How to frame and display your art collection

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For art collectors, framing is a crucial part of the process, allowing them to display their treasures at home. The right frame should be able to flatter the work as well as the space in which it is being shown, and how you choose to frame and display your art collection makes a difference to its appearance, from the type, size and colour of the frame to its position in a room. Failing to correctly frame your pieces can ruin the overall look of both the artwork and the interior design. For instance, glass should never be used to cover for oil paintings, because the canvas needs space to breathe without the material touching the paint. 

Professional framers can give art lovers advice on which framing style is best for their paintings, with some companies, such as Soho Frames, even offering same-day service. However, you may still wish to take the DIY approach, though you should be wary of choosing the wrong size frame, or mounting your artwork incorrectly. So, to help you display your collection as well as possible, we’ve put together this guide.

How to frame your art collection

Choosing the wood and colour

Along with the colour and style of your frame, the wood from which it is made will have a huge impact on how your artwork looks. You’ll also need to consider how strong and resistant different types of wood are before selecting one. Hardwoods, such as oak, walnut and ash, are ideal if you frequently reposition your artwork within your home, as they are strong, hard-wearing and less likely to get damaged. Natural wooden frames will fit in among any home decoration style, while a frame painted in a bold white or black can offer a clean, formal and minimalistic look that complement modern decor.

Make sure to choose a neutral or complementary colour that fits with the wider aesthetic of your home. If opting for a coloured frame, match it to a shade that’s found within the artwork, but try to base it on a background colour rather than a prominently-featured hue. The style of an artwork needs consideration too, for example, a classic period painting will be emphasised in a walnut or mahogany frame, or even a gold-leafed mount. While an abstract painting is better placed in a sleeker, more contemporary-looking frame.

Glass vs. acrylic framing covers

Covering a frame will help to protect your artwork, and professional framers will generally use glass to do this, as it is cheaper, easier to clean and more resistant to scratches. However, glass is also more likely to break, can be sensitive to variations in temperature, and its reflective nature can produce a glare if angled towards a light source.

The best alternative to glass is acrylic covering, which is shatterproof, light and a better thermal insulator. However, this too has its drawbacks — acrylic attracts dust, but cannot be cleaned with standard glass cleaner. It is also prone to static electricity, which means it can’t be used for paintings created with powdery pigments, like pastels or charcoal.

Cover finishes

Beyond having a cover placed over them, artworks are also often finished with either a clear, non-glare (or matte), or UV for additional protection. Clear is the most conventional of these finishes, as well as being inexpensive and ideal for colourful art pieces, as it won’t soften any of the hues. Opt for non-glare finishes if a framed piece is situated near a window, but remember it will soften any colour. A UV finish will block ultraviolet light from damaging your art, and is often used for more expensive or irreplaceable artworks.

Matting

Matting is the process of adding a paper-like material on which your artwork will sit, helping to draw attention to the piece by separating it from the frame and adding decoration. While it isn’t necessary to mat an artwork, doing so will make photographs, drawings and watercolours stand out, thanks to the border between the print and the frame.

There are different types of mats available, including paper, regular boards and 100% cotton rags. You could add a second matte, which creates a more pronounced look, and catches the viewer’s eye, or even opt for a coloured mat to accentuate your art further.

How to display your art collection

Once your art collection has been framed, you will need to put some thought into deciding where in your home to hang it. The best course of action is to display your collection where you’ll enjoy it the most, like a bedroom wall or a stairway. Experiment with placement by arranging the pieces on the floor to see what works best where, before making any commitments to hammering nails into your walls.

This layout doesn’t have to be symmetrical — in fact, having your frames perfectly lined up can seem too structured and repetitive, so don’t be afraid to hang a piece off-centre. You can leave some walls blank too — not every bit of space in your home needs to be covered, as negative space increases the overall effect of the artwork. Ideally, you want artwork to be at eye-level, so avoid hanging pieces too high up. The recommended height is between 155 and 160cm off the ground.

Tips for hanging your art collection

  • Use a measuring tape if hanging frames in gallery-like spaces, such as hallways, stairways and alcoves. 
  • Once hung up, centre a spirit level on top of the frame to see if it’s straight.
  • There’s no need to match paintings with your cushions or colour schemes, as artwork isn’t supposed to match and it may be difficult to find pieces that fit your decor perfectly.
  • Mediums like oil or watercolour should be shielded from sunlight.
  • Don’t use string to hang artwork — wire is stronger, more reliable and the knots won’t come undone.

Hanging styles

Stairwell

This style places your artwork in the eyeline of those climbing and descending your staircase. You can copy the stair pattern by placing a piece at each level if you have enough frames. If not, simply hang pieces above every other step, which allows for differently-sized frames to be used. If you’re aiming to cover the entire staircase wall, start with your focal pieces and work outwards with small pictures. You could also group them if you have large walls or a long stairway.

The Salon

This classic Parisian style of hanging your art collection makes the central frame your focal point. All other works should surround it and move outwards from the main piece. This gives you plenty of freedom to experiment with different artwork and styles, although you should opt for thin frames for all of the pieces.

Geometric style

This style focuses on symmetry and precision. You should use the same size pictures and frames, and measure the exact same distance between each frame. Geometric displays look fantastic over a bed or a sofa. 

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