2014.April.22, 7:14pm
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Small FramesI recently had 10 small drawings on watercolor paper (12×6 inches) framed at Michaels, which quoted the project at $350 less than my local frame shop. Here’s a list of things I wish I’d asked them at the beginning, all of which I wish they’d asked me or just done based on me telling them the pieces were for an exhibition:

1. Insist on wire, not saw-tooth hangers.

I’ve never used saw-tooth hangers, but I’ve read they make it difficult to hang artwork precisely. I’ve also entered exhibitions that required wire, and specifically stated “no saw-tooth hangers.” I had to ask the poor Michaels employees to remove the saw-tooth hangers and add wire.

2. Inquire about the paper color of the backing.

Michaels used a powdery blue that I wasn’t fond of, but it’s the back of the piece, so I didn’t mention it.

3. Ask the framers not to add cheesy gold Michaels stickers to the backing.

When I asked the framers to change the saw-tooth clips, I said I didn’t like the stickers, and ended up getting some with stickers and some without. Again, this was the back of the pieces, so I didn’t make a fuss.

4. Ask the framers to be careful that they don’t leave clear plastic “photo corners” hanging out of the mat corners.

This one should be obvious. After having the framers at Michaels re-do the hangers, I returned to find four of 10 pieces with clear plastic photo corners showing in the front corners of the art. They were small, but they glimmered. There were also black and brown particles in some of the pieces. I asked that they be redone.

5. Tell the framers you’re going to carefully inspect the fronts of each and every piece for particles, and ask them to do the same.

I called Michaels before returning for the third time, and asked an employee to unwrap the pieces, inspect them, and call me when they were definitely ready. I got the call, returned and found that one of the matte corners was torn and two pieces had obvious particles in them. The employees were apologetic as always and said that they would re-order the torn matte from their matte-cutter in California, and would do their best to remove the particles from the two other pieces.

On my fourth return visit to Michaels, only one piece had an obvious brown particle in one corner, and a tiny bit of plastic photo corner showing through. I asked that it be redone. When I returned a week later it hadn’t been done, but a very friendly employee let me watch and help, and I left very happy that I’d stayed in budget and was satisfied with all 10 pieces.

6. If you’re planning to hang more than one piece of equal size on the same wall, request that the framers place the wire hangers at the same height for all the pieces.

This is another one I didn’t think I would have had to specify. On my final visit to the Michaels frame department (ever), I noticed that the wire hanger on my 10th piece looked a little high compared to the nine others I’d already taken home. When asked how the wire hangers were placed, the framer replied “about two-thirds up.”

As it turns out, “about two-thirds up” means the hangers on my 10 pieces vary from 10 1/8 inches from the bottom of the pieces to 11 ¾ inches from the bottom, despite the fact the artwork and frames were all the same size. If the wires were at the same height, I could figure out the ideal viewing placement of the pieces and drill 10 holes at that height on the gallery wall. Instead, I’ve had to measure where Michaels placed the wire and calculate each of the 10 hanging heights individually. During installation, if I hang my pieces and want to switch one for another, I have to drill another hole up to 1 5/8 inches above or below the existing hole.

All said, the $350 I saved by working with Michaels could buy a lot of aspirin, and I did end up with 10 framed pieces that look great. I’m not going to specify the particular Michaels location I visited here, but I will if anyone contacts me privately. I realize that a lot depends on who’s behind the counter when you arrive, and who does the work.

The quick answer to custom-framing problems would be planning my artwork in ready-made frame sizes, but I’m impulsive when I make art and I wanted these pieces to be disproportionally more vertical than standard frame sizes. The better solution would be buying the equipment to frame my pieces myself, but I looked into it after calling Michaels and it wouldn’t have saved me money in the short-run, and would have taken much more time and workspace than I have.

I’ve also been thinking outside-of-the-box on presentation and media, and have started experimenting with drawings on wood and canvas, both much easier to display than paper. For my current show, I’m sandwiching my larger paper pieces between glass and matboard, which looks great and eliminates the need for frames.

Any comments or tips on displaying drawings without paying hundreds for each piece?


As I’ve noted previously in this blog, I love art biographies. While an undergraduate art student, I memorized a few dates, locations, and names of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but never knew much about him, so I recently read Meryle Secrest’s Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography.

Based on Secrest’s account, I now picture FLW as an intolerant, delusional a**hole who thought his artistic talents an excuse for abhorrent treatment of friends, family, and business partners. Strangely though, the a**hole became slightly more loveable as I finished the book. I admired his vision and stalwartness (is that a word?), but find it hard to imagine a person so oblivious to others.

I often fold down the corners of book pages when I read something  that I may want to reference again. Here’s what I bookmarked in Secrest’s FLW biography (page numbers are based on the 1992 University of Chicago Press paperback edition):


Page 114: Writing about the “American house” around the turn of the century (19th to 20th), Secrest quotes FLW as saying, “It was vulgar, wickedly extravagant, a national waste, ‘a moral, social, aesthetic excrement.’” Later in the paragraph Secrest writes that the first argument between FLW and his first wife Kitty came “as she objected to his plans to inscribe ‘mottoes’ around their house, and he just as heatedly insisted. What he wanted were daily exhortations, reminders of right matters, right morals, right reflections upon the nature of things. Despite her, he managed to have ‘Truth Is Life!’ carved over the fireplace of their first living room.”

I’m not sure if I folded this page because of the wonderful phrase “moral, social, aesthetic excrement,” or because FLW would say such things and then insist on emblazoning his home with cheesy inspirational sayings.

Page 186: “For Americans oriented toward the Arts and Crafts Movement, Japan offered ‘the example of an indigenous culture that embodied the organic quality they found in the middle ages,’ as Richard Guy Wilson wrote.”

Yes Secrest is quoting Wilson, but I’m collecting sentences by writers who may or may not realize their verbage makes me snicker, and the “oriented toward … Japan” is a good one.

Page 429: “[FLW] would argue a point vehemently until she [his third wife], to end the fight, would drop her opposition. Sometime later, having changed his mind, he would chastise her for having allowed him to make such a fool of himself.”

 I think I folded down this page because this seemed like typical a**hole behavior that I can regretfully see myself having been guilty of, but that I hope I’ve removed from my repertoire. Secrest writes like a psychoanalyst, and this is a good example of what she does well.

That’s it! There were a few other folded-down pages that left me wondering why they were folded down, or couldn’t sum them up in this blog post. I finished the book a couple of months ago and was happy I did. Secrest writes pretty well, but not so well that you’d read the book if you weren’t interested in the subject. Sorry Secrest, but I’m comparing you to my favorites like Borges, who could write about the hair growing out of his nose and I’d be thrilled.

Anyone else read Secrest’s FLW book?