A Love Affair - My First Mat Cutter

Ravensworth Sidewalk Art Festival

Looking back, when I was young, I moved every two years, no my family was not in the witness protection program, but instead the product of a career military service man. Crossing the US from the East coast to Hawaii, I experienced a variety of schools and communities. Luckily, my dad felt it was important to stay put so I could graduate high school in one place — that place was Fairfax, Virginia. Not only would I have a 4-year high school experience, but I went to what was called a secondary school, 7-12 grade. Six years in the same home, best friends and in some incidences - the same teachers. One of the greatest gifts in my life was having the same five art instructors for 6 years. It afforded me the opportunity to study painting, pottery, printmaking, sculpture, drawing, and fiber (you get the idea), in addition to attending classes at the Smithsonian's National Gallery.

Mr. Robert Nelson

Early on, Mr. Nelson (one of my teachers - ok my favorite art teacher) persuaded me to enter the Ravensworth Sidewalk Art Festival with my paintings. I was probably in ninth grade and I remember winning a prize. At the time it seemed like a lot of money, but in reality I think it was about $50. After tossing back and forth what to purchase, Mr. Nelson convinced me that it would be a wise decision to buy a mat knife and learn how to use it.

I believe what was really going on is he foresaw a lot of matting in my future and did not want to be the one assigned to the task of cutting my mats. He was right. I used my hand-held Dexter Mat Cutter all through high school, part of college and I still have it 40 years later (ugh). In fact, he retrofitted my mat knife with two metal rods to give me the ability to cut beveled circular mats. You may remember, round mats were big in the 70s.

Throughout the years, I have upgraded to better mat cutting systems and have a variety that serve different purposes in my studio.

The take away from this little story is - don't discount some of the basic studio skills you have and don't forget those teachers that influenced you early on. You might be surprised how they will guide you along the way.

So here are a few tidbits to know about how I mat and frame my photographs.

Have a clean work space with all your supplies. I like to gather everything I will need for the job in one location. Here are a few things I use.

Archival Methods 4-ply mat board

Archival Methods 2-ply mat board

Mat knife

Linen Hinging Tape

Archival Photo Corners

Acid free foam core



Logan Dual Point Driver

Dust cover material



The Photograph

I sign all my photographs on the back (on verso) with a pencil and I include the edition's print number if there is one. Very important... keep track of what edition number is on the back of the photograph. I keep a spread sheet on my editions, who owns or has a particular piece and any exhibitions the print has been in. There is nothing worse than completely framing a piece and forgetting what the edition number was.

Putting it Together

I won't get in to measuring for the mat window. For the most part, I tend to like 'oversize' mats that provide a lot of space around the image. I also only mat in white - it's my museum background that drives that decision. The window mat is a 4-ply acid free board and the photograph is attached to a 2-ply acid free mat board using mounting corners. The benefit of using mounting corners is that no part of the photograph touches adhesive, leaving the work completely clean and undamaged. When I am working with larger photos, say over 20 x 16 inches, I will use paper hinges, which are reversible should need be. Once the 'photo sandwich' is together (print, mat and backing board) I will put it in the frame with glass or plexiglass depending on where the artwork is headed. I then back everything with a piece of acid free foam board. If you are working with a wooden frame, you will want to use a point driver to insert points behind your backing board to keep everything in place. Adding a paper dust cover will add a clean, finished look to the overall piece - but more importantly, it protects the artwork from dust and other particles from sneaking inside of the frame.

Finish Up

Once everything is sealed in the frame, I will measure about 1/3 down from the top on both sides and add the hangers and wire. I have also found it helpful to write the title and edition number (...again) on the back of the finished artwork. This is handy for the purchaser or those that install exhibitions.