From Gilt to Black; Frame Do-over

Song of the Sparrow
Diane Eugster

Diane has a life philosophy that I really like. Basically when we look back on things or situations we may find that there could have been a better choice or path than what was done then.   She simply resolves it with: ” we did the best we could with what we knew at the time”!  I like it, no sense complaining about whatever it was that happened just move on and learn from it.  That being said, this frame that was re-done was okay for her original painting for it but really didn’t go with the palette of this new one.  The title of this painting is “Song of the Sparrow” and you can see the palette is rather dark; a gold gilded frame just wasn’t appropriate.

Corner Detail with Song of the Sparrow

The carving on the frame though fit the foliage behind the models head, I blogged about the creation and carving process on this frame in detail here, they are olive leaves and olives.  If you follow the link to see the original painting and frame and then compare that to this detail of the do-over frame and new painting I think you’ll agree with the changes.  I feel that the purpose of a frame is to isolate the painting and put it into its own world.  Then it should complement the palette and brush strokes of the artist.  Notice the undertones of red, a gilded frame didn’t work with that at all!

The process was pretty straight forward, after using steel wool (4/0) to remove wax and clean the frame, a coat of red burnisher/sealer is brushed on.  Once dry that was burnished to prepare it for the Japan Black.  After brushing that on some is wiped back to reveal the clay underneath.  Once I’m satisfied with the over-all look that finish cures completely and is waxed once again to achieve the amount of sheen desired.  Japan Black is a very flat finish which we felt was needed for this painting.

Speaking of frame finishing — I’m super excited about taking a 3 day, intensive water gilding workshop from Charles Douglas next month in Seattle.  I’ve done water gilding many years ago but haven’t  offered it to my clients as of yet.  The process is quite involved and I want to feel more proficient in it first.  Charles Douglas teaches classes all over and is a well respected and known gilder.  The workshop will only have 4 students so I’m looking forward to submerging myself into it and getting all I can from the experience.  It’s an expensive process but many galleries will not accept frames from artists that have composition gold gilding on them.  The market for this type of work is limited but Diane will benefit and for me, it’s just one more challenge to add to my “bag of tricks”!

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Tabernacle Frame Done, final details


Very happy to share the final results of the large, tabernacle frame I’ve been working on lately.  It was commissioned by Christine Vallieres and our goal was to design a frame that combined the traditional style of a tabernacle without an excess of ornamentation.  One concern was the weight of it but this weighs less than 30 pounds which is no problem considering that it’s almost 5′ tall!

Tabernacle Frame with painting by Christine Vallieres

Christine and another artist will be having a show at The Sagrado Galleria which is located in South Phoenix.  The show will be in March, I’ve given a link to their Facebook page so you can get full details.  If you recall from my earlier post about this frame the design evolved (obviously) around the painting and the shape and placement of the spandrel.  The spandrel is the gold leafed portion around the painting itself.  Once that was decided work went on as described in this blog post.  To save weight and allow for the mortise and tenon construction the frame was rabbeted out to a depth equal to the thickness of the painting plus the spandrel.  Actually, it was engineered for the painting to stand a little proud so that the final piece of hardboard; which is screwed screwed to the  back of the frame, holds it securely in place.

As usual, it’s pretty difficult to photograph the true finish of a frame or piece of furniture on the internet but here’s a couple of photos to give you an idea.  The frame was first sealed with red burnisher/sealer.  After burnishing that, Japan paint (black) was brushed on and rubbed back slightly to replicate age and handling.  This is always subjective but my client preferred to not have a lot of that “age” showing.  Multiple coats of amber shellac were applied after that to add a warmth to the finish.  This is followed by a coat of wax which in addition to a layer of protection settles into some of the recesses and looks like a few years accumulation of dust!

It’s always a great feeling when your work is well received by your client and this was.  Here’s a parting shot showing the artist and painting and the frame and the framer.


