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Opinions Wanted Thinking of offering French Lines

GreyDrakkon

MGF, Master Grumble Framer
So last week I was thinking of expanding some of the things I offer with mats, and french lines were one of the things that seemed pretty simple for me to do, as well as bevel coloring. (I have experience with calligraphy, so compared to writing out words in copperplate or blackletter, making a straight line seems pretty easy, especially since I would do it by dipping a nib into gouche) Am I getting into something that I'm underestimating? I did a few test pieces that I can show customers (or not, depending on what everyone thinks) and while the color is off since I took the pics with my cellphone, I think you can get the idea. I have a gold, copper and silver Faber-Castell metallic pens that I like using, and varying thickness Micron pens. Or should I go all out and get a french line tool that you use an eyedropper with? Wouldn't freak me out to use it, but the pens obviously are much easier to deal with mess-wise. Funny enough, the day after I was thinking of offering french lines, a customer came in asking if I could do them.

GoldLineGoldBevel.jpg CopperDoubleLine.jpg SilverLine.jpg
 
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RoboFramer

PFG, Picture Framing God
I think with a ruling pen you have more control - you wouldn't do calligraphy with a felt-tipped pen, for example (I started out in calligraphy too).
 

GreyDrakkon

MGF, Master Grumble Framer
For the most part that's true, but I know that the calligraphy teacher I had encouraged making things easier if they didn't compromise the artwork, and in this case that seems to be the case for your average line.
 

RoboFramer

PFG, Picture Framing God
Okey dokey - but how it generally works for me is this ....

It's generally not just a line, or two lines or a set of lines "French matting" (Washlines over here) normally consist of a panel (a 'wash') of colour edged with lines of the same colour but slightly bolder - i.e. just make the 'wash' that the brush made stronger and load a ruling pen - then work outwards with more lines, which I suppose could be ink lines, or lines from a tipped pen etc etc - but IMHO the difference can be pretty obvious.
 

prospero

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Good idea to offer something that others can't.
It's true that it's basically joining up two dots, but the overall effect is more in the design than the execution. Done right it can be very appealing visually. Wrong and it can be detrimental to the artwork.
The difference between the nice and nasty is very small. Subtlety and understatement is the key: As long as you don't overstate the understatement.
 

GreyDrakkon

MGF, Master Grumble Framer
Okey dokey - but how it generally works for me is this ....

It's generally not just a line, or two lines or a set of lines "French matting" (Washlines over here) normally consist of a panel (a 'wash') of colour edged with lines of the same colour but slightly bolder - i.e. just make the 'wash' that the brush made stronger and load a ruling pen - then work outwards with more lines, which I suppose could be ink lines, or lines from a tipped pen etc etc - but IMHO the difference can be pretty obvious.
Good idea to offer something that others can't.
It's true that it's basically joining up two dots, but the overall effect is more in the design than the execution. Done right it can be very appealing visually. Wrong and it can be detrimental to the artwork.
The difference between the nice and nasty is very small. Subtlety and understatement is the key: As long as you don't overstate the understatement.
Roboframer, I've seen some done as you described (and they looked beautiful) but I've also seen the more simple version that typically consists of one line for decoration. I doubt I'll offer a full french mat until I perfect just getting the lines down. ;)

Prospero, fully agree on that, which is one reason I thought a while about even offering it. There's no accounting for taste, and while to me the last image I posted of the soft silver line appealed the most, I do fear that there's someone out there who would want the copper double line...Except in neon green and hot pink. :l
 

Artistic Framer

CGF II, Certified Grumble Framer Level 2
Go with the French line pen. The advantages of being able to control line width and custom mix colors are well worth their difficulty to use.
 

MitchelC

MGF, Master Grumble Framer
I do an average of ONLY three per year and use a French line pen, but, not popular over here. I have samples hanging, but it has always a "no-go". I even made a jig to make it easy to draw French lines around any size oval mat opening but only used it once back in 2012. ☺
 

Rick Granick

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
I use Winsor & Newton tube goache (metallic silver and gold, which can be blended if desired) and a ruling pen.
:cool: Rick
 

Grey Owl

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
I believe using a ruling pen has a couple of advantages over regular pens. First you have more control over the widths, and second you have a much larger selection of colors. Also you tell the customer you hand draw the lines, the old fashion way, and even show them the "special pen"

Concerning brands, if you are using a ruling pen, there are several out there I have used that work very well. There are also several types. Some have one of the blades that flips up for easy cleaning. Some are wider (longer) which allows for much longer lines. Several years ago I purchased a couple of Ecobra pens from Lion (in England), which works very well but that pen is no longer available. It was nice in it was wider, and had the blade that flips up. They still have some good pens (SEE NOTE BELOW)

For inks, there are literally hundreds of options. You have India inks, you have acrylic inks, you have watercolor and gouache. And you have metallics, such as those that Rick mentioned. Generally I use the India Inks or go with metallics as Rick mentioned.

