"Traditional French Mats" article in PFM

Terry Hart cpf

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Sep 23, 2003
Excelsior, MN
Good article on "French matting" in PFM this month. Who's doing this sort of work? (And if not, why not?) What kind of materials & tools are you useing. Do you do many multi panel/line pieces or just single panel or line work? How do you price them? How do your customers respond to this sort of work & how do they respond to the price. Is it worth while? Do I ask too many questions or should I ask more? Just wondering. Thanks, Terry
Oh yeah, one more. Where the heck did you learn?
Where'd you come from? I was just about to get back to work. It was written by a Heidi Knodle. A good article.& She makes it sound so simple (not). But a good article.
You're right Terry, that is a good article and especially caught my eye as I'm doing 2 as we speak. To answer some of your questions:
I use sable brushes and ruling pens.
The present piece has two lines and a single panel & I price by the hour, which at present is $45. And last but not least, I am self taught with helpful hints I have learned by reading articles such as written in the recent PFM.

Customers have no problem paying for the application. I think they know the time we take to get those results.

And Baer, her name is Heidi L. Knodle.

Sable and synthetic brushes, ruling pen, artist
quality watercolour, some acrylic, Straight edge that is used for nothing else, corner marking device with pins. Don't like gold inks or paints, use gold foil or real gold leaf adhered to acrylic gloss medium, which can be burnished.

Charge by glass size.

Seem to be going out of fashion, as do the sort of things that suit them!
I do.

Watercolors, acrylic paint, various inks and colloidal suspensions of metal powders, gold metal leaf, casein, spit, baling wire, sable brushes, q-tips, patina crayons, pastels, weak tea (red zinger), an assortment of 20 or so ruling pens, six straight edges, all kinds of masking tapes, and erasers, homemade marking guages, gilding creams, gilding varnishes, some of those ubiquitous shake-em-up metal colored markers, lots of baby food jars, Mat Magic powders and inks...pencils, a set of 2X magnification headset, ibuprofen, a treasure trove of drafting tools...

I do all different kinds and would like to learn more techniques.

I bit price. A pen line is $x.xx/united inch, a painted panel is $y.yy. etc. I based the pricing on how long it actually took me to do some decorative mats, and get my shop time or better as a result.

Most of the folk I do this kind of work for have already been sold. They know I can do it, and they are generally pleased with the results. We rarely talk actual design, rather we talk about which elements or colors they are interested in having in the mat. I pretty much create the design in the process. I haven't gotten to the point that the price killed the job, and I do make good money at it.

I am mostly self taught, though I have picked up some pointers from painters and other framers on the way.

Why do you ask?

Now I'll have to find my PFM so I can read the article.

I still want Maria Nucci to arrange to give an extended training session at one of the trade shows. Or let me apprentice to her for a couple of weeks.
I was wondering how long it would take for Maria's name to be mentioned!

I don't do them, but I have Maria's samples. Have ordered some relatively simple stuff from her, but her samples look really nice.

I call Maria, get a price, and markup appropriately. In short order Maria sends it, and I put the frame together. Works Great! and it's easy.

Would love to learn, but mostly because I'd just like to.
Bainbridge rag only. Ruling pen, straight edge that's used for nothing else, sable, Grumbacher, and sometimes burnished tempra.
Paul, I'm no expert on the wash bands but, at least over here, Crescent sells several different boards. Their regular rag board with the seperate paper surface. Then there are the solid color rag boards. One that is unbuffered, one that is buffered and one that is surface sized that is supposed to be ideal for "wash bands" as you say. Do you know which you are useing?
Wally, I thought I had a lot of stuff around but I think you get the prize. & here I only use spit for cleaning. Never considered its decorative potential. I think I'll have to look up colloidal though.
Robo, I'm not sure I know what you mean, priceing by glass size? Does that mean you have set charge for different set sizes? doesn't it matter how complicated the design. Or if you have to use spit? (I hope Wally charges xtra!)
Originally posted by Terry Hart cpf:

Robo, I'm not sure I know what you mean, priceing by glass size? Does that mean you have set charge for different set sizes? doesn't it matter how complicated the design. Or if you have to use spit? (I hope Wally charges xtra!)
We use a pricing chart which works on glass size, add two sides, gives you a number (column) on the chart - 20 x 16 would be 36.

