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Framing Art on a Budget

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1.Where to Find Picture Frames
Photo credit: Dan Patterson / Flickr

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Do you have a nice piece of artwork or a photograph that you’d love to have framed? Framing stores can charge hundreds of dollars for this service. With a little creativity, you can frame your own artwork with beautiful results. The best part is that you will pay a fraction of the price charged by a professional framer.

Where to Find Picture Frames

Grab a tape measure and head for the nearest thrift stores or yard sales. At most of these places, you can buy high-quality used frames with glass for between two and five dollars. If you plan to paint your new frame, any material will work. However, if you’re a fan of distressed picture frames, make sure the frame you purchase is solid wood – not particle board, veneer, metal or plastic. To find out if the frame you are looking at is particle board or veneer, check the back of the frame. Seams or unfinished spots will usually be evident.

Painting and Distressing Frames

You have countless options when it comes to painting and decorating your new frame. If you purchased a metal frame, you can leave it as-is or you can change the color with spray paint. Wood frames can be painted with nearly anything – latex, oil paint, acrylic or spray paint. Many prefer acrylic craft paints because they are inexpensive and easy to work with. Choose your desired color, make sure the frame is perfectly clean, and apply two or three coats of paint.

If the frame you chose has any carving or beading, adding a color wash will give it a lovely antique look. Use a dark brown or black acrylic paint mixed with water for your color wash. Dark brown works best for warm colors like orange, brown or beige. Use a black color wash over cool colors like lavender, green and blue. Simply pick up the color wash with a medium sized paint brush, and brush it liberally over the entire frame. The dark pigment will naturally settle into the low areas.

To achieve the distressed look, use a piece of sandpaper to strip away sections of paint. A medium-fine 120 grit works best for this – it’s not rough enough to seriously damage the wood, but not so fine that it will instantly clog with paint. Go over the edges and ridges with the sandpaper until you have the right look. When you’re finished, apply a clear coat sealer such as spray-can polyurethane or a fast drying water-based varnish to protect the exposed wood.

Solutions for Matboard

Visit your local craft store or check out online art supply retailers to find the right mat for your photo. Prices typically range anywhere between 10 and 15 dollars for a 32 by 40-inch piece of uncut matboard. Smaller pre-cut mats cost about the same.

If you are only framing one picture, a pre-cut mat is the easiest option. However, you will save money on multiple projects if you buy one or two large uncut matboards and cut them yourself. Professionally cut mats always have a beveled inside edge. To achieve the same result at home, use a sharp craft knife and a triangular ruler to have a straight bevel at the right angle.

Mounting Your Artwork

Some people choose to use masking tape to affix their art to the mat, but there are two reasons why this is a bad idea. The first reason is that masking tape contains acids that will stain photo paper and artist papers. Masking tape also gets brittle with time. You may find your art breaks free after a couple of years. Use archival-grade framer’s tape instead. The retailer that carries your favorite matboard should have it in stock, and a roll should cost 10 dollars or less.

Framing your own artwork is very rewarding. The finished piece will mean much more to you than framed art that someone else made. It also costs far less than professional framing services, and you are likely to have a surplus of supplies on hand for your future framing projects.


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