Determining the Best Value for Matting or Framing

Determining the Best Value for Matting or Framing

I have been working on  choosing the right color to paint the canvas that I am using to “frame” my Stewart Stephenson challenge piece. I thought you might be interested to see the process I have used to determine how dark/light the color should be.


These are my gray scale croppers. You can buy pads of gray scale paper at art supply stores. This is a set of paper that ranges from white to black with several shades of gray in between. Then you can just cut out two half frames in each color to make a set of croppers. I made large ones so they can be used on different sized compositions. When you are framing a piece and not leaving the natural edge, you can use croppers to see where the matte should go. If you have a piece that isn’t working for you, many times, you can use the croppers to pick out a section of your work that makes a better composition than the entire piece.

The photos above have the gray scale croppers from white to black moving from left to right. The far right is black. It is very hard to see in these photos but what I wanted to see was the different values behind the piece to see what value would look best on the canvas “frame”.  The camera has a really hard time picking up the lighter gray values. When I looked at these in person, I decided I wanted a value between the dark grey and the black. The black looked just a little too stark.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASo I had a set of value cards that I made in my color studies class and I decided to use those to determine the best value of dark gray. The value cards range from 1 to 10 with 1 being black and 10 being white. I used only 1 through 5 since I had already determined that I wanted a dark gray.

Here is the piece against the value cards. The far left is 5 going to 1 on the far right which is black. Now, squint your eyes and look at the photos. Which do you think is the best value to use? Which sets off the piece to the best advantage? This is somewhat subjective but when my stitch class tried this, most of us agreed which one we liked best.

In my next post, I’ll let you know which value I like best and I’ll talk about choosing the color I want to paint the canvas. Hopefully, I will even have the piece completely “framed”. Summer is just so busy for me, is it for you too?

19 thoughts on “Determining the Best Value for Matting or Framing

  1. On my screen I would pick what should be black but looks deep gray. I think in person it would probably be the second from the right. I am looking forward to the rest f your process.

  2. I always use black, but I use a stripe of color below the artwork. I choose a color for the stripe that matches the dominant color of the piece. It makes a good design. The canvas has to be a little larger than the piece and I place the art in the upper portion with the color stripe in the lower portion.

    1. Judy, can you show us a photo of what you mean with the stripe on the canvas? I am having a hard time picturing that effect.

  3. Ruth, this is truly the most difficult part of being an artist for me. Which mat, no mat? Framed or mounted on canvas? Stretcher bars? That is how I spent my time yesterday and got so frustrated I did not get time to actually felt. ARGGH
    I choose the mat second to the right, but again, might choose a different mat if I saw it in person.

    1. I think if you try a few methods, you’ll end up finding one you like the best. Then if you “frame” your pieces all the same way, they will have cohesiveness as a group.

  4. I think the second from the left will work as well. I look forward to seeing the rest of the process. Framing is definitely an art itself.

    1. Thanks Marilyn – yes, framing is important to really finish the piece and it takes a good eye to get the right result.

  5. Isn’t it wonderful how everybody sees things differently? For me, the perfect one is the middle colour. However, I bet if we only saw one grey, we’d be perfectly happy with it!

    1. Thanks Leonor – it is interesting what choices people make but actually most people seem to like the mid tone grays best. On the computer screen it is very difficult to determine anyways 🙂

  6. It’s strange how just a slight shade difference can change how something looks isn’t it? And what looks good in real life looks different in photos too. I have a grey marl tee shirt I use for backgrounds sometimes, if I had a roll of that for mounting felt, I’d be happy 🙂
    Good luck choosing.

    1. Thanks Zed – it is interesting that just a slight value change makes a difference. It is different in person though for sure.

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