Under those columns are prices for pretty much everything, including different types/complexities of (what we call) washlines.

But most common is a six line design including a half - three quarter inch band.
Thats what I thought, or what we would call a united inch chart. If thats all on paper it must be quite a list. I'd love to see a picture of one of your designs if you have one. For one thing now I wonder what a 1/2-3/4" band is. I always thought 1/2 & 3/4 were two different things. Unless we're talking 3/8. I'd be lost if I was over there trying to speak your language I'm afraid. Sorry
I sell them and they go very well with lots of themes, especially antique and botanical prints.

We carry over 120 samples.

They are not going out of fashion in this part of the world, actually, designers love them (when they're buying prints).
Hey paul, 120 examples of different line & panel combos? Do you really find that many useful? Did you make them yourself or did you have them made? We just have panel color samples & line color samples & then line examples drawn in black on acetate overlays & find that works well but I like the idea of more actual mat corners. Do you have them in different mat shades? Are there really 120 totally different samples or are there a number of designs done with different colors & (or) on different mat board shades.
Terry, I think John is talking about the classic twin line space about 1/4" apart, then a 1/8" space, then a 1/2" panel lined both sides, a space and a 3/4" panel lined both sides.
I too would love to see some samples of others work, ie. Wally, Paul etc.

I think shops that don't do much Fr. matting simply aren't "selling" it.

Pat Magid from Waco, Texas is an excellent teacher.
I've always said that I love to do calligraphy for those who don't know "real" calligraaphy, as what I do is just "writing with swirls on it!"

By the same token, what I do isn't really "French" mats, but more just painted panels and bevels - but such as I do, I do quite a few of them.

I mostly do acrylics - either used lightly or as a heavy panel of color, but still nothing that I'd really classify as "French Mats" and certainly not "Traditional."

Hey, maybe mine are more like that "Shabby Chic" stuff! (Man, how I hate that term!)

The 120 samples are really different samples; different design, inks, patterns, lines and mat colors. Some are slightly different (the lines are wider, for example), but the look is quite different.

I have a gentleman in CT who provided me with those samples. Sometimes I deem that a certain mat for a certain job should have a slightly different layout / deeper, lighter color, or even a totally different ink color and my supplier will do that at no extra charge.

I also have a friend / part time employee who produce almost any French Mat if she has to.

While I find it good to have that many samples, the number that I actually sell out of 120 is maybe around 30, but I keep the others just in case (designers love to look at that many)

(you re looking at about 60 in the picture below)

Originally posted by Terry Hart cpf:

I'd love to see a picture of one of your designs if you have one. For one thing now I wonder what a 1/2-3/4" band is. I always thought 1/2 & 3/4 were two different things. Unless we're talking 3/8. I'd be lost if I was over there trying to speak your language I'm afraid. Sorry
Sorry Terry,

I meant between half and three quarter inches wide.

I'm at home - only have one picture at home with 'washlines' nothing special - on one of my own watercolours, painted it 1987 - matted 1999.


For some reason the outhouses seem to tilt to the left, it's just the photo.
Some great work being shown here. Thanks for sharing it. I think I'll have to do a few of those corner samples & see if that helps selling. I think the idea of pricing a whole combo might help in selling more elaborate work too rather than priceing all the individual lines & panels & adding it up. I'll give it a go.
Terry - Sorry to be slow to reply, away for the weekend. I use Crescent Rag Mount '100' Museum, nos 1100 - 1110, because they're 'conservation' and the colours are muted and old. The watercolour bleeds, since it's basically like trying to rule lines on blotting paper, but doing the lines first and the washband after helps with that a lot. It's just that sometimes I lay the wash and blotchy spots appear within the band as the watercolour is absorbed unevenly. Patchy sizing, or somebody sneezing in the factory?
Forget the corner samples. I sell lots of french mats and have yet to sell one from a corner sample. It is the framed samples that do it. Over and over and over again.

