Sunday, October 4, 2009

Framing and Asbestos

First I want to mention a slight improvement to the blog. I have added labels to the posts so when you come to this blog and would like to read all of my harsh comments concerning terrible "art", you can go to the labels section, click Review and Criticism and get a list of all posts under that topic. It is pretty cool. It would have been much cooler if I had been doing it all along as now I am going back to old posts to get them labeled. This post will be labeled under Framing.

One could say that I am a bit too fascinated with frames. My wife is always telling me to stop working on frames for my pictures, and go paint some pictures to go in frames that some other person, namely a frame maker, will produce for me.
Of course she is right, but I do enjoy tinkering. I admit it, I am a tinkerer.
I thought I would share some of the techniques that I have worked out on building and repairing old frames.

Painters are always on the lookout for good frames. I have piles in my basement- old frames that I have found in the garbage, frames that people have given me, or that I have purchased in yard sales or antique stores. You can find messed up frames pretty cheap if you are willing to do some work yourself. Have a look at my pile- it is a bit sick really:

You can click on all of the images to make them bigger for a close up look.

One corner of my basement

The next room

Turn around and you see this.
As you can see, I have a few frames, and should probably paint some pictures to fill them.

The purpose of a frame is to set the painting off from its surroundings. Another reason for a frame is to protect the painting. Sometimes while performing this action, the frame can get pretty beat up. As they age, they dry out, chip and crack. I prefer antique frames. They were usually designed well and often have a lovely patina that adds some history to the painting.

A good friend brought me a damaged frame she wanted my advice on. Her mother gave it to her and she wanted to restore it. It was missing a bit of its fanciness, and had some bad repairs done to it. I told her I would have a look. She is doing a fine job reworking my website so I decided I would fix the frame for her and post the steps here.

Typically a frame is a wood molding. Any designs are either carved into the wood or applied with some sort of plaster compound. Often if the frames are old or have been mishandled, parts of this applied decoration have been knocked off.
My opinion has always been to do your best to keep the look of the old frame and then try to get the fixed areas to look as much like the old as possible. While I am not a restorer, I don't use traditional materials, as they are usually difficult to handle, and I think some of the newer products are just as good.

Now, I had already done much of the work before I decided this would be an informative blog post. I will just go through the steps here.
First- remove any bad repairs on the frame. One this frame, someone had tried to fix some of the missing molding with what looked like chewed bubble gum. I scraped it off.

The frame is laid out, all the loose pieces are taken off, cleaned up and can be glued back on with any good adhesive.
Here is the frame, after I fixed the areas- for sake of demonstration purposes, imagine these are nasty gaping holes. My guess is this is from the 40s or 50s. It is a nice frame, probably pretty typical. It is not a finish corner frame, meaning the molding was just mitered and nailed together. It is very pretty and should be fixed.

What do we need to do this job?

Non hardening Clay- Plastina, a sharp knife, a small hand saw, a sanding block with rough paper (80 - 100 grit) and some finer sand paper. Glass of wine is helpful- I was drinking a nice Shiraz. You will also need a material to cast your new pieces of molding. I have used many things for casting these pieces in the past: Plaster and Bondo. This time I used Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty. It worked very well. There has been some discussion, and even some law suits about this product having a bit of asbestos in the ingredients. I think this is overblown. It is in small amounts, but I suggest you wear a mask, as you should with any powder product. (Pretty soon the government will force us to wear helmets and padding so no one ever gets hurt) I also suggest you not eat or drink a fine wine around it like I did. You can get most of these things at a hardware store or good art supply store.

First step is to get a sample of the molding. You have to do a press mold off a good section of the frame. Knead the clay till it is soft, and then press it on the frame. Cover an area that will give you one piece that will match up to what is existing.

I pushed it on the frame, near the area to be replaced. Then I carefully pull the clay off.

Admire your work and have a sip of wine.
We have a mold in which to pour our putty. Try to make sure the mold is straight and not stretched or deformed.

You know, I have lovely hands. I really should be a hand model.

Don't forget your dust mask. Scoop some powder into a cup and slowly add small amounts of water, stirring till it is a thick paste. If it is too watery add more powder. It is forgiving.

I use a soft brush to push the paste into the mold. Tap it on the table to get bubbles out. Once it is filled I set it aside to dry- overnight is best.
Do all of the missing pieces at once.

The next day you can pop your new piece out of the mold. It is tough stuff, but try to not break it as working with one piece is easier. Now you just have to clean it up and fit it to the space.
Sand it on the block, Get it flat and remove the excess pieces.
Take your piece, that should be slightly larger than the space it is to fit in, and mark it with a pencil. Use a fine saw to cut the piece. You can often just cut half way, then break it on the scored area.
Check it for a tight fit, make sure the molding pattern lines up and is in the right order. Sand or trim with a knife till it fits tight. If it is a bit loose that is ok, you can fill the spaces. Now, mix up more putty, a bit wetter, butter the back of the piece thickly, and press into the space. Wipe off any excess that squeezes out. After this drys you can fill any voids with more putty, a brush or spatula. Use the knife to carve a smooth transition- a utility knife or Exacto blade works well. Sand lightly if needed, making sure not to lose any detail in the design.
Now we have to get the finish to match. This one will be tough, as it is old metal leaf that has a bit of age and tarnish on it. I am just going to use some gold spray paint to cover it and get me in the right direction.
I spray the paint into a cup and carefully brush it on the repair. I will let this dry and then try to get the color and patina later. I may have to metal leaf it next.
Here is the frame with the pieces all painted gold. You can see the decoration is pretty continuous, and integrates well. Once there is a color match, it should look good as......old.


Anonymous said...

Richard, You are such a pro! What knowledge, what skill, and such kindness to a clueless friend. You are a prince among men...

Dave said...

This is damn fine work.

Scotty said...