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Framing artworks on paper

When framing artworks on paper in order to hang and display them, it is important to use quality materials and conservation framing techniques in order to protect and preserve the works.

Framing materials

Conservation framing requires a strong frame, appropriate glazing, mount or spacer and a sealed backing board.

Choosing a style of frame is a matter of personal taste, but some frames will offer more protection than others. Try to choose a frame that is at least 2cm in depth (from the front, where the glazing is, to where the frame rests on the wall). The larger your work the more important it is that the frame has this depth and, as a result, greater strength.

Choosing appropriate glazing is extremely important. Perspex designed to offer a high level of UV protection is usually the best choice, as it offers good protection from light and is unlikely to shatter if the work is accidentally dropped. Some works, however, such as pencil drawings, pastels and other loose media, are not suitable for glazing with perspex. For these works glass should be used and extreme care taken with transport.

When a frame is assembled it should have a strong support board that will protect the back of the artwork. Ask your framer to use fluted plastic board such as CorexTM, or card or foam laminate such as FoamcoreTM. This board should be secured with non-rusting pins or points. Seal the gap between the support board and frame with gummed tape. This will prevent any insects, dust or other debris entering the frame.

Mounting

Artworks should never touch the glazing in a frame. A mount (card surround) made of good quality mount board will ensure that this does not happen. The thickness of the mount will need to be increased if the work is very large or wrinkled in any way. If a mount is not desirable because of the style of work, a spacer that sits between the work and the glazing will suffice. For a very large work, the glazing may need to be thicker to ensure that it does not warp and touch the artwork.

Mounting protects artworks from physical damage and allows easier handling. Poor quality boards, which look the same as high quality boards when new, will degrade and cause damage after sustained contact. Specify to your framer that you require conservation mounting, using boards manufactured from 100 per cent rag or a high alpha cellulose content. For works on paper the board may be buffered or pH neutral. Buffered boards should be avoided for mounting photographs.

When an artwork is placed in a mount it is critical that it be allowed to move with changes in temperature and humidity. Do not adhere the entire back of the artwork to the backing board. Ask for the work to be attached to the backing board with hinges only on the top edge. The paper hinges allow the work to hang freely. Never hinge an artwork to the front window, as the work may be damaged when the mount is opened.

The use of non-archival materials will result in damage to your artwork. If you want your artwork to last a long time never use dry mounting or heat set tissue. These are not preservation mounting techniques. Never use pressure-sensitive tape, rubber cement, white synthetic glues like PVA, or spray adhesive, as these can leave ugly residues and stains and in time become difficult or impossible to remove. Even after a short period of time they can only be safely removed by a trained paper conservator.

Hanging

When hanging an artwork it is preferable to use two hooks on the wall, one at each side of the frame. This distributes the weight of the frame over two points instead of relying on the strength of one hook. Avoid hanging artworks with staples or bent tacks. If you do hang from one point use the appropriate strength framing wire, not fishing line or string.

Avoid displaying artworks where they are at risk of exposure to direct sunlight, damp, heat or dirt. If possible, rotate irreplaceable items from storage to display, to reduce any long-term damage. Avoid hanging irreplaceable artworks on the inside of exterior walls. Monitor the condition of artworks; if you notice any change, it may be a result of the location they are displayed in.

More information

For more information, visit the reCollections: Caring for Collections Across Australia website.

The material contained in this guide is for general reference only and should not be relied upon to change a legal or financial position. The State Library of Victoria does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information and disclaims all liability for any loss or damage that may be caused by reliance upon it.