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Float Framing Oil Paintings & Canvas

Design Insight By Owner Mark LeSaffre

A Street Frames
A Street Frames Floater Style CF410 Mahogany Sable/ Work by Peter Hoyle (Oil on Panel)
You might ask, “When is floating (float framing) a canvas the best way to set off the work esthetically?”
Not all canvases are alike, as any picture framer knows, and framing a canvas is not always straight forward. Floater frames first appeared in the 80’s and quickly became the standard treatment for framing works on canvas and panels. It can be a very elegant effect when designed
correctly for the work.

I’ve often seen canvases in floater frames that will distract the viewer from the art. Picking the right frame for the art work makes a huge difference in how the viewer reacts with it. I’m a landscape painter and after many years of floating my own canvases, I’ve personally stopped, as I feel it distracts from the illusion of space I’m trying to create within my paintings.

Next we should address the challenges of floating a canvas that is out of square? How do “we” as framers decide to fix or hide a canvas with flaws?

Canvases that are perfectly in square with no visible staples, may have paint along the edges from the process of the artist creating, adding to the artist’s esthetic. Showing a visible edge or not is a call a good frame designer needs to make and to suggest to their client. The creative process from the artist is part of the art work. Any of A Street Frames talent designers will help walk you through the pros and cons of a visible edge.

Stapled Edge Frame - A Street Frames
Visible Stapled Canvas Edge

In certain circumstances, another solution to a canvas that is out of square,is that it may easily be re-stretched.Keeping in mind that in re-streaching you will most likely lose some of the image area. Remember that loosing image area would happen regardless with any frame you may chose, unless you build an out of square frame (Not something any framer strives to do). The bigger problem is how the painting will react to being re-stretched. How thickly applied is the paint particularly at the edges? How well is the paint adhered to the ground? Paintings are built in layers and each layer is important to the stability of the work. Ask yourself,”Is there enough material to allow you to stretch it and is the material of good quality and will not tear?”

Frequently some or all of these conditions exist. These issues need to be addressed prior to selecting a method of framing. At A Street Frames we will suggest involving a conservator if we feel the painting is at risk.You need to weigh the intrinsic value of the work, even if its only sentimental. Painting Conservation may be costly but the results are worth it and the preservation of the art work.

Another problem we see frequently is when the staples or tacks attaching the canvas to the wood stretchers are along the sides. When the canvas is gessoed it shrinks causing puckering in the canvas fabric at the points where it’s attached. When the artist has trimmed the excess canvas material using the back edge of the stretcher bars as a guide the edges of fabric will flair out or roll and almost always start to unravel. Covering the frayed rough edges is tricky. No tape exists (that I know of) that will permanently solve this problem, particularly at the bottom rail where dust settles. Tape adhesives have a life span and depending on the environment they may not last long. Painting the edge is another method used but it can often looks unprofessional if not done correctly and should only be done with client consent or done by the artist. We always try to keep the work as original as possible, but when needed there are options to help almost any situation with a little creative thinking.

A Street Frames
CF409 Hand Painted China White – Painting by Jason Berger (oil on canvas)

Traditional Frame with Rabbet for works on Canvas or Paper by A Street FramesFloat Frame
Traditional Frame with Rabbet for works on Canvas or Paper by A Street Frames (on Left)/ Float Frame (on Right)

We also frame many large format photographs mounted to Dibond (a aluminum composite material or ACM), and “float” them in a frame behind glazing ,the results can be stunning, and more so when Museum Optium acrylic is used.

A technical issue that framers have to consider when working with a canvas float, is fitting a work into a frame with no means to “key it out”. When the humidity changes with the seasons so may the canvas.The canvas material begins to sag and new tension is needed to return it to its “drum” like state. I’m sure all picture framers have encountered this problem.

When you think of the life of a work of art prior to it being placed into it’s permanent home, often it has been in multiple environments. It may have been painted in Europe then taken off its stretchers and rolled in a narrow tube (often it is rolled with the face of the painting inward, which should never be done) taken home and sat in a closet for a year before you see it. It then adjusts to the climate in your shop while in queue, stretched and fit into its new frame and taken to its new home where it may stay wrapped and unhung for a month in a non-air conditioned room. Who wouldn’t sag after that journey? We have found that when we do get a call about a sagging canvas we get it back to the shop and re-stretch right away and get it back to it’s home and usually never have a follow up complaint.The more you educate the client in the beginning of the design process, the more appreciative and understanding they are when some of these problems occur.

On large canvases we strongly suggest using stretchers with adjustable hardware at the corners and at the crossbars.These will help a great deal and maybe help avoid re-stretching, a formidable task on a 6 foot by 8 foot canvas with heavy weight cotton duck. Generally, a slight change in the dimensions caused by expanding the hardware is un-perceivable on a large piece.

We will slightly increase the float space on large paintings to help accommodate expansion when adjusting the bars. Not long ago, A Street Frames developed a frame for a local museum that can accommodate out of square canvases that are too fragile to re-stretch. It involves a double rabbeted frame and the canvases are still floating, preserving the contemporary look the museum wanted. The first rabbet provides the space for the irregularities in the canvas and obscures the tacks or staples on the sides, but the frame does not come into contact with the surface of the canvas. The second rabbet allows us to attach the float board to the frame to which the canvas can be attached from the back.

A Street Frames produces many styles of floater frames and when the situation is right it works beautifully! The space between the art and the frame has to disappear, to read as a void. The art should appear to be “floating” in the frame. I frequently describe it as the work of art being a diamond and the frame its setting. This seems to resonate with people. A frame should be timeless and well designed to be handed down for generations.

A Street Frames Double Rabbet Floater Frame
A Street Frames Double Rabbet Floater Frame
(Used for Out of Square works on Canvas)

by MikeDemaggio

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A Street Frames

A Street Frames