Picture Framing and Art Preservation/DIY? or go with a Pro?


painting on paper
painting on paper  

framed example
framed example  
Hi David
I love DIY projects, and am thinking about reframing a 19c child's ink and watercolor painting on paper I bought at auction.  It is 18"x22" and in an antique gilded frame with no mat.  This bugs me to no end because I just keep thinking about the paper touching the glass, and dont want to hang it because I think it should have both matting and UV protection in the glazing.  Yes?
So here are my questions:
1. Can a professional framer "enlarge" the old frame I have?  How do they do that?
2. I think I can easily buy a new frame and mats cut to custom sizing and reframe the whole thing myself using a site like pictureframes.com.  Is there any depreciation in value if I do that?
3. Should I get an antique frame of larger size and have someone resize it?

What do you think?

Hi Richard,

This is certainly a charming piece and I think it will look beautiful framed. First, you are absolutely correct that it needs a mat, not only for aesthetics but for protection as well. If artwork is up against the glass there is a very real danger of minute amounts of condensation collecting on the inside surface, a condition that can lead to the growth of mold and mildew. If this hasn't happened in the last 100-plus years it's probably a matter of luck more than anything else. Also, UV protective glazing will help preserve it better in its current condition, slowing down fading and other damage from UV.

Now for your other questions. Many framers can cut down an existing frame to make it smaller, but enlarging one is quite a different matter. There are few framers I can think of with the skills to do that. One, as an example, is Eli Wilner in New York. His company has a huge stock of antique frames. If one needs to be made larger they can cut it at or near the middle of each side, perhaps hiding the cut in the pattern. Then they will mill a new piece to match the profile, apply ornamentation, gild it and finish to match. It's very involved and done on frames costing tens of thousands of dollars. Unless the frame you have is something very special this may not be practical.

You can certainly frame it yourself, either to save some money or simply for the satisfaction of it. The act of reframing the watercolor most likely will not have a negative effect on its value. Usually the only time the framing is intrinsic to the value is when it can be proven that the frame is original to the artwork and designed by or in consultation with the artist. Then there are a few frame makers whose frames themselves are valuable in their own right, such as Stanford White.

Your third question presents an option that could be the best of both worlds: a frame large enough to accommodate matting but also with some age and character. Now I know I said that many frames can be cut down and resized smaller, but old frames and their finishes are often brittle and very difficult to work with. If you want an old frame, I suggest finding one roughly six to eight inches larger than the art in both directions. This way the mats can be cut three to four inches wide to fit the art into the frame. It may work out slightly uneven, but some of this can be compensated for by bottom weighting the mat, as you show in your example. If the border widths come out slightly uneven just chalk it up to the charm of old things.

Now, please don't go out and find a frame just a little bigger than the art. You could end up being forced to do mats two inches wide top and bottom and one inch on the sides. This never looks good and always looks exactly like what it is: someone trying to shoehorn art into a too-small frame. Err on the side of larger.

I hope this helps you out, and I'm sure the watercolor is going to look great.

Picture Framing and Art Preservation

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


David Lantrip, MCPF, GCF


I can answer questions about all aspects of framing, with special emphasis on preservation framing. Categories of artwork include works of art on paper, needlework, textiles, paintings on canvas and three-dimensional objects. Components of framing includes frames, glass/glazing, mats, mounting, their features and how to select them.


I have been a professional picture framer and educator in the field since 1994, including framing education for a major franchisor encompassing three brands and the Professional Picture Framers Association, and writing and teaching for DECOR Magazine.

Professional Picture Framers Association (PPFA) > Board member, PPFA > Member, Certification Board > Member, Chapter relations Committee National Society, Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR)

DECOR Magazine, 2005 - 2010 PPFA For Members Only newsletter Member of the PPFA Guidelines task force, assisted in writing PPFA Guidelines for Framing Works of Art on Paper and PPFA Guidelines for Framing Works of Art on Canvas, and PPFA Guidelines for Framing Textiles and Needlework. Picture Framing Magazine, 2012

Georgia State University, many classes as a student and educator through the Professional Picture Framers Association and DECOR Magazine. Current member of the PPFA guidelines task force and certification board.

Awards and Honors
Earned Certified Picture Framer (CPF) designation in 1996, Master Certified Picture Framer (MCPF) designation in 2004 and Guild Commended Framer (GCF) status in 2008.

©2017 About.com. All rights reserved.