Painting Gallery Frames: Cheater DIY from Bland to Black!

Not too long ago in one of my treasure hunting adventures I came across this set of four vintage pencil drawings, and knew instantly I wanted to take them home! Vancouver, after all, is my home away from home.

Pencil Drawings of Vancouver, BC

I love Vancouver! But… I wasn’t so sure I loved the blonde wood frames. I propped them up against the wall for the time being, just to live with the frames and see if a clear wax was in order, or if painting the frames black was tugging at my soul.

Lo and behold, on another thrifting adventure a few weeks later I came across two more drawings to this set.

Pencil Drawings of Vancouver, BC

So now, hmmm, a gallery wall with six framed drawings in blonde wood frames? I wasn’t feeling it, not for me. What I did know was I wanted to keep the frames. But here’s the thing. These frames are old, and this is what the back looks like.

Back of Vintage Frame

Tiny little nails hold the print inside the frame, so I wasn’t really keen on removing all the nails from all six prints to paint the frames. In fact, I needed to add a few more nails to push down spots where the prints have warped over time. I just call these imperfections the ‘Wabi-sabi‘ of the find!

So here’s the cheater steps I took to paint the frames without disassembling the prints from inside.

1. Tape off the inside edges of the glass next to the frame.

Taping Off Frames for Painting Prep

My painter’s tape is fairly wide, so I was able to take one strip and cut it in half length-wise to tape off opposite sides of the frame. If you do this, make sure you put the factory edge against the frame. I used an X-Acto knife to cut the end of the tape so it fit snuggly into the corner of the frame. Works like a charm!

2. Elevate frames on empty containers, and brush the first coat of paint on all sides of each frame.

Taped frames for brushing on paint

Don’t worry too much about the back of the frame. Just make sure the paint wraps the back edge slightly…

DIY Cheat - Painting a Frame with Print Inside

Like this. If you paint like me, that won’t be a problem! 😉

3. Apply second coat of paint, and remove tape. TIP: Make sure you remove painter’s tape before second coat dries. 

Brush Painting Frames with Print Inside

I recommend scoring each edge with the X-Acto knife before you remove the tape. This will cut through any paint that’s already dried and help prevent the paint from peeling off with the tape. Remove the tape slowly, and leave frames to fully dry. Even when they’re dry, the paint will still be soft, and will knick easily

4. Once frames are dry, touch up any spots where the paint got away on you! And trust me, this will happen.

Spots for Touch-Up on Painted Frame

I cleaned the glass first just to remove any random paint flecks, and then used a black felt Sharpie with a chisel tip for my touch ups. To keep the felt from marking the glass, place a small, thin piece of paper between the pen and the glass where you’re doing each touch-up.

And voila!

My gallery find went from this…

Pencil Drawings of Vancouver, BC

To this…

Pencil Drawings of Vancouver, BC

From this…

Pencil Drawings, Vancouver, BC

To this…

Pencil Drawings, Vancouver, BC

And the whole set together looks like this!

Gallery of Pencil Drawings, Vancouver, BC

I bet you’re dying to know where I’m hanging this little gallery, huh? I promise, there will be a reveal. Just not today! 😉

The thing to remember with a gallery presentation is it will generally be admired from afar. And that’s why I opted to do a quick brush of paint on the frames with the prints intact. The little flaws from this cheater approach won’t even be noticed. Normally I would remove the print, the glass, and all hardware. And then I would spray the frames for a smooth, even application of the paint. But in this case, seriously, would you pull all those little nails for that?

Thanks for stopping by!

Signature 100x47 b&w

Photographs by Sheila Zeller

8 Replies to “Painting Gallery Frames: Cheater DIY from Bland to Black!”

  1. First of all, what fabulous finds! I love pencil drawings, and those are really neat! And second, I have done the same in the past, the cheater version. Yours turned out amazing, now the prints really pop! And the frames don’t look like circa 1989.

  2. Great solution for painting the frames with taking everything apart.

    The sketches are really a great find – and how lucky to find six of them! And they looks great in their new and improved black frames 🙂

    Looking forward to seeing your gallery wall!

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