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Hinging: The Transition from Artistic Element to Masterpiece

In Bob and Paula's renovation of their mountain retreat, they wanted to capture the essence of their surroundings in a cozy den. Bob hired a stonemason who quietly listened as the couple detailed their vision of the ideal fireplace chimney and hearth. And he just nodded over Paula's formidable pile of river rock collected over the years.

"It's a work of art!" they declared at finale, awed by the mason's skill in hiding the mortar to create the vision's blend of natural form and function. "You're an artist!" But the 'artist' just quietly nodded again. He knew the art was born of the elements sealed in the supporting structure at work behind the scenes.

Just as this mason's skill and masonry supplies brought a vision to life, the artist or photographer must be equally skilled in the utilitarian hinges at work 'behind the scenes.' The process of photo hinging may not seem very artistic, nor does it offer the lure and attraction of creativity. Yet it's needed for top-quality work or images with rough edges or edge imperfections, margins or image bleeds. So it's not a step that should be rushed or skipped.

Basically, hinging is the traditional means to mount an object in a window mat. Still, if art as your 'form' and frame is 'function' - hinging is a force within the hidden framework that's dual to both.

  • Hinging aligns the artwork in the mat and frame, stabilizes and protects it.
  • The proper process and materials are essential to preserving archival-quality work, and ensure the option of reversal or removal.
  • As a working artist, your hinging skills add the professional touch needed for excellence in presentation.

Hinging is just as crucial to artistic architecture as mortar is to stonework. But you won't need the paste of the past or even a trowel. Tweezers will do just fine for manipulating photo adhesives for hinging and materials for mounting. Traditional supplies used in the most common hinging methods should be selected according to art, size and hinging purpose:

Casual Hinging -- Quick and easy, pressure-sensitive hinging tape is usually the first choice for less valuable work. Supplies vary; but you'll still want a fine, linen cloth tape that's flexible AND strong -- a neutral pH acrylic adhesive that gains strength rapidly. Redimat's Lineco® Self-Adhesive Linen Hinging Tape is a favorite for hinging window mats to backboard or attaching art.

Valued Art Hinging -- Previously, most archival artwork was prepared with Japanese paper and wheat paste, a water-activated process many found difficult and time-intensive. Conservators prefer gummed tapes over pressure-sensitive tapes since they're easily removed with water and stress-resistant to temperature extremes and humidity. Fortunately, the introduction of gummed Japanese papers made things a lot easier for artists, framers and conservators. These gummed papers offer archival quality benefits and reduce time and tedium. When this method is the choice for original work or limited editions, choose a supply such as acid-free Japanese mulberry paper. You'll be able to make instant Japanese hinges easily, hinges that are thin and supple, but sturdy and water reversible.

General Hinging -- Ideal for general hinging, paper tape offers another easy-to-use choice. Redimat recommends Lineco® Gummed Paper Hinging Tape since its acid-free, lignin-free, buffered paper is fast-setting and will support most artwork. This neutral pH adhesive is also water reversible.

Hinging the Heavyweights -- Hefty hinges are required for weighty work such as collages, large photographs or even heavier artwork such as murals and watercolors painted on specialty papers. When framing this type of artwork, you'll want a high thread-count fabric for strength. Lineco® Gummed Linen Hinging Tape.

Hinging Tips & Techniques

Once you define the hinging supply that best befits artwork and purpose, you'll need to determine the type of hinge, design and the number of hinges needed. As a rule:

  • The classic hinge is made with two rectangles, torn from Japanese paper such as the Lineco gummed product, which eases the process.
  • When floating the photo or image in the mat window, create a V-hinge or 'folded hinge' to keep the hinging structure hidden.
  • The T-hinge technique is just fine for most framing; it's used when there's no float -- no need to hide the hinge.
  • All hinges should be attached to the back of the art.
    Tear hinges; don't cut them. Torn, feathered edges are essential to the hinging technique and ease removal if necessary.
  • Match the hinge strength to the art being mounted. The hinge should be weaker than the artwork so if stressed, it will tear away first.
  • When using gummed adhesives, be sure they absorb water before you apply them.

Hinge size is scaled to artwork size -- smaller and more is always better than larger but fewer hinges. Best practice is less than a half inch wide where the hinge adheres to the to the art, image or object with the opposite side less than three inches across. Large hinges or long strips along the top edge tend to create rippling, as it restricts the paper's or object's natural movement. You'll also need to consider these techniques for placement and position:

  • Generally, hinges are placed at the top edge of the work of art. On small artwork, a hinge at each upper corner will provide proper support.
  • Heavyweights or larger images will require one or more extra hinges. Just space small ones evenly along the top edge.
  • If the work is exposed or floated, add hinges at the bottom corners or along the edges. Since large sheets tend to buckle or ripple, you'll need several small hinges on each edge when floating.
  • When the mat covers the artwork edges, it helps to hold it in place. So you'll need fewer hinges.

Building The Hinges - Creating the Infrastructure

  1. Ready to get started? Then get out your photo or artwork, your hinging adhesives
  2. Choose the best position for the work behind the window of a proper closed, prepared mat. Open the mat window -- use a pencil to lightly sketch the intersection between the work's two upper corners and the backing board.
  3. If you need a V-hinge, invert the work face down on its upper edge. The two upper corners should rest a wee bit higher than the pencil marks.
  4. If using archival materials, place water-activated hinging materials on a clean pad or blotter. Then moisten the adhesive. Be patient; the material must absorb the water until tacky or sticky. (Tweezers are good for transferring wet hinges!)
  5. Attach a fourth of the hinge to the back of the artwork. The remainder is applied to the backing board, using the V-hinge or T-hinge method.

It's now time to add the final strip, or moisten the reinforcing hinging strips on your clean pad or blotter. When sticky, center the properly-sized strip over the hinge section that's attached to the backing board.

Test the window fit -- of course, the hinges shouldn't be seen when the mat window is closed. Reopen and make sure hinges dry before closing the mat window.

Remember: Hinging isn't hard but it's not always easy either. With practice, perseverance and the proper supplies and techniques, you'll soon develop the skill to transform materials into masterpieces.

See Also: Mastering the Casual Hinge in Seven Simple Steps

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