CMS professional Development Series: How to Frame Mosaics for Exhibition

October 25, 2019

After all those hours planning, composing and creating a work of art, the final presentation is often an afterthought. Professional presentation shows your work is in its completed state , ready to be displayed. After it leaves the studio, your work might be shipped from show to show, or perhaps it will be hung or rehung by its owner. Framing your artwork ‘houses’ it and can protect it around the edges where some mosaic work can be most vulnerable to potential damage. When the edges of a substrate (the base of your mosaic) are exposed, so are the tesserae on the border, making them susceptible to getting ‘dinged’ and popping off. Framing a 2-dimensional mosaic work is an option that offers a ‘buffer’ to that kind of damage and exposure. A frame should be functional and should not stand out so much that it visually competes with your work. In other words, you don’t want viewer to look at your work and only react to it with “what a nice frame!”

There are many kinds of frames out there, from the basic- do-it-yourself aluminum ‘floater’ frame, to a 17th century ornate gold baroque option, and a tremendous amount of choices in-between. I advocate for simple over decorative. As artists, we can make those aesthetic decisions for our work when we present it. A collector may decide to reframe it to meet their tastes or décor- once they own the work they can do what they want with it. Generally, collectors will bow to the artist and respect their framing choices unless it is a cheap and temporary type of frame.

When a print or drawing is framed, it is usually matted first. When framing a mosaic, a calm space between the artwork and the frame can give the work a greater perspective and allow the viewer to see the elements of the work more clearly.

It is also important to take into account the substrate, board, or base our mosaic is built on. Professionals create their work on appropriate materials, such as birch or oak plywood or lightweight sustainable materials such as Wedi or hexalight. Substrates should be thick enough to support the weight of mosaic materials without danger of warping yet light enough for lifting and hanging. If you create your work on hexalite or Wedi you need to plan your framing options before you create your piece. Those materials generally require hangers or bolt washers to be inserted before (and therefore, under) your work.

Additionally, with framing considerations are decisions about hanging systems. Since most mosaics are heavier than works in other mediums, what works well for a painting may not work for a mosaic. D-rings with heavy wire and French cleat systems are options for heavier work. It is well worth investing your time to work with a professional framer who can make recommendations and can give you the opportunity to see different framing choices around your work.

Your artwork deserves the kind of presentation that will showcase it in the best possible way If you are presenting the work in an exhibition, when selecting a frame- the focus is the piece IN the frame. Let your work do the talking, not what’s around it.


Written by Karen Ami, October 2019

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