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L Framing 101 > Proportions R

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Key to diagrams.


Border widths.
It has been a convention for many years when using a mat board, to make the bottom border slightly larger than the other 3. There are many theories about why this came about, from the way books are printed, to pictures being hung up too high, though the most plausible theory seems to be that some people just like it that way.
Weighted bottoms are usually employed more on portrait pictures of some vintage. More modern pictures & landscapes, don't in general have as many bigger bottoms used. The reason for this is that landscapes are made more square by bigger bottoms & portraits are made more skinny. And because the trend has been ebbing away from weighted bottoms for some decades now, the idea has become old fashioned, leading to it becoming a symbol of older tastes.

Some times people will try to put very large bottoms in a frame to really accentuate this concept. Though be careful, as it can sometimes look as though the picture was forced into a frame it did not belong to.
The general idea when weighting bottoms is to add a little more on so that the effect it creates is evident, not the reason behind it. In other words if you ad 10% to a mat, you will see the influence of the bigger border, without actually noticing the bigger border itself. If you were to add maybe 70% extra, like we have below. You will defiantly notice the bigger border, & it may in fact distract from the finished product.

Even all round portrait
Weighted bottom
Even all round landscape
Weighted bottom

In a lot of oriental cultures, pictures are made with a bigger border, both on the top, & on bottom. This is usually much more than a 10% increase, & may in fact be over 10x larger. This is nearly always limited to long portrait pictures, usually painted on scrolls. This effect can however be applied to many other styles of pictures, to give it an asian feel.



When dealing with frames, it is important that the finished product flows. It should be attempted to make no 2 widths of any component look the same, & your eye should be drawn into the picture.
Firstly look at the mat border. If the frame is the same width as this, the whole thing looks too regimented & the framing fails its task. If it has one of these visual faux pas, you may not notice exactly what is wrong with the picture, though something should be bothering you & distracting from the overall impact.

Even border & frame

To get around this, the most common procedure is to make the mat bigger than the frame. This is not always necessarily a further step, as many people will initially do this by instinct. From the example you can see that the visual concept works much better.
If you don't want a large mat, the other way you can go is to make the border smaller than the front of the frame. This is not as good as making the mat bigger, though is better than making it all the same.

Larger border than frame

Smaller border than frame.

The flow of a picture can also be affected by the use of a double mat or V-groove. These mat board decorations & many like them can be use to greatly accentuate your picture, though they can also do the reverse.
When you use double mats make them smaller than your top mat. Don't make them the same size as your frame, or the gap between the mat & the plate mark on etchings.
Put V-grooves in toward your picture, though not so close that that cramp it.
Triple mats can look OK if the 2 extra mats are the same size, though usually work better if one is a little bigger than the other.


When doing up more than 1 picture in a frame, there are a few simple rules to follow. Make sure the mat between your pictures is thinner than the mat surrounding the entire thing. Also remember to keep the mat thicker or thinner than the width of the frame.


When having something put under your picture such as a title or dedication, you should be mindful of what proportions look best. To the right is an example of a mat that was designed with borders above & below the inset at the same height. This gave the entire mat the look of being bigger on the bottom while making the inset look like it is smaller on the bottom.

This is an example of the same sized picture with a mat underneath the inset of equal width to the other 3 borders. This may make the width of the entire bottom seem to large, although at least the very bottom margin doesn't seem too small.

You may have to find a happy medium between the two of these methods, although we have found something closer to the later to be the more successfully.


Having to make do.
There comes a time in many peoples lives where they have to compromise on how something is going to look proportionally in order to fit within certain constraints. These include such things as competition sizing, existing frames or the need to make disparate pictures seem uniform. In other words the size of the picture doesn't match the size of the frame.
Here are a few methods of resolving these issues.

Use square frames where possible. Then you can frame pictures with varying orientations, while keeping all the pictures centered.

Centered. landscape
Centered. portrait
Portrait looks good in portrait frame, though... landscapes look pretty forced in portrait frame

Landscape pictures can be raised up within the frame so that they have bigger bottoms

Centered. landscape
Raised landscape


Its not always just a matter of single pictures either. Often artists will have to layout entire exhibitions in this matter. In this case you'll need to get each picture looking good within its self & with all the others surrounding it.
There are 2 main ways of doing this. We have used frames that are all the same size so that the effect is easier to see.

In the first example, we have centered all the pictures both horizontally & vertically within their frames. This ensures all their centers align & they look as though they belong together.

In this second example we have aligned the tops. While some people prefer this method, the disparity between the sizes is more pronounced.




Years ago some old Italian bloke started banging on about the golden ratio. This 1:1.618 proportion was thought to govern all living beauty & so, was echoed in many man made things. This doesn't always transfer to picture framing however, as many pictures will fall well without these parameters.

Stroke echos.
It can be a good idea to draw some comparison between the size of the stroke in a picture and the frame. In other words, a loose painting made with broad strokes of a 1" brush can look especially good in a frame that is also 1" wide. By the same token, a tight etching that is made of very fine lines, can look very good in something that is very thin & possibly even with fine line work in itself.

Size Vs Size.
A general good rule to work loosely within when choosing the width of the frame profile, is that the larger the picture, the larger the frame. This has structural benefits as well as aesthetic, as the thicker frame will be stronger. There are many occasions when this rule will not apply, though it does make common sense in many situations & will make most pictures look balanced & in proportion.

A great way to get around a problem where you don't want a thick frame, though don't want anything too insignificant is to use a deep frame. Because they can be narrow from the front, they wont intrude too much into the visual space of the picture. However because they still have a lot of substance to them, they can make a frame look important & dynamic. They can also be used to great effect in making canvas boards look like framed canvas on a stretcher.





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