Posted in Artist, custom profile, Design Process, Gilding, Picture Frames, spandrel, Tabernacle | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Frame # 147: Double Floater Effect

Corner Sample, Double Float Effect

Seems as if the last two frames I’ve been commissioned to do are really large sized ones!  Matter of fact, I needed to buy a couple of folding sawhorses from that purveyor of fine tools: Harbor Freight!  The Tabernacle Frame is one of those large ones and this is the other, a custom profile for Tim Rees of the Rees Atelier in Mesa.  The sight size is  48″ x 58″ and is intended for a painting he’s currently working on.  You can see it on his Instagram.  I delivered the frame to him this morning, it was a bit too long for the bed of the truck but managed to pad it well and angle it partially on the tailgate. Whew, made it there safe and sound.  The profile was cut from Basswood and is a combination of tablesaw work followed by refinement with hand planes.  The first thought was to gold leaf the sight edge but Tim decided against that after seeing the sample.

You can get an idea of the size by these pictures.  My assembly table isn’t large enough to lay this frame on so I choose the flattest spot in the shop for assembly.  The clamps I use are made by Merle and feature a steel band; a highly recommend clamp for anyone building picture frames or any other mitered construction.

The frame is pretty straight forward but due to the size of it I wanted to add some strength to the corners.  I always use a biscuit on my frames but let’s face it, end grain to end grain joints aren’t the strongest since that end grain is basically like a straw that sucks up the glue.  I decided to design a jig that could be used with a small plunge router and guide bushing to add a gusset to the back of each corner, this slide show will explain it.

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This is a good time to announce this, there are some artists that I do frames for whose galleries will not accept frames that use composition gold leafing, Tim’s is one of them.  I’ve done water gilding in the past but don’t feel as proficient in it as I’d like to.  I’ve been accepted into a 3 day, intensive workshop with Charles Douglas located in Seattle, WA.  Very excited to go there at the beginning of January.  He’s quite well known for his work and instruction, with only 4 students in the workshop during the session I’m hoping to gain as much information as I can from his expertise.

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Tabernacle Frame # 148

In my last published post I had just begun to work on a Tabernacle Frame, an exciting project to say the least.  If you recall, the plan was to first make the spandrel (gold leafed panel that surrounds the painting) and build the frame around it — that’s exactly the process followed.  I often get questions about how I determine the sizes and spacings of wood in a project like this and there are a number of methods used, notably is the Golden Ratio.  What I tend to do is to trust my eye first and often, when I check my drawing against the Golden Ratio it matches pretty closely!  Another method you don’t hear about too often is basing project sizes off of the material you have available.  For example, to determine how wide to make the sides of the frame a piece of wide Basswood was evenly cut in half — voila; that’s the width!  It was drawn to scale before actually cutting but I’m sure I’m not the only woodworker that bases the size of project parts on the material available.

Constructing the frame starts by milling the material, for me a combination of hand and power tools like this scrub plane, table saw, power planer, and jointer plane.  You’ll find the term hybrid woodworking used to describe this method — often I’ll say the power tools are my apprentices and then I use the hand tools refine that process.  Since the horizontal pieces are 5″+ a 1/2″ deep mortise was cut the entire length with a 1″ deep by 2″ long tenon.  This is to prevent the piece from wracking.  Again, the hollow chisel mortiser and table saw starts the work and then the tenons are sized to fit with hand tools.  On the mortiser I’ll use a 1/2″ gauge block to set the depth for the haunch then remove it for the tenon (see picture below).   Once satisfied with the joinery it’s time for glue up and at over 3′ wide I needed to get creative with clamping.  By clamping a 6′ bar clamp to the assembly table I was able to pull it off!

Spandrel fitted into rabbet

Now that the frame is assembled it’s time to add the elements.  One thing that needed to be done was to rabbet out the back to fit the spandrel.  This was done with a 3/8″ rabbeting bit in the router, decided it would be easer to radius the spandrel than to square the corners! The 2″ wide columns were created with a single bead router bit.  The crown and dentil molding was purchased from Barger Molding.  I thought I’d need to make the small cove located below the bottom horizontal piece but found a piece of molding that had it there and ripped it off, only about a 3/8″ cove.  The top and horizontal piece at the bottom were glued, screwed, and plugged.  Wanted to be sure they were as secure as possible since those areas might be used as “handles”!  The rest was glued and attached with 23 gauge pins — they say they’re almost invisible but I disagree, a test piece shows them so they were all covered with Bondo surfacing putty and sanded, yes I’m particular!  In the test piece the pins at the top were puttied, bottom left alone.

