Big-time framing: oversize framing may take more space, staff and hours than typical custom framing fare, but it can offer a gargantuan boost to a framer’s reputation

Big-time framing: oversize framing may take more space, staff and hours than typical custom framing fare, but it can offer a gargantuan boost to a framer’s reputation

Tricia Bisoux

It seems the more things change, the bigger they get. Think Mall of America, the biggest mall in the country. Think the Hummer, the largest SUV. Think Queen Mary II, the world’s largest ocean liner. Think the new Airbus A380, a double-decker, 555-seat, football-field sized jumbo jet, complete with onboard stores, gym, bar and even a mini-casino. It’s clear that while Americans may not view their expanding waistlines with enthusiasm, they and many of their overseas counterparts are certainly enamored with all else that’s oversized.

This trend hasn’t been lost on custom framing. As more people move into so-called “McMansions” with 30-foot ceilings and plentiful wall space, framers should be expecting to see more requests for oversize frames and massive mirrors to live up to those cavernous interiors.

“The people buying these large homes with the vaulted ceilings and large spaces are often professionals who understand the concerns of framing oversize art and objects correctly,” said Lou Chang of Ain’t That a Frame in Westminster, Md.

Oversize framing may require special accommodations in a frame shop–from expansive tables and large presses to big doorways and high ceilings. But those framers who decide to “sweat the big stuff” are often rewarded with customers’ respect, loyalty and big-time referrals.

Spatial Considerations

Oversize jobs present a variety of spatial and logistical challenges, so framer’s should make a thorough evaluation of their facilities before accepting an oversize framing project. A 10- by 10-foot shop with 7-foot ceilings obviously shouldn’t take on an 8- by 8-foot framing project. However, just “how big is too big” may not be readily apparent until a framer answers several important questions:

1. How much room do you need? Although a 4-foot by 4-foot frame may not seem too big for your shop on paper, it can be quite different in reality. That 16 square feet of frame is compounded by the space required to work around it. It’s important to determine whether your shop can afford to earmark that amount of space for the extended period of time an oversize frame requires.

2. Is there enough work surface? Framers who successfully work with oversize framing jobs often have a single large work surface to accommodate large jobs, or they have several tables that can be pushed together to create one large fixture.

3. Can it fit through the door? More than one framer has brought an artwork into the shop and built the frame, only to realize that the finished product was too large to go out the way it came in.

4. Do you have the staff support?, Oversize framing often requires more than one pair, or even two pairs, of hands at a time to move, stretch, mount, gild, fit or join.

Know your limitations. Some smaller shops will accept jobs up to 3 feet by 4 feet, while others accept any job up to 4 by 8 feet. For others still, 10 feet by 10 feet isn’t too large to handle. Not all oversize jobs are out of reach for framers who really want to add this dimension to their offerings, but they should know the threshold beyond which a job is better referred to framers with larger facilities.

The Laws of Physics

The fundamental rule of gravity, “What must goes up, must come down,” must be revised a bit where oversize frames are concerned. For framers, it’s “What goes up, must stay up.” At least it must if they want to keep their customers.

Rules of gravity, weight distribution and torque may seem best relegated to high school physics classes, but they are crucial considerations for large framing jobs, said Jane Zisk of Hartford Framing in Hartford, Conn. The shop’s facilities boast 20-foot ceilings and a large warehouse for storage, making it a perfect candidate for oversize framing.

“You have to treat oversize framing as though it were a construction project,” Zisk recommended. “Be aware of how it’s put together, how its weight should be distributed, and how it will be hung on the wall. Determine whether you’ll need extra supports or brace bars.”

Distribute the weight, When mounted to a backing board, any large, heavy object will exert a downward torte on its attachment points in response to gravity, noted Paul Storch, an objects conservator in St. Paul, Minn. “Over time, the force might exceed the strength of the support, causing it to fail,” he said.

Therefore, when mounting large, heavy objects, the mass of the object should be distributed over a wider surface than in a standard frame, Storch emphasized. A heavy ceramic or stone object, for example, should be attached via a wide bracket secured with two or three bolts, not a wire clip.

One effective way to make sure a frame can support its own weight is to build a strainer frame directly into the surrounding decorative frame, suggested Sue Davis of Master Framer Inc., also in St. Paul. “If we’re flaming something really big, we invariably put a back frame or strainer frame into the structure,” she said. “We’ll build a cleat right into the strainer frame and screw the larger frame into it. It distributes the weight, while keeping everything together.”

Call for reinforcement: Because the laws of physics don’t stop at the attachment points, but travel along and within all parts of the frame, framers should plan ahead for the long-term effects of gravity. Many framers have sacrificed a poster under regular glass to test the effects of light exposure over time: Similarly, it may be wise to experiment with weighty mounts before an oversize job comes in. This way, framers can see the exact effects gravity will have on their mounting and flaming techniques and discover points of tension where breakage is most likely to occur.

“Backing boards, for instance, might need reinforcement on the back side to prevent warping and distortion,” Storch advised. “This also provides a more secure purchase for the object mounting fasteners.”

The moulding is another area where reinforcement may be required. In standard-size flaming, for example, moulding width is often chosen more to visually balance the art or object than to support the art. In oversize framing, however, the moulding is a primary support for the object’s weight. Therefore, its width and composition are as important as–if not more important than–its aesthetic qualities.

