How to Cut Your Own Mats to Frame Your Original Artwork

art art supplies calligraphy gouache painting watercolor

Unlike oil or acrylic paintings that are done on canvas, original art made from watercolor, gouache, or even calligraphy needs to be framed under glass with a mat. The mat provides a separation between the artwork and the glass so the two don’t touch, and it makes the whole piece look more polished.

Oftentimes we have odd-sized paintings like the one I made below, which was a little experiment with an abstract gouache landscape. I wasn’t intending to LIKE the painting (I was just playing around) and used a random piece of inexpensive wood-pulp paper and cheap Arteza gouache.

However, I liked the way it turned out and wanted to frame it, at least temporarily. But because of the odd size, I didn’t have a frame that fit. And because I used cheap paint and paper that isn’t archival quality, I didn’t want to spend a fortune on a custom framing and mat job.

Enter Lauren Saylor, one of our instructors for the Modern Calligraphy Summit®…

I saw her post on Instagram about cutting her own custom mats for art prints, and she documented the process here in her Stories highlights (you need an Instagram account to watch).

I always thought that creating a custom mat was a big undertaking given the hefty price tag to have it done at an art store, but Lauren showed me that it was possible to do at home!

So I ordered the supplies she recommended (a self-healing cutting mat, a mat cutter, and acid-free mat board), found a wooden frame in my stash, and decided to DIY my own custom mat!

The first step according to Lauren was to cut the outer border of the mat so that it would fit in the frame, which was 8.5 inches x 11 inches. I had a little trouble keeping the ruler straight, so one of my edges got a bit sloppy. Luckily, though, that would be covered by the frame once it was placed inside.

Next, I had to do some math to measure my art and outline the opening in the mat. This was done on the back of the mat board, where it won’t show. Lauren had a good tip to make the opening about 1/8" smaller than your artwork, so you don't see any white borders or gaps between the art and the edge of the mat.

Then I proceeded to cut out the opening, using the little etched mark in the middle-right of the mat cutter to line things up. I should have practiced this first, because I didn’t get one corner quite right and it remained attached.

Finally, I cleaned the glass and taped the artwork to the mat, then added the backing. It’s not perfect, but for my first attempt, I’m happy with how it turned out!

Yes, there is glass in that frame; I know it doesn't look like it!

Here’s what I would do differently next time:

  • Practice making cuts on a small scrap section of mat board first, to get a feel for the pressure needed and to have more accurate corners;
  • Make the bottom of the mat ever-so-slightly taller than the top (even though the top and bottom of my mat are the exact same height, my eye wants to see the artwork moved up just a hair, instead of perfectly centered);
  • Use quality paper and paints so that the art lasts a long time and the paper stays flat;
  • Play around with the orientation before cutting; I like how this turned out, but I may have liked a landscape-oriented framing even better.

Thanks to Lauren for the inspiration, and I hope this inspires YOU to give it a try at home!

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