The art of framing

framing-wall-view Wood nude tree limb view

A confession: I have done no drawing for two whole weeks. I really miss it.

However,  I have been thinking a lot about framing and presentation, which is a necessity right now with a show coming up.  So I thought I’d share a little of the thought and preparation that goes into putting my work on the wall.  I’ve learned a lot since I started exhibiting, some from generous artist colleagues and most from trial and a fair amount of error.

Why do frames matter?

A frame does a number of jobs – it protects the work, especially important for my fairly fragile charcoal drawings, it provides a safe method of transporting and displaying the work and, if you’ve chosen a good one, will make the work look great. It is of course a choice whether to frame or not and I often like to show my large drawings unframed if possible.  I really enjoy seeing other artist’s work unframed, I feel somehow closer to the act of making to be able to see it without glass.  But I also can’t help feeling disappointed when otherwise interesting art works are displayed in unsuitable or just plain bad frames.  Perhaps this is the designer in me getting frustrated with careless presentation, but all the feedback I have had from exhibiting has made me realise that presentation really matters.

framing-oak

My framing choices

When I mounted my first solo show I did lots of research into framing techniques and quickly realised that ready made frames would not suit my work – there needs to be a decent gap between the glass and the surface of the work for dry media, which means a deep frame and careful handling is needed.  I also felt that quality was very important – there’s no point putting your heart and soul into a drawing only to plonk it thoughlessly into a flimsy Ikea frame.  I love Ikea for other things incidentally, just not for my frames!

I also realised that I was not destined to be a DIY framer – this was a job best left to the experts.  After trying a few local firms I was lucky enough to find a small but meticulous framing company and have developed a great relationship over the years.  Trust is very important in this exchange, since many months work is handed over to them and much effort and expense is involved.  Edinburgh based Linda Park is primarily a painter, but is also very busy with her framing clients.  She has a painter’s eye for what will complement the works and takes great care in handling it.

framing-tests

I’ve discovered that there are complex and subtle choices to be made.  Which of the twenty-four shades of white would I like for the mountboard?  How many millimetres depth do I desire for the frame?  Which delicate shade of grey for the hand finishing?  How do I want to balance each side of the border?  See – no wonder I’ve not done any drawing.

So I have a drawer of paint charts and test pieces which I spend a lot of time squinting at, trying to imagine what it would look like and try to keep some consistency with my choices so that the overall effect in an exhibition is harmonious.

Preparing for an exhibition

framing-unwrapped

Here are my most recent works just collected from the framer.  She’s done a beautiful job as usual and I’m pleased with the new choice of colour for the pale hand painted ones – I think this works well with the predominantly white background of the work.  I now have to get them ready for hanging in the Meffan Gallery, which means mirror plating them.  I also sign, date and title them on the back and add my contact details.

framing-mirror-plates       framing-turned-plates

I worked out that it is much easier to pre-paint the mirror plates white, then attach them, rather than paint them after they’ve been hung.  No more going round with a tiny paintbrush before a private view, more time to do your hair or sample the wine or whatever. I position the mirror plates exactly halfway down the sides of the frame which makes for quicker and more consistent hanging, and for ease of transport I reverse them so they don’t damage other works.

There are thirty four works in the next show, ‘Time around trees’, so it took me a while to prepare, wrap and label them all, but I know that the better my preparation is, the more time I’ll have during the hanging to get things just as I want them.  And that’s the fun part.

framing-picture-back       framing-numbered

‘Time around trees’ opens at the Meffan Gallery, Forfar on Saturday 4th October and runs until Saturday 1st November.

 

 

 

 

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Adventures in photopolymer printmaking

In November last year I did a weekend course in photopolymer etching at Edinburgh Printmakers and now I’m properly hooked!

inking-up

I’ve been back regularly to practise, putting my new knowledge to the test and diligently checking the notes every time I move through the process.  I’ve loved the whole atmosphere of the place – it manages to be both highly professional and very friendly, with a sort of background hum of intense but enjoyable creative activity.  The other printmakers I’ve met are generous with their knowledge whilst being humble about the challenges of being a printmaker.  I’ve also really enjoyed the physicality of the processes in the efficiently designed workshop – reminds me of my days at Manchester Polytechnic in the ceramic studio or the metal workshop, the smell of wet and dry, oiled machinery and funny coloured chemicals.

I know it’s early days in my learning, but I set myself the goal of having some prints to show in my next exhibition, ‘Figured wood’, in April, so I’ve been working like a mad thing to find what works for my images – you’ll need to visit the exhibition to see whether I’ve succeeded, but here’s a few process pictures to get you started…

bart

‘Bart’ the historic printing press

printing

Lined up and ready to print

prints-drying

Proofs fresh off the press!

See here for more information about this printmaking technique and that course I attended.

