Selecting Mat Colors

Choosing the right mat color can seem daunting with so many available choices…Your best tool, of course, is me.  I’m here to help!  But there are lots of ways to find a good choice for your work.

There is never only one answer to what will work on a piece, but different colors will have different effects.  There are definitely wrong answers, and the wrong choice can make your art look unappealing, even if it’s a Picasso or a Degas.  One rule of thumb is to never use a color that isn’t in the art.  It doesn’t matter if it’s on your walls or in your sofa;  if it doesn’t go with the art, the art will never look good with it.  That doesn’t mean it won’t look good in that room, just that you don’t want it directly surrounding it in the framing.  Another rule is to keep the mat no brighter than the brightest part of the art and no darker than the darkest part of the art.  You want the most dramatic tones to be in the art itself, since that is what you want your eye drawn to.

Here is a piece that was predominantly shades and tones of one green:

We chose a fabric wrapped top mat that was close to one of the darkest shades of that green.  The undermat is a dark bronze tone, closer to the girl’s hair, which also ties in to the color of the frame and gives nice definition and contrast to the edge of the art.  The top mat is darker that the majority of the piece and both mats are lighter than the hair, leaving the artwork itself to shine.

In this piece by Mary Engelbright, The focal color is red.  But doing a red top mat would be a mistake.

Too much red in the matting and the red in the artwork would be overpowered and the effect would be lost.  But a small red undermat with a black painted bevel on the top mat really brought out the wording on the piece and again tied it in to the frame.

Here is a piece with a multitude of colors to choose from:

The focus, however, has to be on the orange in the middle.  That makes blue the best choice because blue is the opposite color of orange on the color wheel.  The large amount of blue here make the orange pop out and scream at you from the center of the piece and focuses your eye immediately right where you want it to be.

Even with black and white pieces, selection of mats is critical.  Not using a mat that is too dark or too bright is key.

many people make the mistake of thinking that a white mat is needed for a black and white piece.  While this can sometimes work, much of the time it is a glaring brightness distracting your eye from the artwork which is where you really want your focus to be.  By using a soft grey on this piece, we allowed the whites and blacks to stand out in the art.  You also need to be sure you have the right tone of grey, not too brown or too blue, for your piece.

But here is a case for a white mat:

This piece is all bright color and nothing but.  Any color in it you would choose for a mat would be too much color.  However, we kept it from being boring by using a green bevel on the white mat and a black undermat with a yellow bevel.  This brought in just enough color in the matting to define the edges but not overwhelm.

But the most important rule is to ask if it is pleasing to your eye.  If you don’t like it, you need to keep looking.  I don’t let my customers buy something if it’s clear they aren’t happy with it, what would be the point?  If you are framing something, do it right the first time so there doesn’t need to be a second time!