Here are some pictures of the final assembly steps.  Where the dentil and column came together it needed to be scribed and then pared level with the column.  Decided to use plugged screws and glue to attach the top piece as well as the bottom shelf thinking that they may be used for “handles”!

Ready now for the finish process, always one that gives me some concern.  Made a practice piece to experiment with so I can get the patina and aging process just right.

Posted in Design Process, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Hybrid Woodworking, Mortise and Tenon Joint, Picture Frames, Tabernacle, tabernacle picture frame | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tabernacle Frame Commission

I/4 Scale Concept

A Tabernacle style picture frame has been on my “want to do” list for a long time and although I’ve had artists occasionally express interest in having one made, up until now it has just been talk.  One of my clients was picking up some frames and casually asked if I was interested in designing one for her — my response was a quick “YES”!  If you’re not familiar with the style, here is a LINK to a page of images.  They can be quite complex and ornate, many are designed to sit on a mantle or shelf, and others hang on the wall.  At 29″ x 43″ this one is rather large and will be wall hung.  My client prefers to keep it somewhat contemporary rather than the super carved and ornate.  The finish will be black over red clay with the black brought back to replicate wear and add patina to the piece.  So far it’s been quite a process designing it but that’s fun!  I’m pretty much given free artistic license and some of the elements will be created in the shop and others will be store bought.  It took quite some time to come up with the 1/4 scale drawing that you see at the left but let me share the process taken to get there.

Full Size Mock-Up

I’ve found that with a piece of this size and complexity it’s very difficult to scale out, unlike a furniture piece there are many little details that will make up the frame.  It was easier to find some crown molding and also a dentil detail at Barger Molding then it would be for me to make such a small amount of it.  They’re the company that mills the molding I designed for my frames too.  Once I had those elements it was time to lay them out and get a full visual of the future frame.  Over-all the frame will measure approximately 36″ wide by 55″ long.  A piece of butcher paper became the painting and a newspaper taped together became the spandrel.  Cardboard of varying widths was cut to get an over-all look at the ratio of frame to spandrel to painting.  There is virtually nothing to be found on the web about how these frames are put together so using my years of experience at building furniture decided that’s the best route to take.  Sizing the spandrel is important as well as the shape of the arch on top.  I bought some gold paper and cut a couple of different shapes for the artist to choose from:

Her preference was #2 so the next step was to make a full sized one, take it to the painting to see where it should be located.  This is a vital step, she had some brush work around the head that she wanted to highlight.  Now it’s time to make the actual spandrel and the frame will be built around it.  This one is made of 1/4″ MDF and will be gold leafed.  It’s quite fragile since the sides only measure 1 3/8″.  A small plunge router with a 1/8″ bit was attached to an arm (compass style) for the first cut at the top.  After that, the bottom and sides were cut out the same way with an edge guide mounted to the router.  The final cuts to connect the arch to the sides was saved until last.  These cuts will be square up by hand, chamfered and smoothed prior to gilding.

Boy, that MDF puts out a bunch of fine dust — yech!  Next up is making the frame itself.

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Carved Tulip Cross

Quite a number of years ago I found a carving of a mirror frame on Pinterest and saved it.  This was of a tulip and it’s leaves that wrapped around on side of it.  The carving was by someone named Athanasian Pastrikou and it really captivated me.  I loved the way he carved the tulip so a few years later it was time to challenge myself and see if I could capture his style on a cross.  If you look at his website you can see I have a ways to go but that’s what it’s all about, keep challenging and never be satisfied with where your skill set is at any time!  I’ve tried to find out what I can about this man and believe he’s from Greece, in any case the credit for the design goes to him.

My first attempt on this was a simple relief carving which turned out okay.  Then it was time to attempt to capture the curling leaf at the bottom which I did out of Basswood.  That cross hangs in my shop to remind me of where my strength and skills come from.  Sometimes it gets in my Instagram or blog post pictures so from time to time I’ve been asked to make them for others.  Well, I had some free time so decided the time was right to  carve a cross or two!  I started out with Basswood.  Since that’s the type of wood the majority of my custom picture frames are made of I usually have scraps of it in the shop.  The project begins by transferring the design to the wood and then cutting that wood into a T-shape as you can see here on the Cherry wood I needed to switch to, why switch?  Well check out how the original Basswood refused to cut cleanly:

In a recent Mary May video she did a leaf motif completely around a Mahogany table.  She did a lesson on it and for that she used Basswood.  I recall her saying that the Mahogany was actually easier to carve than the Basswood so thought I’d give it a chance and it worked much better.  Now I want to try one of these in Mahogany!

Cutting Lap Joint

After transferring the pattern the next step is cutting lap joints for the cross arm.  This picture is of the Basswood but the process is the same.  Placement of the cross arm is up to you, I prefer the placement on the second cross I did.  The cross arm is about 3/4″ square to match the T section of the motif.  Easy enough to do this by hand with a saw, chisel, and router plane to finish it off.  The area that over-laps is about 1/4″ thick and a combination of files and chisels is used to finesse the outer edges.  Next up is the carving itself.  Won’t go into the exact procedures and chisels used but basically once the motif is outlined the background (cross) is lowered.  Next up is the challenge of making the wood look like a tulip and leaves.  Must of been okay since both of them sold!

Currently have a couple of commissions for picture frames, one of them being a Tabernacle style which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I’d like to continue the carving work and do a few more of these before Christmas so check back if you were interested in them.  Here are the finished crosses, the one on the left was the first one completed.  You can spot subtle differences but that’s what hand craftsmanship is all about,  there’s a saying that goes something like: “the beauty of an item made by hand are its’ imperfections” and I can definitely live with that!



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October was an Exciting Month!

Gallery Representation

Kumiko Sofa Table at Anticus Gallery, Scottsdale

This is the most exciting thing to happen in October for sure, this is the first gallery to represent me since our move to Phoenix.  The timing was just right, I approached the owner of the gallery; Phillip Payne, as he was going through some changes and looking for ways to diversify the gallery.  The name of the gallery is changing from Desert Mountain Fine Art to Anticus.  Phillip is an amazing sculptor as is his father Kenneth.  If you check out the link to the galleries website you’ll see the variety of artists he represents and the services he offers.  My work is unique to the gallery, he will be representing my premium, hand crafted boxes that feature the Kumiko inserts in their lids.  I’m also working on another series of boxes that will feature exotic woods and the hand crafted joinery I’m known for.  Like other high end galleries, there is an area where clients can view art in a setting that is more home like rather than an open gallery space.  There was ample room to display the Cherry sofa table and we thought if fit perfectly.  Diane and I discovered the gallery (located at 7012 E Greenway Pkwy, Suite 160 Scottsdale AZ 85254) when we were going for our anniversary dinner.  It’s in the Kierland area of North Scottsdale which is an amazing area of shops and eating establishments.  Come check it out!


Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine

Through the Store at Mesa Art Center I was fortunate to have a recent Kumiko insert box included in a recent story about local artists that incorporated traditional Japanese and Celtic work into theirs.  Phoenix has a sister city in Japan, Hemeji and that’s the connection.  This photograph is on page 40 of their November issue.  Honored to have my work included in their story.


Diane’s Upcoming Group Show

When it comes to picture framing you’ve probably heard me refer to myself as a “boutique framer”, in other words; designing a frame specifically for the artwork or occasion.  Diane (website link) has been invited to participate in an upcoming show at the Meyer-Vogl Gallery.  The show is titled Plunge and the theme is water.  She has created five paintings to fit that theme.  The frame is a fairly simple profile but for these, General Finishes milk paint in Persian Blue was chosen for the undercoat.  The frames are oil gilded with 12 karat gold leaf which allows that blue hue to faintly show through the leaf — a water like effect!  The sides were left painted.  Here are four of the framed paintings:

I always enjoy her creative process so allow me to share her blog on the last of the paintings, Aquarius which features a whimsical look at the classic rubber ducky!  Once that painting gets it’s final varnish it’ll be framed and sent off to the gallery soon.

Posted in Artist, custom furniture, Kumiko, Mesa Arts Center Store | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment