FRAME BUILDING THOUGHTS
Building and finishing a big batch of frames is solitary work. There are innumerable steps involved and many, many hours in the woodshop from initial stock cutting through to final staining and finishing. I’ve been hard at work this weekend frame building all the frames that will be used in my upcoming show with Gail Hood at the Henry Hood Gallery, “Earth, Water & Trees,” opening October 18th in Covington, Louisiana.
While the process is laborious, I continue to derive great satisfaction from making my own frames and assembling my own final framed images. There is one main reason this is so: first, I love the idea of being personally involved from the instant the image was conceived and captured all the way through to the print hanging on that gallery wall. I hope that there’s a continuity of aesthetic that comes through in the work, having had my hand involved each step along the way.
The way I approach landscape photography has always involved an element of risk. I use long exposures, frequently in rapidly changing, fragile light, where I may not get a second chance to make the image if I don’t anticipate correctly the first time I line something up–the light has changed, the mist has cleared, the wind starts blowing–any number of factors make it tricky. This is part of what makes this so rewarding when things work out.
Frame building carries some of the same risks.
I have on my bookshelf an old copy of an important book about craftsmanship and the relationship between old-school craft methods and modern, industrial construction. The author, David Pye, was a professor of furniture design at the Royal College of Art in London, and his slim volume, “The Nature and Art of Workmanship,” defined the differences between what he termed the “workmanship of risk” vs. the “workmanship of certainty.”
The workmanship of certainty is the very definition of modern construction through which, by the use of machines and patterns and jigs, an object can be made over and over again and each one is identical to all of the other copies. You can’t tell one from another; they are all the same.
The workmanship of risk, on the other hand, relies on the skill, judgment and dexterity of the craftsman to create the object. At each step in the process, decisions must be made and correctly executed or the entire object can be ruined. This is more akin to tightrope walking; the workmanship of certainty is like cruising safely down the highway.
Now I’m not going to tell you that my frames are purely hand-built. I have machines and jigs that I use in the process of creating framing stock out of raw poplar lumber. But there are still lots of ways to screw this up–plenty of the workmanship of risk in the process:
- I must pick the right boards to start, and carefully cut them to the proper dimensions.
- Since each photograph is a unique size, each frame is unique as well, so proper measurement and cutting is essential.
- Everything must be hand-sanded before first a sanding sealer, and then a pickling stain is applied.
- After drying and final inspection, all surfaces get a coat of wax before framing can start.
At the moment, all of the frames are built, sanded and stained, hanging in my woodshop with a fan blowing on them for a 24-hour drying period. Tomorrow I will wax the frames and begin the actual framing of the images for the show.
Is the workmanship of risk over? Not by a mile! There are plenty of ways to screw up the matting process and that’s what’s up next.
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Or subscribe to our Facebook page ,Google+ page or our Twitter feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog