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How to Frame your Work without Going Broke

As I have been delving into potential exhibition entries for the upcoming year and skimming through various prospectuses, my eyes have been settling on one section many of us face - Framing Requirements.

Framing can be a real hassle.

Glass or Plexi? Matte Board, Float Framed, or Float Matte?

Do they need to all be standard black frames, or do I have creative leisure?

I start to envy my colleagues who work on wood, canvas or masonite.

But enough of that. If you plan in advance, you can stockpile a good assortment of affordable frames.

A Thrifty Approach

This is a great option if you have time on your side, and are a great Do-it-Yourself-er. I mean, hey, you’re an artist, so of course, you are.

It's wise to make the rounds to stores such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or privately-owned thrift stores.

Check Craigslist, Letgo and Facebook marketplace for local postings or neighborhood garage sale announcements.

Unless you have smaller works, be sure to look for framed art that you can repurpose for your own.

Examine your frame to find out how easy it will be to dismantle. If it has brown paper packaging, pull it back carefully in one corner to see if it has release tabs, or if it has been more permanently stapled or tacked down.

Inspect for nicks, scratches or need to be repainted. Look over the glass for cracks.

You can still get quality frames that have the aforementioned damages or conditions, it will just require a little more TLC to get it back in order.

There are many great videos and blogs out there on how to repurpose and restore old frames. I found USA on Canvas has a great blog on it here.

Unique and Bargain Frames

I was walking through TJ Maxx when my boyfriend spotted an electric lime green frame.

I fell in love with it immediately. I mean, how often do you come across a lime green frame?

Not to mention it was only $14.99 and it would fit my 16 x 20 watercolor painting.

Of course, I bought it promptly.

Bargain Stores with Art such as Marshalls, TJMaxx, and Homegoods sometimes have unique frames you wouldn’t quite come across anywhere else.

Beware that you still may have to have a level of handiness when it comes to repurposing them.

Sometimes the Art is thrown into these one-time use frames, created with no intention of coming apart.

I know after releasing the original art piece that was stuck inside I had to do some damage control to get it back in order.

I Need a Frame Now!

Sometimes you don’t have months of careful planning.

Sometimes you have too much going on to be bothered with the whole process of restoring a used one.

That’s why there are framing stores.

Michaels and A.C. Moore nearly always have coupons going on. They are usually 40% off a single item, but on occasion, I have seen as much as 60%.

They are also notorious for their frame sales.

If you are looking to get something framed for an exhibition, I would stick to their ready-made framing section.

Stores such as Blick and Jerry’s Artarama give discounts off of bulk orders of duplicate frames. This works especially well for exhibitions that require “all black,” or if you are looking for a more uniformed display.


Unless you have some impressive framing skills, I don’t recommend cutting your own matte board. Even a cheap matte board has a beveled edge that you cannot mimic without a bevel cutter.

Unfortunately, people will notice if you cut that opening with an Exacto blade or box cutter.

If planned in advance, pre-cut Matte board can be ordered in bulk online at a really decent price.

For those looking to save money, or have work with unusual dimensions (I raise my hand and cry) you may opt to float matte.

Float matting is when you take a piece of matte board the dimensions of the frame and float the artwork on top of it. It’s a stunning effect and a very forgiving DIY project.

SAVVY HEART has a really wonderful step by step blog on how to do it here.

Ultimately I like this effect best for watercolors, especially if the paper has torn edges.

You could of course just choose to float frame.

However, if choosing to float frame, a word of caution.

Make sure where you are hanging is cosmetically pleasing, as you can see everything behind the piece.

This is also not a good option if you're required to wireframe, are hanging on battered sheetrock, or your pieces must be shipped instead of delivered in person.

Still if you can get away with it, it certainly can look stunning.

What are your suggestions?

If you have any suggestions or resources when it comes to framing please be sure to comment!

I for one, am always looking for affordable solutions. Or tricks to make the framing process a little easier.

Until next time, Happy Artmaking!

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