What to do with Painting Edges

by | Oct 31, 2010 | Blog | 1 comment

Contemporary paintings sometimes look better without frames. In these cases, the sides of the painting need to be considered. I often get asked how to handle the edges or sides of paintings. I noticed that as I approach a painting hanging in a gallery or museum, I will usually see the sides before I can view the front of the painting. The sides, then, in my opinion, need to be considered as a “foreshadowing” or segue into the picture’s image.

I work on panels that are cradled 2” deep, which means they are made with 2” deep sides. The front of my panels are usually made of thin plywood, while the sides are made with basswood, since I am interested in keeping the panels as lightweight as possible. Some artists I know use hardboard or masonite, which is much heavier than the woods I use. These 2” sides allow the painting to jut out into the space from the wall, and create a different presence than if the painting was sitting flatter against the wall. I like this effect and feel it often adds to the contemporary flavor of the work.

Some artists paint the sides, some leave them raw. There is something called “wrapping the image” where the artist continues the painting’s image along the sides. Sometimes this makes the painting look like wrapping paper so I usually avoid this approach. Something else I avoid is painting the sides dramatically different than the image. Let’s say the painting is very subtle in color palette and the sides are painted stark black or bright red. This gives a jolt to the viewing experience that may take away from the artist’s desired effect. I like to paint the sides with a color that is harmonious to the painting’s color scheme, therefore I wait until the painting is complete before contemplating the best approach to painting the sides. If there are drips on the sides I sand them down by hand with waterproof sandpaper before painting them. But I also wipe off the sides after each painting session, so they usually are fairly smooth at the end anyway. You can also apply masking tape along the sides before working on the painting. Then when the painting is finished, you remove the tape which has left the sides clean.

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1 Comment


    Thanks, Nancy, this was interesting to me; I often experiment with the edges, trying different tools to apply the paint, varying dry and wet paint and sometimes I like to leave my fingerprints embedded in the paint. Depending on the painting, trying new techniques with edges adds to the creative process. If I don't like it, no problem, I just paint over it!
    Are you coming back to do a workshop in Phoenix?
    I hope so!


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About Nancy

Nancy Reyner is a professional fine-art painter with over 30 years experience using a variety of mediums including oil, acrylic, watercolor and mixed media. She has appeared on television for HGTV’s “That’s Clever,” and authored several best-selling painting books with F&W Media. She currently lives in Santa Fe, NM. Read more.
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