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Nerdlocker Artist Interview – David “FramerDave” Lantrip

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– Interview by Jarad Stiles

At Nerdlocker the staff loves everything pop culture related. In the past several years pop culture screen prints have caught fire thanks to Gallery 1988 and Mondo releases of officially licensed movie screen prints, the perfect fusion of commercial properties and art. Acquiring the art is only half the battle, the other half is properly framing and displaying it. To answer some more advanced questions on framing I have interviewed two of the best framers in the business. I thought it would be extremely interesting to get insights and compare answers to the exact same questions. First up, we have David “FramerDave” Lantrip!

David Lantrip works for Franchise Concepts, the franchisor for Deck The Walls, The Great Frame Up and Framing & Art Centre. They are all franchised stores, locally owned and operated. David is a professor of framing. When a new store owner comes into the system they come to his office in St. Louis, where he provides all of the initial frame training, and will periodically go out to give seminars to the framers in the stores to give continuing framing education.

So without further ado, here’s FramerDave!

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Nerdlocker (NL): How did you get started as a professional framer?

David Lantrip (DL): Frankly, I needed a job. After my disastrous first (and last) year teaching high school German I knew I would need something to hold me over until I could find another teaching job. I had been a DIY customer at a local Great Frame Up and enjoyed it so I thought I’d give it a try. As luck would have it they were looking for someone. I found that I really enjoyed it, I was pretty good at it and have stuck with it ever since.

NL: How long have you been doing it?

DL: 19 years as of August

NL: With the proliferation of so many frame shops, how do you know how to choose?

DL: I’m not sure I would use the word proliferation in regards to frame shops. Over the past ten or so years we’ve seen a large decrease in the number of shops out there, due in large part to the economy, changing buying habits and demographics and aggressive marketing by mass retailers.

I would make the decision in some of the same ways I would any other professional: recommendations from friends, online reviews and asking a lot of questions. Stop by and ask some questions and take a look at the work on their walls. Ask if the framing is done on-site or if they will send your work out. Ask how they would handle the type of artwork you’re looking to have framed. How long have they been in business? Do they attend workshops or read the trade magazines to keep current on new techniques and materials?

Also, take a look around the shop and trust your instincts. Someone should say hello or at least acknowledge your presence as soon as you walk in the door. The shop should be well-lit, clean and organized and you should not see customer’s artwork or frame jobs sitting around on the floor or counters. A framer who keeps his shop clean and neat for customers is likely to care about being a professional and taking good care of customers’ property.

Photo-2NL: Are there any certifications?

DL: There are, but they are not mandatory. The way I look at it is that a framer who gets those qualifications is one who cares about his craft, treats it as a profession and cares enough to learn to do it well.

The Certified Picture Framer (CPF) designation is offered through the Professional Picture Framers Association (PPFA) the trade organization for framers mainly in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It’s a pretty rigorous written exam on all aspects of framing with a heavy emphasis on preservation framing. Framers who hold the CPF designation are also required to keep it current by taking a day-long recertification class once every four years. If anyone ever tells you it’s a cake walk or “just” a multiple choice test I’d point out that it has a 60% passing rate.

The Master Certified Picture Framer (MCPF) is also offered through the PPFA. It’s an incredibly thorough and (for me at least) nerve-wracking exam. For this exam a framer has to frame four pieces of artwork in advance, all to the highest preservation standards: a work of art on paper, a canvas, an object and a piece of needlework or a textile. All four of these are taken apart, examined and scored by a pair of examiners. Then the framer draws a piece of art at random and is given ninety minutes to frame it from start to completion. That one is then taken apart and scored as well.

Once the exam is passed the MCPF is required to take the recertification course and to take or teach at least three continuing education classes once every four years.

The Fine Art Trade Guild (FATG) is the framing trade organization in the UK and Europe and they offer the Guild Commended Framer (GCF) qualification. It’s sort of a hybrid of the CPF and MCPF in that there is a hands-on component as well as a written test. The candidate is required to frame three pieces of art in advance according to the FATG established standards and these are taken apart and scored by the examiner, who has the option of asking about the choices made. Then there is a short written test and a few framing tasks are done hands-on. For me the exam was an interesting opportunity to see the different standards and philosophies at work. Also a great excuse to visit England.

NL: Besides certifications, what should you look for in a good framer?

DL: The way I look at is that we are professionals and we are paid not just for the mats, glass, frames and so on but for our knowledge and advice. I would look for a framer who is willing to spend time with you to create a great design that fits your wants, needs and budget. I think the best framers are those who don’t even pick up the first mat or frame sample until they have spent a few minutes talking to the customer, asking questions and learning what the customer’s goals are.

