall are called hangers. Often there is a wire or cord strung across two D-rings, eyelets etc. Depending on the size, dimensions and weight of the piece the hanger will differ. Click here for a great resource of hangers and weight tolerance.
The hanger dictates how you…you guessed it, hang it - D-rings without a wire, require screws placed at their exact points on the wall. 
Use mock-ups - the paper that the diagram above says to cut out is your mock painting. Get it as close to the actual size of the actual piece as possible - even draw a little image of the painting on it if you want. Just make sure when you mark the hanger measurement and center measurement you use different symbols so you don’t end up cutting out the spot where the hanger should go. The center hole is used to see the tape mark your should have put on the wall where the 57 inch eye height level is.
Plan, measure, measure again, check your measurements, measure once more…then nail - It really sucks to hang a few things, stand back and then realize you measured the hanger to the center. The problem with hanging is that one wrong measurement throws more than one thing off. This is why mock ups are so handy. I’m a visual person, so dealing with numbers and measurements without a visual reference gets me very confused, very quickly.
Level it off - Use a level to make sure the image is straight UNLESS the building is not level. I experienced this frustrating and mind bending curiosity during my first gallery job. The gallery was in an old factory building and the old wood floors were no longer level. We would measure, re-measure, hang and level….and still…it looked all wrong. We eventually took to the not-so-precise ‘measure, hang and eye-it’ method which worked much better in the end.

How to Hang your Artwork like a Pro:

I’ve hung a lot of artwork over the years - my own artwork, that of my friends and that of total strangers. In this experience installing work in my home, studios and galleries I’ve learned a few tricks. Some I was taught and some were learned after long and arduous hours of frustration. Here I give you all (or most) of my lessons learned.

All hangers are not made equal - the bits on the back of the artwork that you use to hang the art on the wall are called hangers. Often there is a wire or cord strung across two D-rings, eyelets etc. Depending on the size, dimensions and weight of the piece the hanger will differ. Click here for a great resource of hangers and weight tolerance.

The hanger dictates how you…you guessed it, hang it - D-rings without a wire, require screws placed at their exact points on the wall. 

Use mock-ups - the paper that the diagram above says to cut out is your mock painting. Get it as close to the actual size of the actual piece as possible - even draw a little image of the painting on it if you want. Just make sure when you mark the hanger measurement and center measurement you use different symbols so you don’t end up cutting out the spot where the hanger should go. The center hole is used to see the tape mark your should have put on the wall where the 57 inch eye height level is.

Plan, measure, measure again, check your measurements, measure once more…then nail - It really sucks to hang a few things, stand back and then realize you measured the hanger to the center. The problem with hanging is that one wrong measurement throws more than one thing off. This is why mock ups are so handy. I’m a visual person, so dealing with numbers and measurements without a visual reference gets me very confused, very quickly.

Level it off - Use a level to make sure the image is straight UNLESS the building is not level. I experienced this frustrating and mind bending curiosity during my first gallery job. The gallery was in an old factory building and the old wood floors were no longer level. We would measure, re-measure, hang and level….and still…it looked all wrong. We eventually took to the not-so-precise ‘measure, hang and eye-it’ method which worked much better in the end.

Kraft Paper Framing (French Framing) - 

I saw this project on the Oh Happy Day blog and I have to admit that I actually kinda like it. That is blasphemous for a framer to say considering there is no frame in this framing project…and even worse than that…it’s not at all archival. But it’s a cute and easy temporary solution. For the full DIY, go here.

If you do decide to try this project I have this advice:

  1. Make sure all your materials are acid free - acid free materials are a bit more expensive, but are definitely worth it and take you one step closer to being archival. This will help your tape’s adhesive last longer and keep your mats from turning yellow or worse…turning your art or photos yellow. 
  2. Use a Solid Backing in addition to Foam Core - a backing like MDF or thin plywood will give you more options for a hanger allowing you to install the work more safely (ie. sawtooth hanger). 
  3. Use Plexi Glass/ Acrylic glazing - Glass is heavier and without a solid border of wood or metal keeping it in, it could easily tear through the tape. Also, Plexi being lighter will put less stress on your hanger on the back, making it less likely to come off.
Jordan of Oh Happy Day also recommends that you do not frame anything large using this method which I whole heartedly agree with. Keep it small. Keep it acid free. Keep it temporarily. 
Give your art a little space: 
This little hidden framing element is not really necessary for most people to know about. Often framers will add it into the cost if necessary without explaining it to the customer, which is fine. Sometimes you may have to request that it’s added and if you want to make sure your artwork is being properly protected, it’s best to know what a spacer is and what it’s function is.
Technically, artwork should not be pressed directly onto the glass. Does it happen? All the time. If there is a window mat cut, this is not something you have to worry about. In addition to being pretty, window mats have the added functionality of lifting the glazing off the work and allowing the necessary breathing space.
The correct way to frame artwork that does not have a window mat, is to add spacers. Spacers are wonderful little (usually plastic) inserts that fit underneath the rabbet (or lip) of the frame. They come in all different sizes - starting from 1/8 inch to much larger. The larger the spacer needs to be, the more likely it will be made of foam core and lined with a mat matching the color of the backing.
Spacers are also used when you want to float an artwork - this is when the artwork is mounted with space around the edges without a window mat covering the sides.

