According to Wikipedia, “The ‘Great Australian Dream’ is a belief that home ownership can lead to a better life and is an expression of success and security.” While not quite as grand as the American Dream of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” it does highlight that home ownership in this country is sadly more a dream for many than a given reality. Admittedly, owning a home is high on my own list of dreams but not for any of the reasons society dictates. My sole purpose for wanting to buy a house is so I can DECORATE IT.
My own suburban dream involves pulling into my driveway (in my Audi TT) and opening the door to a house drenched in art—because if I can’t own a gallery I will do my darndest to live in one. The hallway, painted to look like an optical illusion, will lead to the bedroom designed by a specially commissioned artist, reminiscent of the hotel rooms found here. The living area will feature a wall entirely composed of postcards while any other walls not covered with framed art or photos will be stickered with Blik. Somewhere a cabinet will display my collectible toys and figurines. Other rooms will be themed. One will be designed in vintage grandmother style with rocking chair, triptych of flying ducks (0r Guinness toucans if I can ever find them) and a collection of retro porcelain knick knacks. Another will likely feature Middle Eastern decor. I’m also considering covering one room entirely in mirrors with a selection of lamps dangling from the ceiling (Yayoi Kusama style). The possibilities, much like the view in that room, are endless.
In order to bring this dream to fruition I’ve slowly amassed a drawer full of postcards, paintings, photos and prints just biding their time until they can hang proudly from my walls. While I have gathered most of this stuff relatively cheaply from places like Etsy, art galleries or second hand shops, it’s the cost of framing that has always been my niggling concern. The only way to really combat this problem was to learn to do it myself. The only problem with combating THAT problem is that I am typically known to be all of THESE THINGS.
Cruising the net as I am oft want to do made me realise just how little I know about framing. While the Internet is built to remedy what ails you, in this instance I found it just widened the void between myself and the knowledge I seek, because if you don’t really know what you’re doing you can’t really know what to search for. Fortunately in my flailing desperation I happened across the website of ‘A1 Framing’ and found they were offering a local framing course for a relatively reasonable price of $95. With a quick email sent off to ascertain whether the course catered to uncos (reply was: “It is a beginners course – aimed for pretty well everyone. I don’t think you will have any issues”*) my problemo was solverooed.
* famous last words
We were each asked to bring to the class a) a pen and paper b) lunch c) two 5 x 7 pictures to frame. Despite a drawer full of lovelies waiting to be framed the only thing I could find that was 5 x 7 was a book of Gama-Go postcards. At my last trip to Ikea I picked up a couple of frames to later find the only thing that would fit them, again, were my Gama-Go postcards, so you can understand I was a bit frustrated by this turn of events. On arrival at Bizarre Framing where the course was to be run you can understand my further frustration to discover that most of the other eight people had brought art of varying sizes (and no lunch). Does this make them unreliable or me entirely anal?
To start the day we were each handed the four sides of an unassembled frame that we glued together and set with picture frame clamps. Next we measured our pictures, working out a ‘sandwich’ size which is how big we would need to make our foam backing, glass and matt, before cutting our foamcore backing to this size.
(To give you some idea of the costs associated with DIY framing I will write approximate equipment prices after the tools we used.)
Our teacher, Deb, then called us together to show us how to use a handheld mat cutter and guide rail ($120) to give bevelled edges to the mat that surrounds the picture and acts to separate the picture from the glass. We also learned how to hammer v-nails (like a v shaped staple) into the corners of our frame using a v-nail installation tool ($30) which ensures the pieces of the frame are firmly attached. Afterwards we were let loose to attempt these things ourselves.
I have always been more interested in learning how to make mats than frames because it’s easy enough to pick up frames from second hand shops or places like Ikea but making the picture fit them is the tricky part. Because such is my life, this was the part of the course I really struggled with. We had to cut ten straight lines before attempting to make a proper mat but try as I might, I couldn’t manage it without either the cutting board, ruler or mat slipping all over the place. The teacher sensed my frustration, taping my board to the table and putting some slip matting underneath the paper but I still just COULD NOT DO IT.
Eventually she lead me to a board-mounted mat cutter ($240) which was much easier to use comparatively although I still struggled with it initially. Meanwhile another girl in the class was having a lot of trouble hammering in the v-nails and I dearly hoped I wouldn’t have problems with that as well since I’m seemingly uncoordinated at all forms of handiwork. However I found these pretty easy to hammer in, and failing that you can use a v-nailer ($195) which stamps them in like a dream. I was impressed by Deb’s method of teaching which made us try everything the inexpensive, difficult way first before showing us the easier, more expensive method.
After all this practice we then had to cut our mats for reals. I kept badly stuffing this up, not because I couldn’t use the mat cutter properly, but because I kept cutting the mat on the wrong side or cutting the pieces too small to fit in the frame. The teacher mistook this as me stuffing up the bevel cuts and made me practice using the mat cutter over and over although by this time I was practically an expert. Sensing I was starting to fall behind the rest of the class I kept trying to sneak ahead but she pulled me up every time and made me keep practicing.
Meanwhile everyone else was taping their picture with acid free tape to the back of their mats and starting to saw their frames. This was not as difficult as it sounds as the sawing equipment ($350) makes it easy to measure and clamp your wood and the saw is correctly angled and fine enough to cut a flat 45 degree surface. By this stage I was running horribly behind.
Next we had to assemble our new frames and then cut the glass using a glass cutter ($50 oiled with Singer sewing machine oil). I watched a quick glass cutting demonstration before having a go myself when the teacher wasn’t around. No doubt you can guess how successful this attempt was. I broke two pieces of glass, getting small shards of it in my hands before Deb realised what I was up to and without any frustration worked with me until we got a usable piece. I was really beginning to admire her teaching style. Initially I’d found her off-puttingly curt but as the day progressed she turned out to be one of the most patient and thorough teachers I’ve ever come across.
With the end in sight we learned how to hammer and bend nails into the back of our frames to hold everything in place which is much easier using a Flexipoint gun ($180) that stamps bendable tabs into the sides of the frame.
One of the girls in the class commented to me how I’d been surprisingly calm throughout the day to which I heartily laughed explaining that I tend to come across that way when meanwhile I’m dying of stress inside.
By now everyone else was finished and starting to leave (we were already 30 minutes overtime) although I was secretly glad that the other girl who’d struggled throughout the day was also running behind. I hurriedly assembled my frames, stamped in the tabs, stuck acid free masking tape around the back, used an electric screwdriver to put in the hooks and tied a loose piece of string between them to hang on the wall. Phew. We each ended up with two framed pieces.
I now appreciate why framing is so expensive—it requires a variety of equipment and supplies and is so involved that it takes a four year apprenticeship to learn it all. While you could probably set up your own studio for a couple of grand, it would be much more beneficial to team up with a group of people and establish a fully equipped space to share.
If you’re in the Brisbane area and interested in framing then Deb’s framing course is the one for you. You may also be interested to note that A1 Framing will be running future courses in making shadow boxes and stretching photos onto canvases, among other things. Just keep an eye on the website.
As for me, well I may be uncoordinated, but I still have a drawer of unframed art begging to see the light of day. As it’s Christmas and since you’re feeling particularly generous I certainly wouldn’t complain if you were to buy me this Logan 301 Mat Cutter from eBay which is a steal at $185. In return I’ll frame you a picture. Deal?