I have them priced in many different combos in my POS. Easy peasy, nice money and no one quibbles.

By the way, I have used almost all types of mats for french mats, but I find Rising boards to give me the smoothest, most traditional looking panels.

edie the woozyfromthewatercolorfumes goddess
Hey Paul, Those should be trhe boards with "special surface sizing for french mats". I wonder how Crescent might respond? I myself haven't done many watercolor wash panels, in fact I couldn't tell you the last time I did one. I've pretty much exclusively used the mat magic powders. Do you prewash with clear water & reblend with clear water after coloring?
You didn't ask me, but I'm answering anyway since I'm here.
I lightly pencil the borders of the panels, prewash them and then apply the watercolor.

Three things to know to make it easier:

One: Get several different widths of the nicest wc brushes you can afford and tailor the width of your panels to the width of your brush. You should be able to do a wash panel in one pass.

Two: Dip the tip of your brush in some ox gall just before or after your dip your brush in the wc. Ox gall keeps it 'liquid' longer which results in a very even panel.

Three: The wc paint you concoct for your panel should be considerably watered down. It is very easy to do two or three layers of the same color to get more intensity or darkness. Several thin layers are better than one thick one.

I do not reblend afterwords: this messes it up and you shouldn't have to anyway.

I don't worry about having a perfect edge- the lines I rule in later cover any wobbliness.

I will often add a drop of matte medium to the wc I am using for the lines bordering a panel in case I am worried about bleeding.

Sometimes you can use a blotchy panel to decorative effect! Don't pitch it until after it dries, btw. Many times blotches that are there when wet disappear 1/2 hour later.

edie the paintudermyfingernails goddess
I'm just curious if Pauls problem with this technique is common on Crescent board?
I think Paul might be referring to that nasty Crescent series that is thin and feels very flannel-y. I pitched the samples because they were such a bear to work with all around, but I seem to recall an 1153 white that was a real headache.

I have successfully washed panels on just about every type of board, though, including Crescent.
I think 1153 & a few others are unsized, think Bounty, or Charmin. Not well suited for watercolor except to mop up spills. The 1100 - 1110 are part of the surface sized group. Sounds like the sizing may be uneven. Or Paul shouldn't be doing french mats right after his fish and chips. But who are you posing as edie the alwaysreadywithatagline goddess? What have you done with our edie?!?
Time difference makes me slow to respond again I'm afraid -

I rule the edge lines first, let them dry, then wet the band area with clear water. This water and the coloured wash have a few drops of ox gall in them.

Without letting the clear water soak away too much, I quickly go round with the coloured wash (quite weak colours as Edie says). I might go round a couple of times more with the brush to even out any areas which have excess wash still sitting on the surface. Not with clear water, just the brush, sometimes dried out to mop up excess wash.

This normally works ok, but I think the patches might be some sort of grease, because sometimes the ruled lines will skip for a 1/2", and the colour won't be absorbed.

The contamination could come from anywhere - I've had sheets of mountboard delivered, beautifully wrapped, with a size 10 bootprint right in the middle.

Paul Hardy
I think if the size were too heavy and uneven it might have the same effect? Sounds almost waxy. I'd be curious what Crescent would have to say. After all they reccomend those boards for french mat work (probably shouldn't use that term 'specially to an Englishman but I've come this far with it). Do you have Crescent contact info for over there? I'm still useing Mat Magic, no problems with the dry powder colors. Once again, keep the fish & chips out of the work area!
Terry - it could be uneven size. I haven't contacted Crescent about it, they're in some faraway country near the rim of the world. French mat will suffice, I'm less Francophobe than some.

Paul Hardy
As a calligrapher, I have to work with all kinds of writing fluids and surfaces. For making French lines and washed panels with inks, sometimes it is appropriate to treat the surface of matboard by gently rubbing sandarac into it. Sandarac is a powdered gum that improves the puddling of fluids. It seems something like powdered shellac.

Most matboard surfaces -- including all of the Rag Mats, come with a very good surface for gouache (aka opaque watercolor), the most forgiving fluid for most paper surfaces. Like paint, gouache lays on top of the paper surface, whereas inks and ordinary watercolors soak in. So, if you make a slight over-run of a line with gouache, you can scrape it off the board with a razor blade. On the other hand, ink penetrates, so it's in the paper to stay.

Intermixable gouache colors have a consistency like toothpaste and come in tubes. Dilute the paste with filtered water to the consistency of buttermilk.

To improve flow, add ox gall, which is a wetting agent. In some cases that will make it bleed. To improve puddling and avoid bleeding, add gum arabic (I prefer it powdered), which is the primary binder in most watercolors. Either way, add only a slight amount at a time. That is, add what you get by dipping 1/16" of a thin stirring stick into it. A little goes a long way.

If you want to have some fun with a co-worker, add gross amounts of both ox gall and gum arabic to some gouache. That would make it very difficult to flow out of the pen, and when it comes out it will bleed uncontrollably. That's what calligraphers call fun, folks. :rolleyes:

Acrylic gouache, aka airbrush color, also works well. However, the additives described above will not mix with it. Use the liquid as it comes in the bottle, or add only filtered water if necessary. In pens and brushes, acrylic gouache handles a lot like traditional gouache, but it is not water soluble after drying. That characteristic makes it ideal for drawing pen lines to contain washed-color panels. It will not bleed if re-wetted, as traditional gouache can.

When I make mat with washed-color panels, I first outline them with ruling-pen lines of acrylic gouach. Then I apply plain water to wet the paper surface, which makes blending of the colors much easier. By this technique you can make a color diminish very gradually. For washes, I generally use traditional gouache with lots of water -- and only water -- added.
& that ox gall smells so... how do I describe it? Unusual. The Crescent website is www.crescentcardboard.com I also called & left a message with their tech person inviting him to check this thread & add his 2cents.
Edie and Wally, you both seem well versed on this subject. Are either of you interested in teaching a class? We're always looking for new ideas for our chapter..........
Originally posted by Jim Miller:
As a calligrapher, I have to work with all kinds of writing fluids and surfaces.

I'm a reluctant calligrapher - was once a member of The Society of Scribes & Illuminators.

I just keep quiet about it now - if anyone finds out and wants my calligraphic services, I try and scare them off with price.

Check THIS LINK for some great calligraphy.
Yes, Robo, those are quite artistic calligraphic images. Unfortunately, calligraphic art is often illegible to the untrained eye.

That isn't my style. I'm not an artist, but more of a letter-form technician. I work to make consistently accurate letter-forms, which is a challenge different than making them colorful pretty. I guess if I were a photographer, I would specialize in black & white images of rocks.

There are three drawers full of nicely-worn broad pens in my studio, but I'm basically a pointed pen guy. Gimme a Spencerian or traditional roundhand form any day. I greatly respect Michael Sull's skills, and one of the few surviving graduates of the famous Zanerian School of Lettering, Mr. William Lilly, resides here in Columbus. You ought to see him work -- truly, his arm is poetry in motion.
It isn't all 'artsy' - e.g.


I don't know who the world's best calligrapher is, but s/he will probably have 'FSSI' after his/her name.

Staying on topic - Calligraphy has come in very very useful for mat decoration - not just lettering but other applications such as gold leaf, in lines, illumination, gilded bevels etc etc.
John, that's what I'm talkin' about. Consistently good letter-forms. Very nice work.

World's best calligrapher? That would be like naming the world's best chef or the world's best artist. It could never happen as there are too many differing opinions in defining "best".
Hey, that's not mine Jim - it's from that link above! I'd give that a fair run mind - but not in WHITE!!

Took a class once with a certain Gaynor Goffe (FSSI) she was, at the time the world's best italic hand - 'officially' - how she won that title I don't know.

I do know that when I watched her doing Versals - each line of each letter built up to the correct thickness from several strokes of a #6 nib, that I thought - this is just not fun - if I want THAT degree of accuracy - I've got Microsoft word (or whatever the equivalent was then!)

For the first week I wasn't allowed to touch a pen or any ink - just letterforms and spacing, with a pencil.