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Hanging decisions

work-laid-out

Which to frame, what kind of frame, how many to hang, which to hang where? so many decisions…and then so much maths once you’ve decided.  They never taught me this at art college!

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A long time in the planning

meffan-model-1

It may be only a 50th of the actual size but this is the best planning tool I’ve used yet!

Having two solo shows booked for 2014, I thought I really needed to make myself a plan to guide my work and preparations.  However, the two dimensional methods I’d used before just weren’t up to the job, particularly for the Meffan Gallery show which has a flexible panel system for hanging work.  So, it may have been my three-dimensional design training or perhaps my childhood love of doll’s houses that prompted me to find some foamboard offcuts, some dressmaking pins and a calculator to translate a 2D floor plan into a proper 3D model.  I can’t lie – it was fun and I did spend longer than strictly necessary viewing it from all angles at eye level. Even made a wee person too.

Once I’d printed images of the potential works to scale it was a doddle to hang and rehang, play one piece off against another and generally visualise the exhibition as a whole. It was also obvious where the gaps might be and where I should focus my efforts with new work – it’s so easy to get carried away with exciting new experiments but I also have to make sure I have work to put on these walls.

meffan-model-2

There’s no substitute for seeing the actual exhibition space if it’s possible, so I spent an afternoon at Dawyck Botanic Garden, measuring the gallery and meeting the lovely staff.  They’d just finished hanging the current show, Remarkable Trees, which is on until the end of March.  My show ‘Figured wood’ follows it, opening on the 5th April.

dawyk-6

Now I have two little scale models to reassure me when I think I don’t have enough work, don’t know what I’m going to do, think it’ll all go wrong – those creative insecurities don’t ever go away but some practical planning really helps me to ignore them!

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In front of the camera

photoshoot

Like most artists I know I’d prefer to be behind the camera than in front of it – I’d rather let the work speak for itself, but there are times when a decent photo of the artst in their studio is required.  So I was lucky to have the chance last weekend of getting some professional images made by Mark K Jackson, a local partrait and documentary photographer currently working on a project to photograph artists and makers in St Margaret’s House.  I confess to being totally bamboozled by the technical aspects of photography: thankfully Mark knows his subject well and has some impressive kit too.  I dutifully donned my dusty drawing shirt, held my drawing materials still and tried really hard not to blink.  Some of the resulting images will probably sneak onto the internet fairly soon!

A very different (and more comfortable) kind of publicity opportunity presented itself recently, in the form of Wolfstar Pictures and their ‘Art Drone’.  As part of our Open Week/Open Studios event my fellow tenants set out to make a short film giving a taste of the creativity in the building. I was so pleased to have my studio chosen to feature in their fantastic film – see for yourself here »

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Strange happenings in my studio

It’s been a weird day in studio 6.20 today – my charcoal coated creative sanctuary was invaded by shopping trolleys, power tools and flying techno drones.

I have to be honest and say that there’s been no drawing done there for over a month now, other than doodles over photographs of empty gallery spaces and graph paper plans of exhibition layouts.  I’ve really missed getting into my ‘grey zone’, immersing myself in the pure joy of line, tone, proportion and light.  However, I have set myself the goal of curating a sizeable group show with an adventurous concept and that won’t organise itself now will it.  So, with twenty other artists taking part and only four days to build it in the gallery, I’ve been putting all my time and effort into preparations and publicity for Make yourself @ home.

I began today by transferring most of the useful and interesting things from the shed to my car, then into a shopping trolley to take them up in the lift to my studio, which meant that the trolley was cluttering up my space.  A happy hour or so was spent wielding my power tools, making shelves and brackets and other fixings for the show – very satisfying also because everything was made from materials collected and retrieved over the years or ‘buckshee’ as the Scots say.

Then Costas and the film crew from Wolfstar Pictures came in to have a look around and see if it was suitable for the wee film they are making to promote our Open Week at St Margaret’s House.  We had a good chat, they said a lot of technical things I couldn’t understand to each other, then we agreed how I should set it up for the filming.  Here’s a quick snippet introducing their idea, which involves an ‘Artdrone’ snooping round the studios after hours – slightly creepy but in a good way I think!  Other studios are being filmed over the next few days, then we shall see the secret life of St Margaret’s House.

Want to know what an Art drone is? Have a look here »

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An artist’s workspace

My workspace is divided up into zones – this isn’t as organised as it sounds, it’s just evolved that way over the years, though I may have been unwittingly influenced by kitchen design here.  I’ve also spent many a happy and productive hour in various sheds and workshops and probably developed an appreciation of things being in their place as a result.

The space I would love to have but can’t fit in would be a ‘sit in a comfy chair and relax’ space – I have to go down to the 3rd floor of Art’s Complex for that, but that’s too far away from my drawing board!