A framer should first ask about the artwork, who the artist is, what it means to the customer, why the customer likes it. This will help the framer guide his customers to the best choices. To illustrate this, let’s suppose you bring a tattered, beat up concert poster to your framer. He takes a look at it and without any discussion makes the decision that since it’s just a torn up old poster he’s not going to “push” you into the good stuff since it doesn’t “need” it and you won’t want to spend much money on it. That framer just failed you and himself. He failed the customer because the customer did not get the framing he wants or deserves and he failed himself because he may have left a lot of money on the table and gave the customer no good reason to return.

Now if the framer had spent a little time he may have found out that the poster was from the first concert you ever went to and it was your favorite group ever. Maybe you and your friends got drunk, swiped the poster from the club you were at and spent ten minutes running away from the security guards you pissed off and you all still laugh about it twenty years later. So it’s not just some ratty poster you’re framing, you’re framing memories. How would you feel if the framer didn’t even offer you “the good stuff” for your memories?

I suppose what I’m trying to say in my own long-winded way is that a good framer will give you time. Finally, the one thing that really pisses me off is when I hear a framer ask “So, what did you have in mind?” Sorry, you’re the professional, not your customer. Do your job and don’t make your customer do it for you.

Photo-3NL: What is your preference for archival materials?

DL: As much as I despise the term archival in regards to framing I know what you mean.

For about 90% of what I’m likely to see, UV filtering glass or acrylic, cotton or alpha cellulose mats, and acid free foam board are fine. With the remaining 10% I would mount the artwork to matboard and use something like Coroplast for a backing, leaving foam board out of the frame, and give serious consideration to using cotton mats only. About 1% might need something a bit more exotic, but that’s another discussion entirely.

Basically I like to keep it simple. Use good quality materials and a handful of good, versatile methods and you can’t go wrong. I know some people might look at it as overkill but I figure the worst that will happen is that future generations will end up with a lot of very well preserved but very ugly art.

NL: What is floating?

DL: If I wanted to be flippant and piss off a lot of people I’d say it’s a way cheap people try to get out of using mats. But seriously, it’s a way of displaying artwork so that its edges are exposed. I recommend it when the image goes all the way to the edge of the paper, known as a bleed print, when the paper has decorative edge as with deckled paper or there’s something important very close to the edge of the paper, as in when an artist has signed right on the edge. Otherwise there’s just not much need to do it, it makes the mounting more complicated, thus more expensive, and the artwork is not supported as well as it could be.

NL: Should you ever use spacers?

DL: Yes, if you need some way to provide 1/8” or more space between the art and the glass. Suppose you have a piece of artwork that’s been framed with double mats. That would normally be enough to provide adequate space, but if the art is heavily textured or embellished then there may be parts that contact the glass. In this case I’d use a spacer for better separation.

There could also be times when someone doesn’t want to use mats. In that case I would float mount the art on a board, showing about ¼” all around and then use spacers on the glass. This way the glass is not in contact with the art and the spacers are resting on the mounting board, not the edges of the art. By the way I know a lot of people on the EB forum just slap the art on a board, put spacers on the glass and call it good. I guess I’m the resident buzzkill but that’s just not the way to do it.

NL: Do you like to double or triple mat art?

DL: Oh definitely. The only time I like to do a single mat is if it’s a nice 8-ply mat, maybe wrapped in fabric. Otherwise a single mat really does nothing, and a double mat is pretty pedestrian on its own. If I’m doing a double mat I’ll try to dress it up just a little with a V groove or something like that. Given the choice I’ll do a triple mat every time.

I remember when I first started framing we’d waste so much time trying to pick out three perfect mats to match the sofa and those tiny little flowers way in the background of the print. Here’s how I look at it now: Start with a neutral top mat, maybe working with the wall color, the background color of the art or the paper color in mind. Then find an accent color relating to the art and finally another accent color from the art or similar to the frame to tie it all together.

Finally, be sure to vary the widths of the mats and make them different enough to look deliberate. If you use 3/16” of the bottom mat make the middle mat 3/8” or vice versa.

Photo-4NL: What are your thoughts on cloth mats?

DL: I love fabric mats. I’m over suede mats but I love a nice linen or silk. There’s no better way to get deep, rich colors and beautiful textures. And if you really want something great do a fabric wrapped mat.

NL: What is a reverse bevel cut?

