Learn how to build a frame for your art. This shadow-box frame is perfect for works on paper, and artist Diane Reed Sawyer takes us through the process from beginning to end.
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Building a Shadow-Box Frame
I wanted to create ﬂoating frames for my 6×6-inch aerial “minis,” thinking they’d show off the pieces nicely, and also be reminiscent of the small windows on a passenger plane.
You often see ﬂoating frames used on oil panels, but with pastels, there’s the added complication of needing to put them behind glass. I decided to approach the frame as a modiﬁed shadow-box.
After searching online and in frame shops, I found some simple black wooden frame stock, 2 inches deep. I ordered 8×8 frames in which to ﬂoat my 6×6 paintings, which allows for a 1-inch border on all sides.
I constructed a box within the frame using 3∕8-inch black foam core as backing and spacers to hold the artwork away from the glass in much the same way that traditional spacers hold the glass away from the pastel’s surface. Of course, in this case, the spacers are much larger.
How to Build a Frame — What You’ll Need
• A pre-assembled frame, approximately 2 inches deep
• 3∕8-inch foam core—black or color of your choice
• An X-Acto or mat knife with a sharp blade
• Metal ruler
• Glue and/or other materials to attach your piece to the backing (Elmer’s glue or other watersoluble glue, double-sided tape or Velcro)
• Framing stapler or push points
• Hanging wire
Cut a piece of foam core the size of the inside of the frame (8×8) to serve as the backing board. Next, cut two pieces of foam core approximately 1½-inch square. Stacked and glued together, these will act as the “standoff.”
Then, cut four strips of foam core the length of your backing board to create spacers. I made them ¾x8 inches in my example. The width can vary depending on how deep you’d like your frame to be.
Be sure the width of the four pieces matches exactly and is consistent, so there won’t be any gaps in your shadow-box. Then shorten two of the strips, subtracting twice the width of the foam core, or ¾ inch, from their length. The spacers will create a frame within the frame, and will hold the glass above your piece.
You can decide how deep you want your shadow-box to be and what size frame will work best for your needs. Just remember to add the width of all the components: the glass, the stand-off, the backing board and the artwork. Doublecheck to ensure that the sum is less than the depth of the frame, while leaving room for the framing points in the back.
With the frame turned upside down on the table, place the glass in the bottom of the frame. The glass should be cleaned before you put it in, and it’s a good idea to wear gloves to avoid leaving ﬁngerprints on it. If it’s Conservation Clear, make sure the emulsion side is facing up.
Fit the spacer pieces inside the frame, sandwiching the glass between the lip of the frame and the spacers. The two longer pieces will go opposite each other, and the two shorter pieces should ﬁt snugly in between.
You can use a pressure ﬁt without glue if they’re snug. If you’re concerned that they may move, take the pieces back out, apply a little glue to their backs and carefully replace them, gluing them to the sides of the frame.
Stack the two small square pieces you cut in Step 2, and glue them together. Once they’re dry, glue them onto the very center of the backing board.
Here’s a trick to locate the centers: Use a ruler to line up the corners diagonally. Draw a short line where you think the center is. Then line up the opposite corners and draw another line. The center is where the two diagonal lines intersect.
Using the same process, attach your artwork to the stand-off block you just created: Apply one side of a piece of Velcro tape to the top of the stand-off block, and the other side to the center of the back of your artwork.
Before you push the two sides together, carefully measure the distance to the edges on all sides to make sure they’re all equal. I prefer to use Velcro or glue because it allows me to adjust the position if necessary to ensure the art is squared and centered. If you use glue, you’ll need to weight it, and check to make sure it doesn’t move as it dries.
With the frame glass-side down in front of you, and the spacers in place, pick up the artwork and backing board and turn them over so the art faces down. Gently push the backboard into place, so that its edges are resting on the side supports or spacers.
Once it’s all the way down and snug against the supports, turn it over to make sure it looks good, and that no pastel has fallen into the frame.
Use a framing stapler or push points to secure the artwork in place. Add a hanging wire. Your shadow-box frame is now complete.