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Framing Tips for the #Pleinair Artist

Plein air painting, "Santa Inez at San Elijo" by San Diego artist, Ronald Lee Oliver.

The working artist has to wear many hats, one of which is the “Framers Hat.” The following framing tips show how I treat my paintings to ensure they look professionally done and will serve my clients and galleries well.

If you plan to sell paintings yourself through an online presence without the intermediary of a gallery or other representation, to keep costs down you should know some things about framing.  If you do work with galleries, they will appreciate that your works arrive ready to hang with a professional look, both front and back.

Some tools that will come in handy are:

  1. A Tape Measure.
  2. Wire “Nippers.”
  3. Cordless Drill Driver
Framing Tips. A typical 16x20 panel in a quality, wooden frame.
A typical 16×20 panel in a quality, wooden frame.

I use stainless steel hardware that will never rust. You don’t want your reputation tarnished by rusty parts a few years down the road.  Usually I paint en plein air on hardboard panels as seen in the photo.  Panels are portable, easy to mount and will not tear like a canvas could.  It’s also easy to sign, date and add any other info to the back of the painting with a permanent “Sharpie” type marker.

Here’s a closer look at the information I put on my panels…

Framing Tips

I like to add:

  1. The Title.
  2. My Signature(s).
  3. The Date and Place I Painted the Painting.
  4. A Copyright Symbol and Year.
  5. What I Used to Conserve the Painting.

In this case I used Dammar Varnish, so I’ve written that down in the lower right on the back of the panel.  This will help future owners and conservators when it comes time to clean and re-seal the painting.  They will know what solvents and cleaners are necessary to do their work and will appreciate that I’ve helped them out with this message.
Framing TipsYou can see the screws I use are stainless steel, self tapping #6×3/8″.  I prefer using these short screws because some frames have very thin face material and longer screws can actually penetrate through the front and ruin a costly frame.  That’s not good!  The 3/8 length is strong enough to hold most any painting up to about 18×24 inches.  Beyond that, you may want to ensure your frames are more substantial and can take the longer screws without any issues. I don’t think the 3/8″ screws are adequate to hold larger, heavier frames.  You can also see the “offset clip” I’ve used to hold the panel tightly in the frame opening. These clips come in different offset depths and it’s good to have an assortment because frames have differing rabbet depths and sometimes you may use a thicker panel or canvas so it’s good to be prepared.
Framing Tips

I like the single-eye, D-Ring style, stainless steel hangers. These too are strong enough to hold small to medium-sized paintings but if you frame larger works, it would be good to get the heavy-duty hangers with two screw holes, so you can be assured they will hold the extra weight.

Framing Tips

You can see the tips of the self-tapping screws in this photo. No need to pre-drill pilot holes when using these–saves lots of time.  Just put the screw on the magnetic tip of your drill driver and place it where you want, then pull the trigger…in it goes!
Framing Tips

I think it’s best to use vinyl-coated framers wire for the hanging wire.  It protects your fingers (and your clients) as well as makes the installation easier.  If you’ve ever had your finger pricked or had a strand of framing wire go under your fingernail, you’ll know why I recommend this 🙂

I use a slip-knot loop to attach the wire to the D-Rings at both ends.  Leave about 4 or 5 inches of extra wire at each end in addition to the length needed to span the width from the D-Rings at each side.
Framing Tips

Tighten up the slip-knot, then wrap the extra wire around the main length about a 10 or 12 times…
Framing Tips

then cinch it down tight and cut off the excess, leaving a nice presentation with no fly-away ends.  The D-Rings should be placed as near to the edge of the frame as possible without showing.  This ensures that the painting hangs close to the wall.
Framing Tips

I also like to add a business card with my web URL on it glued to the back.  I use simple white glue for this because it will hold up well and dries clear.
Framing TipsThe finished wire should be good and taught without much slack.  Here you can see that with the D-Rings about 6 inches from the top of the frame, the wire flexes up when hanging by less than two inches, leaving about 4 inches of room for the hanger to be hidden from the top of the painting.  This also makes sure that the top of the frame does not drift away from the wall.
Framing Tips

That’s it!  It’s not too difficult to Do It Yourself and make sure your art will hang correctly and with a professional appearance.  Your clients and galleries will appreciate your art all the much more when it’s framed and ready to hang with professional, quality materials and techniques.

4 thoughts on “Framing Tips for the #Pleinair Artist

  1. As a picture framer, I like your approach and appreciate the info you provide on the back of your panels. My only critique is that I would spend the extra time and expense to put in a few more clips, specifically in the corners. The untreated (even tempered) Masonite panels (or other fiberboard substrates) can react to moisture and bow if unsecured. I only bring it up, because have seen it happen countless times. Thank you Ron!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Chuck. That’s a good point. While I haven’t seen bowing yet, I live in the dry climate of Southern California, where it is probably not as prevalent an issue. I can add your suggestion to the post as a caveat.

  2. Do you use ready made frames, custom frames or make your own frames? Have you found a favorite vendor on line for these supplies or are you able purchase from a local retailer? Thanks for this blog…very good stuff.
    Don Miskin.

    1. Don, I recommend trying to find a frame manufacturer within driving distance of your location–one that offers wholesale/resell prices. This allows you to browse their catalog or inventory, choose frames you like, and have them make frames for you in the numbers you need. You will also save plenty by picking up the frames yourself, rather than having them shipped. If you can’t find “local” manufacturers, try eBay and do web search comparison shopping to find a vendor that has quality frames at reasonable prices. Here again, distance from your location can save cash on shipping.

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