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?