DL: When mats are cut they are cut on an angle so you have a bevel on the mat opening. This makes a tiny line of the core color, usually white, and this is generally fine. But sometimes that white line can be distracting so the mat is cut with the angle going the other way to make a reverse bevel and the only thing you see if the mat face color.

They’re ok sometimes but a lot of times I just look at them and wonder why the framer forgot to put the fillet in.

NL: Do you prefer Acrylic or Glass?

DL: It depends. Acrylic has the advantages of being about half the weight of glass with twenty times the shatter resistance. I would recommend it on anything larger than about 36×48, on anything hanging in a high-traffic area or an area with kids or if the art will be shipped. Oh, and don’t forget earthquakes. Also if the artwork is extremely valuable I would recommend acrylic regardless of size; people tend to forget that broken glass is very sharp and will shred artwork if it gets broken.

Acrylic has traditionally had the drawbacks of being easy to scratch and holding a static charge. Newer varieties of acrylic such as Optium and Static Shield eliminate these issues. Today, pretty much every option in glass is available in acrylic, including UV protection and anti-reflective coatings.

NL: When do you use fillets?

DL: Any time I can? Seriously, I really love them and my favorite way to use them is to put them between two mats and use a fillet that matches the frame. It’s really an elegant look and it ties everything together so well. Also remember that you can put a fillet in a frame to make something truly unique.

NL: What are your thoughts on paper hinging? A paper conservator told me that it still could damage the art, is that true?

DL: For a long time I thought that all valuable artwork needed to be hinged, period. I’ve since learned that hinging should be done only if there are no better alternatives such as edge strips or a platform mount. Basically you’re looking for a mounting method that will give good support, be non-invasive and can be easily and completely reversed. If you have a large piece of art on very thin paper that cannot support its own weight or if the art must be float mounted you don’t have much choice but to hinge it.
If anything must be attached to the art then hinging is the way to go. We know that it is chemically stable and compatible since you’re using nothing but cellulose and starch, the same stuff paper itself is made from. It’s also easily and completely reversible with nothing but water.

The only danger comes in the application; if the rice starch paste is too wet or not applied properly then the paper can buckle and cockle. There are also similar worries when removing hinges but in the hands of a good, well-trained framer it’s very much a viable method.

NL: Aesthetically, if cost were not an issue, would you always go with ornate frames, or do you think something simple is more elegant?

DL: Either way, both ornate and simpler designs have their place. For example, take a look at architecture. An over-the-top, heavily-ornamented Baroque church is just as beautiful in its way as a well-proportioned, clean-lined Frank Lloyd Wright building. Both have their own merits and are great architecture, just in different ways.

NL: Does it depend on the piece?

DL: It certainly does. Artwork with heavy shapes and bold colors can stand up to frames with similar designs, while artwork with very fine, delicate details such as a fine etching would be better served by a frame with smaller and more delicate details. Linear artwork is well-matched to simple profiles without ornamentation.

Again though, sometimes great results come from breaking the rules. A modern abstract with bold lines and colors can look great in a more traditional and very ornate frame. That’s what makes this so much fun.

NL: What is your process to design a frame when given free reign?

DL: If I’m framing in a vacuum and don’t have to consider any particular space where the art may hang I will take all my cues from the art. I’ll see if there is any historic period or “feel” it fits into and look at the subject matter to see if it tells me anything. From there I can usually get a general idea of where I want to go, and I’ll start looking at mats. Once the mats are pretty much nailed down I’ll look at frames. Then sometimes I’ll fine tune the mats based on the frame and then finally consider any special treatments I want to do, such as V grooves or special cuts.

NL: Do you collect art? If so what?

DL: Well, collecting sort of implies that I know a lot about the artists and spend a lot of time thinking about it and its value. I pretty much just pick up things that I like and reflect my interests. I have a lot of prints of art by some of my favorite artists like Albrecht Durer, Caspar David Friedrich and Kurt Meyer Eberhardt. Lately I’ve been framing a lot of my pictures of family, my three dogs and pictures from my travels.

If anyone ever asks I usually tell them to just collect art they like and don’t pay attention to its value. Very little art appreciates as much as we’ve been led to believe (just look at Kincaid) and you’re not going to put your kids through college on it. And don’t listen when people tell you what you should like. You have to live with it and look at it every day, so make sure it’s something you’ll enjoy seeing.***

And there you have it, from one of the best framers in the biz, David Lantrip! Thank you so much for all the fantastic information. For more information, visit Franchise Concepts and check out their franchises.

Don’t forget to check back soon for our second interview from another great name in the framing industry!

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