“The weight of the piece needs to be supported by the frame,” said Zisk. “So first and foremost, the moulding has to be wide enough. Some customers may want the ‘minimal’ look, but you still have to choose moulding that can hold the object. If you use a moulding that’s too thin, the corners will begin to separate.”

And it’s not enough for the moulding to be wide, she added. It also has to have the proper composition. A wide moulding may look strong enough, but if it’s made of soft wood it still may fail as a support.

Sew carefully. A majority of large objects that framers are asked to mount are made of fabric–kimonos, wedding dresses, flags and quilts are among the most common textiles a framer sees.

“I’ve often seen textiles mounted with fishing line pushed through the fabric. When the textile is hung from those points, it causes distortion and eventual tearing,” Storch warned. “Not supporting the object and its component parts properly from the interior, or not stabilizing it properly before mounting, are common mistakes made by those who don’t take a conservation approach to mounting.”

The answer to mounting large fabric pieces usually involves a two-step process–first, carefully sewing a backing onto the item and then mounting the backing, rather than the item, in the frame. Many framers use a cotton thread with just enough tensile strength to effectively hold the item, but not too much to cause damage. A strong but thin cotton thread can often be a good choice.

Avoid adhesives. While adhesives such as silicone glue and rubber cement may have their place, they should never be used to mount large or heavy objects. Water putty, epoxies, construction glue and silicone sealants can cause irreversible damage to objects, Storch warned.

“They can also fail to hold the object when they are completely relied upon without a secondary mount, leading to breakage and permanent damage,” he said. “The combined weight of the object and the adhesive can cause the support board material to fail as well.

Call hanging professionals. Perhaps the most dangerous part of oversize framing isn’t the framing at all–it’s the installation of the framed item on the wall. Regarding hardware, it’s a given that picture wire and sawtooth hangers are not the best choice for installing oversize projects. Large D-rings, Z- and J-bars, L-brackets and hanging cleats are better at distributing the weight of a heavy frame.

“It’s better to use D-rings of the proper size rather than typical S-hooks and wire,” Storch said. “Most framers have switched to this system from using wire, because it’s well-known that picture wire can scratch and tear artwork, especially canvases that do not have a hard back. L-brackets can also be used at the bottom of a large frame to support it.”

But it doesn’t matter how good the hanging hardware is if the customer doesn’t hang the frame properly when he gets it to the home or office, said Chang of Ain’t That a Frame. She points to a call for help her shop got from its local arts council, where a long, narrow 85-inch framed triptych fell off the wall of an exhibit.

The original framer had attached mirror straps to the moulding and ran wire across the back from strap to strap, Chang explained. “Mirror straps are designed for a vertical hang, not diagonal,” she said. “As the wire pulled on them, they twisted sideways, ripped out of the wood and dropped the whole thing to the floor. The physics were simply incorrect.”

A proper hanging technique for the piece, said Chang, would have been to hang the mirror straps directly to the wall, so that each side of the frame was directly supported, or to use a wide cleat.

When the frame is very heavy or unwieldy, it may be best to hire a hanging professional trained to assess the type and weight of the frame and the composition of the wall. A professional has the knowledge to determine the best hanging method and hardware to make certain that what goes on the wall, stays on the wall.

Big Framing, Bigger Reputation

One of the greatest advantages to oversize framing orders is the challenge they present to a framer’s artistic and technical abilities. Oversize frames can range from larger versions of smaller frames to full-fledged feats of engineering prowess.

And usually, the larger the object, the more unusual its history. Storch, for example, has framed everything from Indonesian Bisj poles (similar to American totem poles) to ceremonial canoes. He was once asked to suspend a birch bark canoe from a ceiling. “In those cases,” he said, “I worked with a skilled exhibits mount fabrication firm who followed my recommendations for materials and design. The mounts involved nonintrusive mounts made of tube steel padded with cross-linked polyethylene foam sheeting.”

Creative challenges aside, no one should expect an oversize framing job to make a lot of money, agreed these framers. The space, effort and time involved ha designing and building an oversize frame often quickly nullify any profit margin, even if the job is priced with care.

The advantage of oversize framing, however, is its sheer visual impact. Nothing impresses a framer’s skills on a customer more fully than his or her ability to mount a kimono perfectly in a 4- by 6-foot shadow box. It’s definitely something they remember, noted Davis of Master Framers.

“We often don’t make a lot of money on these jobs, but we’re doing them because no one else can–or is willing–to do them,” she said. “You get a reputation for being able to frame unusual things.”

Oversize framing is done more for prestige and building a good name, agreed Michael Thompson of J. Michael’s Frameworks in Fayetteville, Ga. It shows off a framer’s artistic talents in a way no 24- by 36-inch framed print can. “In my opinion, you never really get your money out of the oversize framing project itself,” he said. “But you do them to build goodwill, so that the customer will bring the easy stuff to you.” Plus, he said, oversize framing is a great advertising tool. “It adds so much interest to the home and it’s definitely a conversation piece,” Thompson said. “You know if you do one, your name will definitely be told to everyone who asks about it.”


Ain’t That a Frame, (410) 876-3096

Hartford Framing, (860) 528-1409

Master Framers Inc., (651) 291-8820

J. Michael’s Frameworks, (770) 461-2108

Paul Storch, (651) 297-5774

COPYRIGHT 2004 Pfingsten Publishing, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group