Did you know that a good language to practice calligraphy on is Welsh? No other language has such strange combinations of vowels and consanants.

Take the first line of our National Anthem

(It's on that link in an artsy form)

"Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi"

("The land of my fathers, so precious to me")
Do you ever use a ruling pen to calligraphize? Calligrigate, whats the word, calligriphate, do calligraphy? I saw that somewhere. Don't know if its common.
Hi All,

Can't believe I missed all this! Been up to my neck here.

Not to hijack the calligraphy wandering, but on the french matting subject...

It's not going out of style. We do french matting for companies all over the country and it's still a strong part of our business.

Edie and Jim have some fine advice. Ditto on all of it.

I work like Edie, wash first and lines later. Funny though, my assistant figured out she was more comfortable the other way 'round (like Jim) and gets great results.

The blotching or bubbling problem with washes can happen on almost any manufacturers board. It's not just some Crescents. Bainbridge's velum surfaces are NOT great for watercolor washes.

And although I concur with Edie on Rising being my favorite, occassionally they freak out too.

On pricing...we break up designs into catagories...Series 1 is 1-3 lines...Series 2 is 1/4" wash with a couple of lines and so on...and everything is priced per perimeter foot.

E-mail me privately if you want more info on that.

And yeah,yeah, I know, I'll work on scheduling a class sometime.
Originally posted by Terry Hart cpf:
Do you ever use a ruling pen to calligraphize? Calligrigate, whats the word, calligriphate, do calligraphy? I saw that somewhere. Don't know if its common.
Use the word 'calligraphy' as per 'photography' - to do calligraphy is to 'calligraph' but 'write' makes more sense!

I do use a ruling pen but not to write with. There is a nib that is circular - the end is just a small disc, that way the thickness of the stroke stays constant regardless of the direction of travel, as opposed to a chisel-tipped nib which gives a thick line when going down/left and a thin line when going up/right (for right handers).

Sorry for the thread hi-jacking, but I'll make it up - working on a calligraphic 'washline'
As promised,

Not true French Mats but inlays with added lines, painted & embossed.

Cut two mats, on half of one, over a background stippled pink with an artsit's sponge, I quickly wrote the first verse, plus a bit of the last from 'The Rose' - in a slightly darker tone of the same colour. On the other half I stippled goldfinger over a light blue stippled background.


Cut the two mounts to leave a 2" panel, fitted the painted panel into the un-painted mat, marked the corners, did some lines, cut the whole thing in half. Mats are ATG'd to mats underneath to stop the panels moving forward.


Don't know what would suit it - or how much to charge for it, yet!

Here's the other half - matboard is alphaMOUNT artcare - ivory, solid colour - seems to take washes better than alphaMAT but only comes in two colours.

I take it you would try base price on the time to do? I'd like to go more into pricing on this subject. Maybe it would be better to start a new post but I was taking a quick look at my price structure this am and I'm not sure it seems quite right. I do more single line embeishments than anything. I see for a 16x20 (opening size) I'd charge about 20 min. labor. A panel with 2 lines comes to about 1 1/4 hr. Those seem ok to me & I do a fair number of these but I use the same formula as I add more panels & lines so for instance 2 panels with 5 lines becomes around 3 hr. I'm not sure the additional panel & lines warrents that much time. Maybe thats why I do so few. Just based on the time allowed to do a job (not specific price)would some of you care to comment? How long do you allow for some of these jobs? Or do you under value your time to get a few additional dollars from an order?
I'm now up to about 20 washlined corner chevrons but have been having problems with artcare vellums. Have decided to do washlines only on alpharag artcare and alphaMOUNT artcare but have had success on the leather effects as well.

Waiting for two full sets of alpharag artcare chevrons to arrive to complete my sample collection, but my latest efforts are here.

UK Framing Forum
This thread is terrific (except John's pictures aren't coming through. The empty boxes say "This image or video has been moved or deleted. Photobucket").

Forget what I just wrote. I clicked on the link and saw John's mat corners. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Edie, your French mats are so nice!

I had received some samples from Maria Nucci. She does beautiful work. Have yet to order one. We need that perfect picture and customer. ;)