Monday, November 30, 2009

Refinishing some frames...

...just so that they can be used. If I was in the position to purchase custom made, gilded frames, there's no way that I'd spend the time and effort to do this. Since I'm not independently wealthy, I do these sorts of things every once in a while to try to get a frame to fit a painting a little better then they do out of the box. Below is a beautiful corner of a 'real' frame, water gilded with 22kt gold.

It's a real Catch 22. We artists should not put anything but the absolute best frame on, the frame that best enhances the painting. To do that I'd have to give up eating, art supplies, fuel for the plein air truck, the plein air truck, and all but two brushes and three tubes of paint. I'd mix on my leg or forearm and beg for more paint. You get the idea.

Instead I make do with what I can. I'm not in favor of just picking a standard gold frame and slapping it onto every painting that leaves the house either. So I try to alter the mass manufactured frames, the ones that I can afford, to give them some customization and to make them a little more individually tied to the painting that they're going to be with for some time to come. That's when time is available. If it's not, they go out in the frames as they come.

I have frames all over the place, the typical varieties from the online suppliers. They're always just "too orange", "too bright", "too silver", "too dark".... or something other than "Just Right, a perfect fit...". With a little reading and experience as a framer and "mess making experimenter", I have learned about some processes to alter the prefinished mouldings and frames. If you are interested, look at the Picture Framing Magazine data base for lot's of helpful info about how to do this. For years I subscribed to that magazine and have files of the articles torn out of the magazine and saved for reference.

The other thing needed, well two other things, are a closet full of hazardous, dangerous and smelly products from paint stores, hardware stores and even etching supply houses, and tolerance for these sorts of chemicals and concoctions. If you don't like Turpenoid, I mean if that's your limit when it comes to toxic materials in your artistic life, then don't even think about doing this. It involves layers of 'stuff', spraying 'stuff' ( with an electric turbine powered HVLP sprayer), sanding nasty, dusty "stuff", rubbing and painting on other "nasty stuff", and using a lot of rubber gloves, rags, paper towels and face masks.

Despite all of that... I love doing this kind of thing. Although I have some confidence that I'm not going to blow myself up in the process, it's always a little bit of an experiment to launch into one of these. Probably because I don't really know what I'm doing, the results are always a HUGE surprise within the limits of my expectations. I discover new things to do to the poor little frames that give themselves up to my lab of indecent things to do to wood every time I try. In other words... IT's a heck of a lot of fun!

So here are the latest three victims of my "Frame Shop". All were too bright and warm for these paintings, two gold, one silver. I'll post the pics I took quickly and briefly describe what I did. Believe me, though you might not like these results, they're a lot better than generic gold and silver, the way the frames were. At least now they're individuals.

The 'official' disclaimer and apology to all of the professional gilder's and frame crafts-men and -women out there... and to any of you who might want to try this... I don't have a clue what I'm doing. Go seek instruction and/or advice from someone who does. :)

On all three of these frames I used something called 'asphaltum'... yes, asphalt in a can. This is an artist grade tar that is used to block out, protect etching plates when they go into the acid bath. You thin it with Naptha, a very nasty chemical. This is brushed on and then removed in varying degrees. It's not just brushed on though, it gets tamped with a rag, stippled with a brush, wiped with cotton rag, whatever it takes. When you get it to look like you want, it sets up fast so you have to work fast, it gets a dusting of Rottenstone, in varying amounts, that it is then removed, in varying degrees with various means, and watch ed like a hawk watching a mouse until you are sure that when it dries it's going to look good. That's considering that it's covered in a grey powder and you know that you're going to remove most of it, maybe 90% of it to get to the final look. This is very touchy because if you do it too early, too roughly, before the asphaltum has set up enough, you scar it and ruin what you just did. That can lead to a new discovery too.


The frame that I had on hand that fit this painting, "Chisago County Dusk" was a warm gold profile moulding that had been chopped and assembled. The profile isn't bad, but again for this painting a bright yellow gold just didn't help the painting out at all. I painted on the asphaltum and then wiped it off of the high points of the frame. It's a very smooth finish so I carefully tamped the panel of the frame with a cotton t-shirt ball to make a very smooth interior panel surface. That left a reddish gold color to the panel that enhanced the warmth of the painting. A light dusting of rottenstone to soften the dark and it fit the painting a lot better than as it was.


This is my favorite of the bunch. It was an Omega silver finish frame that on this painting, "Christmas Morning" looked green. Same basic procedure as these other two, asphaltum, wiped down leaving more in the interior panel area, added rottenstone, dusted off to my taste, let dry. Once it's dry the rottenstone is set into the asphaltum. I still took a soft cotton rag and buffed the panel area. That left a satin surface that softly enhances the quiet, cool light of the painting. I like this one a lot.


