How do you frame that?

There isn’t a rule book on how to frame a piece of art. Most people don’t even like the idea of framing because of the cost and hassle and the uncertainty of whether or not it’s going to be the right choice. l have faced all those challenges myself too. However, it doesn't have to be stressful. 

There are 5 categories that I think art pieces fall into that help determine what you should do in regards to matting. I talk about the type of frame you should use at the end. 

1. Pieces with white edges/borders

Photo courtesy of The English Room

Photo courtesy of The English Room

Pieces with at least 2-3” of white space are fine without using a mat on them (if you have a quote, you can get away with 1” of border). Here is my tip for any type of mat:

The main point of a mat is to give you a little “breathing room” between the piece and the frame. It helps your eye focus on the art first and the frame second. The space between the art and the frame actually highlights the frame in a way that it wouldn’t be if it was right next to the piece itself.

So as long as there is “breathing room” you’re good to go.

2. Canvas

Photo courtesy of Katie Rosenfeld

Photo courtesy of Katie Rosenfeld

Canvases are a huge trend right now in the art world. A lot of people love them because they don’t feel like they need to frame them- and I agree. However, I would say that if the canvas has an unpainted side (or “unfinished edge”) it should be framed. Personally, I think it looks like they forgot to paint the sides when it’s blank. Even though unframed canvases are a trend, framing them does look amazing. When they are framed, they have a crisp edge that feels polished- like painted fingernails. It just adds a little extra to the piece without detracting from it. 

3. Small pieces

Photo courtesy of the Lettered Cottage

Photo courtesy of the Lettered Cottage

Small pieces usually go in small frames and can have modest mats around them. I think they look fine without mats too. But when you add a larger mat around a small piece, the art interacts with the space differently. By taking over larger square footage with a small piece, you are inviting the viewer to come in close and look at the detail. It may sound crazy but when a small piece (less than 8") has an oversized mat, people come in close to look. 

4. Paper with fun edges

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Magazine

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Magazine

This type of artwork is hard to find close up, but this image above uses pieces from Mel Rea in their living room. Below is an example of Mel's work up close.

room to breathe  by Mel Rea

room to breathe by Mel Rea

I love artwork with fun edges! (Fun edges meaning torn or not being straight) They really make me happy- it's probably because I'm crazy about paper products. And you have a few options with these guys.

  • You can frame the piece and hide the edges with a mat (completely fine, especially if the edges are white and the color etc. doesn’t go to the edge).
  • You can frame the pieces and put a mat underneath to contrast with the edge of the paper (like gray show here) then put a mat around it.
  • You can just frame the piece with a mat underneath it (can be white or contrasting) and put the frame to the edge (so the frame would start at the edge of the piece and not after a 2nd mat).

Lots of options, but you really can’t go wrong. It’s all about how much the fancy edges mean to you. If you care about them, then highlight them! If you don’t care, then don’t worry about them and do what you like.

5. Paper without fun edges

Photo courtesy of Kathe Baker

Photo courtesy of Kathe Baker

This type of art is what you would typically take to get a frame. It’s usually a photograph (not necessarily a family photo) print or poster. My rule of thumb is to get a mat for it (unless it’s larger than 36”). Depending on the size, depends on how big a mat. If it’s large (between 36 x 36 and 24 x 24) , then a 2”-4” mat. If it’s med. (less than 24 x 24 but bigger than 8 x 10) then a 1.5”-2” works well. And if it’s smaller than an 8 x 10 then you can get a 1” mat or not mat it at all. In the end, there isn't any rigid rule about it. Play around with some sizes and see what you think- just remember to let it "breathe"!

About the frame itself....

That all depends on your style. Are you rustic & midcentury? Then a 2” walnut stained wood frame would look beautiful on your teal wall. Are you minimal and like to use a lot of white in your home? Then any size white, mirror, wood or black frame would be great. Are you not sure what you are but you like anything from Fixer Upper? Then a black or silver (or barnwood) frame would be your best bet. (you can see what type of artwork I would recommend for the first two styles here and here). 

Thickness of a frame is also dependent on style. My best advice would be to look at the rooms you want to emulate in feel. The trend these days are thinner frames, however it's really about the style you are going for. 

If you forced me to pick one, it would be a silver or champagne frame. This color can go with just about any style and I think will be in fashion for a good long while. 


What is your biggest issue when trying to figure out frames/mats?