Using a pen is really easy after you decide you want to use one. The biggest problem is making sure you don't put too much ink in the pen.

If you are going to the WCAF, there are several great classes on French Matting and on using ruling pens. I would suggest you sign up for one. Also I suggest you stop by the Lion booth. They will have special prices on their French Matting supplies.

Lion will have 4 demo's of how you do lines and panels (1 Monday, 2 Tuesday, and 1 Wednesday). Linda Wassell, Mikki Kavich, and I will be doing the demo's. Lion sent me their new ruling pen (Haff Precision Ruling Pen) to try, but I have not yet tried it, (just worked with their powders so far) so I can't say how well it works, yet.

NOTE: I will be demonstrating Lion products; I believe I will be very fair in any evaluations of materials, but please keep this in mind. I have been using their products for more than 7 years, and 2015 is the first year I have been asked to demonstrate.
 

UzZx32QU

Administrator
Staff member
Big question you may want to PM me with, what's a fair price per line/inch in todays market. I have not change my French matting charges in more years than I want to admit to. I've gotten away from doing it except when it really puts a deal together IYKWIM.

framer
 

prospero

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
It's true that French mats are not as popular as they used to be. That could be because few framers offer them. It's a skill that takes a while to acquire.
The traditional pale lines and wash go well with certain things: Antiquarian engravings, maps, etc. I have seen them on work where they are just not appropriate.
But there are lots of variations and more 'showy' patterns that work on a wider range of subjects. In the 80's it was all the rage to use wide bands of marbled paper
around prints of Greek urns and wotnot. 'Yuppy' prints as I called them.
I do French mats regularly if not often. Doing the full 7 lines or whatever + wash band takes time and patience and therefore you have to charge accordingly. But sometimes
a single or double line around a mat opening makes a simple mat look special and takes only a few minutes.

As regards tools materials, a good ruling pen is a must. You may find that a brand new one takes a bit of running in. They wear to the individual's grip. Also don't be too finicky
about cleaning them on the inside of the blades. A thin film of paint will accumulate which actually helps holding the paint. You have to be careful not to overload them.
I use Gouache mainly. Diluted, it is essentially the same as trad watercolor. But while with watercolor you lighten the tone by making a thinner mix, you can add white
to Gouache which means you can rule colored lines onto boards that aren't white or ivory.

btw. There is a French Matting community on Facebook. ;)
 

freakquency

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
I do french details all the time.
Fun to do, IMHO, and an up-sell, and offers something uniquely original to their work if done with washes and colored lines.
I use watercolors and ruling pens. Ruling pens allow for varied line widths from line to line color to color.
 

GreyDrakkon

MGF, Master Grumble Framer
Many thanks for the input and tips.

While I'll definitely be going to the WCAF in the future, having just purchased the shop this year I'm loathe to leave it for any amount of time. I hope you'll continue to demonstrate there, GreyOwl. I'd like to see what you have to teach in person.

Prospero, you're correct both on french mats not being so popular but also not being offered anywhere near me (as far as I know). Over the years of working at this shop I've gotten a few tentative questions about adding lines to mats, but since it wasn't my call on offering it we would have them choose something else. We do have people bringing in old maps fairly frequently and other things that could use a little bit of accent without going crazy. ;)

Freakquency, that's what I was hoping to do. Something interesting that can give an extra bit of personalization to a customer's work. Most of my customers appreciate that I'll work with them to give them something they will really like seeing every day, instead of just something that's ok.
 

couture's gallery

PFG, Picture Framing God
We sold quite a few, makes a nice profit margin on the job. Used a ruling pen. I was very good at this as I used to do a lot of automotive pinstripes ( badger brushes) and hand painted signs as well in my sign shop ( in the old days ).
 

wpfay

Angry Badger
Don't underestimate the value of going to WCAF and the PPFA National Conference. Your shop and your business will survive without you and you will come back to it with a new view of things and new talents perhaps.
I also do mat embellishment which can be lines and wash panels. I usually use watercolor or acrylic, though I do have many colors of inks, and gouache, and lots of strips of marbled paper.I also dabble with pastels and patterned paint panels.
Lion, distributed through Tech Mark in the US is also reformulating the Mat Magic inks and paints that many of us got started with.
 

Grey Owl

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Don't underestimate the value of going to WCAF and the PPFA National Conference.
...
Lion, distributed through Tech Mark in the US is also reformulating the Mat Magic inks and paints that many of us got started with.
Well said, Wally. Lion sent me 4 colors of their inks and 4 colors of their powders to test. I think you will really like their powders, as I do. Now just starting to test their inks, which seem to be like gouache. Try to do some tests tonight, tomorrow, or by the weekend. Stop by their booth at the show to try them out.
 

wpfay

Angry Badger
Russ, I've been using the powders that came with the Mat Magic product for years. They do have their place in the world of mat embellishment especially when those of us not as well acquainted with all the watercolor techniques want to use multiple colors in a panel that have a very soft look.
 

Grey Owl

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Thanks Wally. I have never used the Mat Magic product, but I have seen some one of my fellow framers in Denver has.

I normally try to make my own by powdering pastel with a razor blade, and I generally make a mess, and the powder sizes become inconsistent, so I only do it outside now. And in cold weather.... ugly.

I'm looking to buy more colors from Lion when I get to Las Vegas.
 

prospero

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Another tip for French mats... It helps if you practice moving in slomo. No sudden moves. It's akin to Tai Chi for framers. Don't do French lining if you have
just had an argument with someone or after 15 cups of coffee.
 

prospero

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
When Mat Magic powders vanished from the market I bought up whatever I could get hold of from wholesaler's stocks. Got pots of the stuff. Still using them, although some fav
colors are getting a tad low.
There is a knack to using them and some colors work better than others, but done right they are indistinguishable from a wet wash. Also more idiot proof. I'll say nay more. :confused:
 

Rick Granick

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Wow, glad to hear the Mat Magic products are are their way back. I never got a chance to use them, but I always heard good things about them. Years ago I used the shaved pastels technique occasionally, even doing color gradient blends. It is messy but can achieve some interesting effects.
:cool: Rick
 

GreyDrakkon

MGF, Master Grumble Framer
Thanks for the links, I'll definitely give everything a look.

I know you guys are excited about the WCAF, but I already said I had attended and was hoping to again...Starting to feel like I'm at a used car sales lot.
 

Rick Granick

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Russ Wood (Grey Owl here on the Grumble) is a French Mat master and also has an accounting background. He came up with a coded system for pricing his mats.
He may have discussed it here at some point, so do a search. He teaches it in his classes at WCAF.
:cool: Rick
 

poliopete

Grumbler in Training
One other tip for French mats, use a heavy rule that is very slightly lifted away from the mat board so ink/paint does not seep back and smudge.

Peter.
 

artfolio

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
I once bought a ruling pen and spent a few hours practising ruling lines around matts. It was a lot harder than I thought and after wasting a couple of boards I stopped offering it. Shortly after that I ungraded my matt cutter to one which was accurate enough to reliably do V grooves and that satisfied me until I bought my Wizard.

Bottom line is that if you are going to offer something make sure you can do it quickly and reliably otherwise it will just take you away from more profitable work.
 

Grey Owl

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Sorry, Rick, but I have been out of pocket for a few weeks, so I have not kept up. This is a long post.

Personally, I find lines as being very easy, as long as 1) you have the right kind of mat; 2) the right kind of ink; 3) a good ruling pen; and 4) a good straight ruler that is slightly raised off from the mat, as Peter mentioned. Of course I am kind of biased on how easy lines are, as I taught my first class on lines when I was in high school, and have been doing them for a long time.

Several years ago three of us [Linda Wassell, Mikki Kavich, and me] were doing demos on lines at the Lion Products booth at the WCAF. We had framers with no knowledge of ruling pens drawing lines within 5 minutes. They were not 100% proficient, but they were doing it on the hot trade show floor.

A couple of ideas:

1: I normally use solid cotton rag mats for lines; other surfaces may work but test first; some surface papers don't have enough size and they won't work, or work as well.

2: I like using India Inks. These are most similar to the inks ruling pens were originally designed for. Some framers like using acrylics. What ever kind of ink you use, make sure it is not too thick.

I have sat through classes [taught by others] where regular [thicker] acrylics were used, and most of the time the students were pounding the ruling pen trying to get the flow started. [I always try to attend such classes to see what kinds of problems the students might have, so I can make sure I address them when I teach]. If you want to use acrylics try the fluid acrylics - not a recommendation - just a suggestion. When you draw lines, you should concentrate on the design of the lines, not continually trying to get the ink to flow.