Think space

My drawing board could be considered a family heirloom now, having been made by my dad as a 16th birthday present.  It’s on its second mdf top and the metal frame has had a few coats of paint.  The chair was a Barnardo’s bargain.  You’ll see my mind-map on the wall where I’ve collected some of the images and ideas that guide my work – I’ll write more on this in a future post as I’m a big fan of mind-maps, if you’re curious have a look at Tony Buzan‘s site.

thinkspace

There’s usually a laptop here too and some oatcake crumbs.

Make space

work-in-progress-view

This view shows my main workspace, complete with dusty hand towel.

work-shelf

My talented husband made this shelf and fitted it to the hopelessly soft plasterboard walls – this enables me to have three boards alongside each other, plus I have my giant plywood board for large drawings which I can slide along the floor.  I use foam pipe lagging to cushion the top edge of the boards.

boards   

Materials storage space

Most of my drawing materials are stored in these metal drawers which help to keep the charcoal dust off.

drawers   open-drawer

They are stuffed full of things which I use all the time, things which I thought would be useful one day, but turned out not to be, and things which I couldn’t help but buy when in the art shop but didn’t really need at all – I can easily walk past a shoe shop but am powerless to resist the pull of an art store.  I buy a lot online these days mainly from Great Art and Jacksons Art.

I also have my Work in progress space and Finished work storage space which you’ll find in the previous post.

A peek inside artist’s studios facebook page has all the studio pictures you could possibly wish for.  It’s really interesting to see the variety of workspaces artists carve out for themselves and how different they all are, a bit like different species of birds building their own individual style of nest.  I love my nest.

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Studio storage secrets

My studio isn’t particularly tidy but I do like my space to be organised – I think it’s the 3D designer in me still trying to make things functional and pleasing too.  So here’s a peek at my storage solutions…

bed

Flat storage

I can honestly say I have never fallen asleep in my studio, not even a little nap (though I know other artists who have!) but I do have a bed there.  ‘Upcycling’ is such a happy word – this is what I did with an unwanted ex-bunkbed that was hanging about the loft.  It was one of the first things built for my studio and had to be carried in pieces up eight floors by some handy helpers as the lifts didn’t work then.  The 12mm ply on top gives me a big sturdy worksurface and there’s loads of storage space for things that need to be kept flat.  The under the bed space is great for bunging the awkward stuff that won’t go anywhere else. 

Work in progress

Super strong magnets + adhesive ferrous strip = storage solution number two.

wall

This is where I put things for review and rumination, it’s where ideas and sketches gradually evolve into finished works.

tests-magnets

These Neodymium magnets are amazing and a little big dangerous too – they actually come with a warning leaflet.  No small children or pacemakers and under no circumstances put them in your mouth! Unless you enjoy A&E of course.  The best thing about them is that they don’t mark the paper at all and one little magnet can hold a surprising weight of paper.

magnet-strip

Unframed work

I like to work on a large scale and the charcoal drawings I make are quite fragile until framed so I have a system of wires running along the studio wall where I can hang work safely when finished.

wires

They’re from Ikea again and intended for curtains I think, find them here.

clips

These are the clips supplied with the wires which are perfect for hanging works on paper.  I also use them to attach weights to the bottom edge of paper if it’s still curled.

Framed work

shelves      shelf

Built around the doorway is shelving designed to accomodate my framed work, made from Ikea’s Gorm range and some odds and ends of timber, hardboard, brackets and the like to make it stable.  I planned this carefully to make it fit the sizes of frame I usually have and to make best use of my space.  It looks a bit empty just now as I have work out in other places, but it will hold quite a lot and keeps it safe.

See my next post on ‘An artist’s workspace’ for more designer ideas!

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Studio views

My studio is essentially a private place, but I’m curious about other people’s spaces so thought I ought to share mine…

studio-view2

I’ve had my studio for four years now, so I’ve had plenty of time to organise it to my liking.  It’s set up for working on paper with charcoal, pastel and inks, which is why there’s no paint on the floor.  What you can’t see here is the layer of charcoal dust clinging to everything – sometimes I have to hoover my drawing board!

studio-view3

This wall is a sort of vertical shelf where I stick up ideas in progress, things that look scruffy but may in fact be useful to my thought processes.

studio-view

Being on the 8th floor has its benefits (unless the lift’s broken) and I love my view out across the Firth of Forth.  The Edinburgh velodrome below is an entertaining distraction during the racing season. 

If you fancy seeing Art’s Complex for yourself there are regular Open Studio events which I participate in.  If you are interested in my work in particular please contact me to arrange a studio visit – I may even dust!

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Take a look…

open studio baubleWe’re opening our doors again at Art’s Complex soon – the second Open Studios event is over the weekend of the 8th and 9th of December and I’ll be welcoming visitors to my studio on the top floor.

I’ll be displaying some of the works from my recent show ‘Damaged woods’ along with field drawings and sketches. More details to come on my facebook page.

 

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