Matting Your Artwork and Paintings

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Matting a piece of artwork is a real finishing touch.

It adds to the overall tone of the piece and can emphasize colors in the artwork.

In the case of watercolor, it is a necessary part of the framing, as the watercolor must be separated from the glass under which it is placed.

This is the same for pastel, charcoal and other paper-based pieces.

Posters and other reproductions acquire a look of sophistication from matting, and diminutive pieces of art have more substance when properly matted and framed.

Matting Basics

Mat board is available in every color of the rainbow, and many specialty styles, including metallic and print designs. A standard sheet of mat board is 32×40 inches. It comes standard with white core, but some companies produce lines with black core.

Mat cutters are available in prices ranging from $50.00 to $1000.00. A simple mat cutter, sharp blades and practice are all that a beginning art student needs to create professional looking mats for his artwork.

As an artist gets the feel for matting and realizes the potential, he may select tools that are more elaborate. There are cutters for round and elliptical shapes, and there are advanced machines that are more mechanized. All this eats into the artist’s bottom line, but if he produces work in quantity, it may be worth the time and expense to invest in this segment of the artist’s profession.

Some artists find it a profitable side business to produce custom matting for fellow artists and local art customers. If an artist has the time and inclination, this can be a welcome addition to the studio’s coffers.

Traditional Matting

Mats, from a museum curator’s standpoint, are typically white, cream or parchment toned. Art exhibits and competitions generally prefer mats that are similarly fashioned, and many exhibits have express guidelines for matting works on paper. Be sure to read all the fine print when preparing work for exhibit or competition. A beautiful piece may be disqualified for nothing more than improper matting technique.

Mats cut in the traditional method have the lower border slightly larger than the sides and top. This is not a set dimension, but a slight increase in size gives the painting visual weight at the bottom of the piece. This dimension depends on the size of the entire work, but generally is not more than one-quarter inch.

Contemporary Matting

Contemporary matting sees a use of more colors in the mat material, multiple mats, decorative cuts and even continuations of the artwork on the matting surface. Contemporary mats are often equal on all four sides.

The artist, interested in creating art that is fashion-forward, will pay attention to what designers are using for home décor. Multiple mats, using colors that emphasize colors in the painting, are very popular. Traditional paintings that may have a more ornate framing sometimes use a narrow edge of gold or silver mat to set off the piece. Multiple matting adds visual weight to the work, allowing for bolder framing.

Mat colors and designs are becoming decorating accessories. There are patterned mats that carry the theme of a painting. A country-flavored vignette may have a dotted Swiss or tiny floral motif mat. The crafty artist can add beveled striping around a mat, adding eye appeal and interest.

All of this is fine for the decorative painter, but it does draw interest away from the painting itself. If the artist creates reproductions of his work, then this is a great way to customize a painting for a specific home décor. He can offer his prints, matted in coordinating colors, which will blend with various color palettes.

Putting It All Together

After the window is cut into the top mat, an identically sized piece of mat board is placed beneath it, and the two are hinge-taped together. Linen tape is commonly used to hold the pieces.

Position the artwork under the window, and affix the painting at the top to hold it in place. Several products are effective, including archival tape, Japanese rice paper and Japanese hinging tape. It is important for the painting to be affixed only at the top, as atmospheric conditions can cause the paper to shift.

Archival products are important for any work that is expected to be around for some time. Temperature, sunlight and moisture can affect all the components in contact with the artwork, and therefore impinge on the piece itself. Archival products are easy to find and cost only a little more than non-archival supplies.

Matting one’s own work is surprisingly easy, and the cost savings can be substantial. It also affords the artist much more control over the size, shape and total effect of his artwork. An artist who thinks of matting and framing as an integral part of his work will find that he has a much more appealing and marketable piece.

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