Also make sure the pen is clean before you add the ink. I was in another class where the pen had dried ink in irregular spots, and lines were difficult to do.

3: I like antique and vintage ruling pens such as Linda Wassell restores and sells. However, when we were doing the demo I was using the Haff brand of a ruling pen that Lion Products sells. Linda and I were both pleasantly surprised on how well this inexpensive pen worked. There may also be some other good brands out there too. Beware, there are some ruling pens out there that are sold by art stores that are primarily intended for use with glue. These don't work.

4: Cork backed rulers are great as a straight edge. If you don't have a cork backed ruler, do what Linda did for the demo. She took a regular ruler and cut a piece of 4-ply mat board and used atg to attach it to the ruler. It was offset just a little bit.

5: The key for me is getting the ink flowing properly, on a scrap piece of mat - then immediately drawing the lines. My process is a) position the ruler where the line should be; b) load the ruling pen; generally I get too much ink in the pen, so I do loose 1 to 2 inch test lines [eg no ruler] on the mat scrap where blobs might show up; until the lines are okay. c) verify the ruler is positioned correctly, and quickly draw the lines.

6. Draw at a constant speed. I draw fast with India Inks; if I am using regular acrylics, I have to slow down to get the good flow. If you accidentally draw the line a little too long, don't worry. Let the line dry, and scrape it off with a razor blade.

For pricing, some framers price by UI. I find this is restrictive for me because during the design process with lines, I talk about several line options, and customers generally ask for the price difference. For example, if a customer wants a single gold line for a 12-7/8" by 15-1/4" mat, depending on the art, I would suggest and show examples as options of a) a reddish 'yellow ochre' line that is kind of gold looking, b) a 'metallic gold' line; c) a 22 Kt. hand leafed genuine yellow gold line, or d) a 23.75 Kt. hand leafed genuine Rosenoble gold line.

The first question that comes up is - what is the difference in price. If I had to go to my POS system and look up each price for a 12-7/8 b 15-1/4" mat, I would have probably lost the sale. Instead, I say 'the hand-leafed genuine yellow gold line is only $50 more in this size, and the 23.75 Kt. hand leafed Rosenoble gold line is only $75 more. [don't quote prices, quote price differences!]

So I price by size and level. I have 6 mat sizes that range from 10' x 13" up to 32" by 40"; Within each of these sizes I have a "LEVEL' price, which is based on how long / and materials used.

Ink Lines are the easiest decorative mat element for me, so I have 1 or 2 ink lines as a LEVEL 1; a 22 Kt. gold line is 2 levels more, or a LEVEL 3, and a 23.75 Kt. is 3 levels more, or a LEVEL 4. For the above example, hypothetically a level 1 for a 13x16 is $25.00; Rosenoble gold is a level 4 [or $100] so I quote the difference as 3 [only $75 more]

I do a lot of colored bevels, so I base my level prices on how long it takes me to do a hand-colored - variegated bevel, about 15 minutes - I define that as a level 1. I can do two lines, including set-up and clean-up in about the same time, so two lines are also a level 1. Hand-leafed lines take a little longer and have a higher material cost, so they have higher levels.

If you want more information on doing lines with a ruling pens, I have a guide called 'Ruling Pens and Lines' that is around 40 pages. It is available in hard copy from Lion Products in the UK. I also sell an electronic version. Please PM me if you have any questions about these guides.
 

Frances M.

CGF II, Certified Grumble Framer Level 2
2: I like using India Inks. These are most similar to the inks ruling pens were originally designed for. Some framers like using acrylics. What ever kind of ink you use, make sure it is not too thick.

Russ -
With inks, do you use load your pen with a dropper or a brush? Can you blend colors or lighten with whit ink? i've always used watercolors but the lines can vary a good bit.
 

Rick Granick

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
When you draw lines, you should concentrate on the design of the lines, not continually trying to get the ink to flow.
Russ, that reminds me of the time back in the 20th century, in H.S. and college, when we used to use those "advanced" Rapidograph pens. We spent far more time trying to get the ink to flow than actually drawing with them.
:rolleyes: Rick
 

prospero

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Stance is important. If you are doing lines 36"+ you can fall over halfway along.
Stand with your legs apart and shift you weight from one leg to the other as you go.

Also important not to do them after 15 cups of coffee or if you have just had an argument with someone. :confused:

Think of it as Tai Chi for framers. :)
 
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