Framing for Competition

You’ve probably heard this advice before: Use restraint when matting and framing for competition. Yet every year dismayed jurors report artists who undermine their work with bad matting and framing choices. To help this year’s hopefuls, I interviewed jurors nationwide, and collected these 10 tips on how to showcase your art to its best advantage.

1. Aim for “invisible” matting and framing. Remember: the purpose of a juried show is to present artwork for critical evaluation. You want the jurors to focus on your artistic skills not your talent for creative framing.

2. Respect the continuity of the show. Like show organizers, most jurors prefer a clean, consistent exhibition. The artist who gets too adventurous with his or her framing risks the scorn of jurors.

3. Play it safe with off-white and neutral tone mats. Of course, jurors’ tastes vary, but an easy way to avoid upsetting anyone’s sensibilities is to use unobtrusive, neutral colors for your matting.

4. Beware of trendy colors. If you must use color, avoid the current trends in home decor. Paintings matted for decoration imply that the artwork is secondary in the artist’s mind.

5. Don’t let the frame steal the show. Framing should enhance the composition, not compete with it. Don’t distract the juror with a too elaborate or ornamental frame.

6. Choose a frame that best suits the tone of your painting. As a rule, very ornate frames are associated with traditional artwork. Streamlined metal and lacquered frames are associated with contemporary artwork.

7 Size matters—avoid frames that are too small or too large. A large painting in a too narrow frame will convey a sense of fragility. Conversely, a small painting can be dwarfed by a too wide or ornamental frame.

8. Don’t skimp on materials. Badly joined frames, smudged mats, smeared glass and ragged, wavy or overcut mat edges speak volumes to a juror about the attitude of the artist. If you don’t care enough about your painting to frame it thoughtfully, the judges won’t care much about it either.

9. Get to know the jurors. Some jurors absolutely hate the use of color and accents in matting. Others consider it an acceptable expression of the artist’s personality. It behooves you to find out what the jurors of a particular show expect. Giving them what they want is the best recipe for success.

10. Don’t be afraid to do-it-yourself. Professionals don’t always know best. If you do your homework and use quality materials, there’s no reason you can’t do your own matting and framing, as long as you do it well.

Heather Galloway is a freelance conservator and Assistant Paintings Conservator with the Intermuseum Laboratory at Oberlin College.

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