Give your art a little space: 

This little hidden framing element is not really necessary for most people to know about. Often framers will add it into the cost if necessary without explaining it to the customer, which is fine. Sometimes you may have to request that it’s added and if you want to make sure your artwork is being properly protected, it’s best to know what a spacer is and what it’s function is.

Technically, artwork should not be pressed directly onto the glass. Does it happen? All the time. If there is a window mat cut, this is not something you have to worry about. In addition to being pretty, window mats have the added functionality of lifting the glazing off the work and allowing the necessary breathing space.

The correct way to frame artwork that does not have a window mat, is to add spacers. Spacers are wonderful little (usually plastic) inserts that fit underneath the rabbet (or lip) of the frame. They come in all different sizes - starting from 1/8 inch to much larger. The larger the spacer needs to be, the more likely it will be made of foam core and lined with a mat matching the color of the backing.

Spacers are also used when you want to float an artwork - this is when the artwork is mounted with space around the edges without a window mat covering the sides.

Tools of the Trade: Canvas Stretching
Stretching a canvas is easy with some practice and it’s even easier with the right tools. The basic canvas pliers and manual staple gun will get the job done nicely (and to be honest just using your hands will work too), especially if stretching a canvas is not something you do very often.
If you’re looking to upgrade, or plan to stretch a lot of canvases, a heavy duty canvas plier with a large grip and leverage bar helps with even tension and requires less muscle. Also, an electric or pneumatic staple gun makes stapling quicker and easier. 
You can find these tools at various retailers all over the internet. Here are a few:
Canvas pliers:
Twin Brooks - Heavy Duty Canvas Pliers
Chrome Canvas Pliers
Staple Guns:
Arrow Chrome Staple Gun - Light Duty
Arrow Electric Staple Gun

Tools of the Trade: Canvas Stretching

Stretching a canvas is easy with some practice and it’s even easier with the right tools. The basic canvas pliers and manual staple gun will get the job done nicely (and to be honest just using your hands will work too), especially if stretching a canvas is not something you do very often.

If you’re looking to upgrade, or plan to stretch a lot of canvases, a heavy duty canvas plier with a large grip and leverage bar helps with even tension and requires less muscle. Also, an electric or pneumatic staple gun makes stapling quicker and easier. 

You can find these tools at various retailers all over the internet. Here are a few:

Canvas pliers:

Twin Brooks - Heavy Duty Canvas Pliers

Chrome Canvas Pliers

Staple Guns:

Arrow Chrome Staple Gun - Light Duty

Arrow Electric Staple Gun

Non-frame Framing: When is it okay not to frame and what are the alternatives?

Sometimes framing something properly is simply out of the budget and other times it just doesn’t seem worth it for what you’re trying to display. If you’re not too worried about preserving the piece or you just need a short-term display option, here are some cheaper alternatives to the traditional frame.

  • Display Clips - You can use these with any work on paper with or without a mat. Buying a custom cut mat alone will cost a fraction of what a whole frame will cost. If you’re not worried about moisture damage or other damage (like splatters in a kitchen) then simple display clips are a good alternative for small works.
  • Corner Frame Clips - these clips are often referred to as frameless frames because they essentially contain everything a traditional frame would contain (glazing, mat board, backing foam core) without the frame. They have metal claws that clip around either side of each corner of the work. These are a great option for small works that wont be exposed to moisture.
  • Tape Frame - this is a temporary solution that has the appearance of a thin simple frame at a fraction of the cost. Used on small things with acid free materials, it’s a pretty good short-term solution for a tight budget. (A ‘how-to’ coming in a couple weeks…)
  • Dry Mounting - It’s a process of adhering prints, posters or photographs to foam core, MDF or Gatorboard. MDF and Gatorboard are durable enough to be hung without a frame. Foam core is still susceptible to bending and denting and should eventually be protected for long-term hanging. This process is usually not reversible though, so make sure you want it to be attached for good if you go this route.

How to Stretch a Canvas: 

The concept of stretching a canvas is simple - evenly pull and staple all sides of the canvas around the stretcher edges until the front is taut and evenly stretched. 

In practice, it’s a little more complicated than that. Getting even tension and tackling those tricky corners are skills best left to a professional if crafty tasks are not your thing. However there are some tips to doing it well:

1) Opposites - start with one staple in the middle of one side of the canvas (I tend to start with the shorter side.) Then on the direct opposite side pull the canvas taught - using canvas pliers if necessary - and staple. Repeat on the long sides of the canvas and continue around the edges of the canvas doing one staple at a time using the opposite rule until all the sides are stapled.

2) Do-Over - Don’t be afraid to pull out a few staples and start over if you notice that the image is crooked (if you’re stretching an already painted image) or if you’re noticing large ripples from uneven tension or poorly placed staples.

3) Know Your Materials - Most canvas and linen made for painting can withstand quite a bit of pull and tension, but if you’re stretching a silk cloth for display or a painting made on thin cotton fabric (as I often see from people’s travels) you cannot pull very tight. In the case of delicate fabrics, even tension is more important that pulling it as tight as possible.