Presentation is a very important, but oft overlooked aspect of art. It has even been said that good presentation can elevate the quality of the work itself. But how you go about presenting your artwork will depend on a variety of factors. The first among these is the media you’ve worked in, or rather, the media you’ve worked on. If you’re painting on canvas, wood, glass or anything thicker than a couple of millimeters, you’ll need to make your way to your local frame shop. But if you’ve worked on paper, you can simply mat your work. Today we’ll look at how to do this.
The bottom should always be slightly larger than the other sides. This will help to visually ground your work. So we’ll make the bottom 2.5”.
Now we’ll need to determine the length and width of the entire mat so that it can be cut from the larger board. This is done by adding the width of the sides to that of the artwork. For example, the artwork is 8” wide and the mat will be 2” wide on the left and 2” wide on the right (fig. 2). Thus, 8 + 2 + 2 = 12.
But don’t cut yet. All of the edges of the mat will need to overlap the artwork by ¼”. This will allow the mat to hold the work in place. So once you do the math, subtract ½” from the overall height and width (that is, ¼” for each side).
So for the width, 8 + 2 + 2 - .5 = 11.5.
And for the height, 10 + 2 + 2.5 - .5 = 14.
Go ahead and measure and cut two pieces of mat board which measure 11.5” x 14” (fig. 3).
Now it’s time to measure the window in the center. Set one of the two pieces of mat board to the side. This will be the back. On the other, carefully measure in 2” from the top, left and right. Measure 2.5” up from the bottom. Mark these lightly with the pencil (fig. 4). I prefer to measure twice on each side, once near one end and once near the other so that I can easily make a straight line with the ruler by connecting the two points.
Now the tricky part – cutting out the window. Once you’ve measured out the window, the first thing to do is check your math! Make sure it’s the right size. Then lay your ruler across the inside of each line and angle your blade so that you are cutting on a slope (fig. 5). You’ll need to make the cut several times for each side, so don’t try to force the blade all the way through on the first cut.
Do this for all four edges, being careful not to go passed the corners of the window with the blade. You’ll know you’re done when you lift up the mat board and the window falls out. Never pull it out yourself. If it’s still connected in a corner or two, use your blade to cut it out. Pulling it will result in very rough edges.
After the window falls out, sand down the edges just to make sure they are smooth(fig. 6). Erase any remaining pencil lines while you’re at it. Then turn the mat upside down and align the top edge with the top edge of the back piece. Place a strip of tape where the two edges meet and fold them over like a hinge (fig. 7).
Then center your artwork in the window and tape it down. It’s always best to use acid-free tape. Regular tape will discolor with time and ruin your work.
Fold the mat over and you’re done (fig. 8)! The artwork can now be displayed as-is or placed in a frame, mat and all.
A few thoughts on mat board. As for colors, I generally prefer black or white mats. If you do opt for color, try to choose one that matches an accent color in your work. If there is one color that dominates your work, don’t select a mat in the same color. The mat should act as a border and not a continuation of your image.
It’s very tempting to purchase pre-cut mats at the art supply store. If your artwork would fit perfectly into one of these mats (and I do mean perfectly), go ahead and buy one. There’s no reason to do all that extra measuring and cutting if you don’t have to.