In this piece called "November Coming" I started to pull up the asphaltum before it had set. This was on an Omega gold frame that was too orange and dominant. So I mixed a wash of OMS and Liquin, to help it dry eventually, and brushed it on in one 'round robin' stroke, covering the entire frame around all four legs without stopping. It pooled and got sort of grainy, I thought it was very cool looking. Once that had started to set I covered it in a layer of rottenstone that I watched until it had just been 'grabbed' by the setting Liquin and then lightly brushed it off with a wide Chinese bristle brush. What was left when it dried and the excess rottenstone had been removed was a dusty, leathered looking surface that matched the paintings' own soft character. The entire package, though gold and black, is subdued now and it works as a smokey sort of presentation that I like.

18 comments:

RĂ©gis Pettinari said...

beautiful frames for beautiful paintings. My favorite is
" November coming ".

Perry Brown said...

Great post Marc. This is something that all artists with frame inventories can relate to.
What are your thoughts about some of the decorative craftsman frames in unusual iconic shapes that have become increasingly popular?

Kathy said...

Good advice about fixing frames. Thank you! I'm amazed at how many frames I see discarded with the trash when I take walks through my neighborhood. Some of them should be restored and now you've told me how to do it!

Chad said...

Wow! these look great... Marc "the toolman" Hanson :)

Marc R. Hanson said...

Thanks Regis. Glad that you like that one, I do also.

Perry... Well they seem to fit the paintings, not in all cases tho', that I've seen. I see them mostly on paintings by some of the contemporary figurative painters who are painting in a modern buy almost 19th century classical mode. For those paintings they seem appropriate I guess.

Kathy this is just one way of going about this. If you look into those pdf files on the Picture Framing Mag site there are many more ways to go about this. I don't profess to be able to tell you that this way is going to work for every frame and finish out there. If the frame has been coated in a finishing wax, like butchers wax, that needs to be removed... lot's of things like that.

You got it Chad! Have asphaltum, will travel!

Deb Kirkeeide said...

These are great Marc - I love the idea but I'm not sure about all those hazardous materials - that's enough to keep me away. But your results are perfect.
Ever wish someone would just let you loose in a framing shop? That would be heaven!

Dennis Dame said...

Thanks for sharing Marc - great info.
Looking forward to seeing what kind of mess I can make! Super paintings!

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Beautifully done, Marc. I, too, have a warehouse of stock frames, many of which aren't quite right for the work at hand. I'd love to have a little shop set aside for tweaking them until they *are* right. Excellent idea - we don't have to stick with the frames we are shipped.

Solvay said...

SO EXCITED TO SEE THESE IN PERSON!!!!!!!!

Anita Stoll said...

Marc,
I have nominated you for a special award. Please come to my blogsite.
Thank You.

Jo Castillo said...

Marc, this worked so well, just beautiful. Thanks for all the info.

Joe Kazimierczyk said...

Thanks for this post Marc! I've been trying to tone down some gold frames by using black or umber artist oil paints. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.

Can you recommend any good books for learning more tricks like this? All of the framing books I've found just cover the basics of frame making, but I'm more interested in the subtleties of frame finishing - like using asphaltum and rottenstone. I have no one to learn from so I'd love to find a good book on the topic.

Love your work, as always!

Tony Hilscher said...

Hey Marc,
Thanks for the framing demo, I think I'd ruin 20 before I got a keeper.
I'm looking forward to seeing your Christmas Show in Marine On St Croix. I'm just fortunate it's only 15 miles up hwy 95 and not half way across the country!

larrymoorestudios said...

I can't tell you how helpful this is.I had, just the day before, scoured the net trying to find this very info and stumbled on your blog serendipitously (plus I wanted to see what you've been up to). Now all I have to do is find some asphaltum, some rottenstone and figure out what an OMS is.

Marc R. Hanson said...

Thanks you all. I don't know of any books other than those articles in Picture Framer magazine. Yes, ruining frames is part of it. But I've learned that even then if you have a few tricks up the sleeve you can make them work.

Marc R. Hanson said...

Larry...

"OMS is an increasingly common but distant relative of the rather rare Turpentine species, common to the pine forests of the world. It has no odor, you can see through it and originates from the Pleistocene age. OMS is increasingly hard to come by and in the present is mostly found in the Arab Gulf States. The common name is 'Odorless Mineral Sprits'. We don't recommend it as a pet but have heard that it has increasingly become a common addition to many artists' studios." ;-)

larrymoorestudios said...

The Pleistocene age? Don't they make anything fresher? Thanks again for all the info. Great paintings too.

Sharon said...

Hi Marc: Thanks for posting this! I was wondering if you have tried acrylics or oils on the Omega plein air frames that are gold -they are beautiful but SO bright. Any suggestions for modifying them with a paint would be much appreciated.
Sharon