How I Series Poster Frames

A close friend gave me a sweet gift of two posters from one of my favorite singers, Citizen Cope.  These colorful posters had a spot reserved in the hall bathroom but lacked frames.  I have searched on and off for frames for literally six months and haven’t found anything I really like.  Recently, as I was cruising around Pinterest, I saw some artwork that was framed using a stenciled frame.  The stencil was a geometric dart sort of pattern and caught my eye.  Well, it just recently occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t finding those frames because something else was meant to be, and maybe that something else should be some stenciled frames!

Typically my projects begin with most of a plan.  I usually know what I want the end results to be, and while I make a general plan to make it happen, there is usually some aspect where I just wing it.  In this case, there were a few unknowns.

  1. I wasn’t really sure what my frame parts were going to be.  I wanted some sort of protective layer to protect the poster, whether it was glass or plastic, and of course, needed a back for my frame.   Ideally, I would have just found a 2″ wide unfinished poster frame in the right size; but that was unlikely so I knew I would need to attach the actual frame to a base of some sort.
  2. I was unsure of the design I would stencil.  I didn’t want to copy the frame that I saw on Pinterest, which I can’t seem to find again anyways, and I didn’t want something that was going to distract from the posters themselves too much.
  3. I also had no idea of the exact products that I would be using for my finishes or the actual frame wood itself.  All I knew was that I wanted the frame to be blackish with linear or geometric gold stenciling.

A trip to the Home Depot and Micheals to gather supplies led me to discover these unknowns as I went and make my plans accordingly.  Set with all my supplies, I made a space in my living room and dining room to start my work.  Now I don’t usually use these spaces for workspaces on messy projects like this, but since it was about 100+ degrees outside working out there wasn’t an option in my mind.  Typically I would work in my back room studio space on something like this but I really wanted to watch a concert DVD while I worked and the living room was the place to do that.  I had to fight extra cat hair and rug debris as the tradeoff though.


Project List

My rough project shopping list included:

  • an unfinished frame to customize OR a frame to modify OR parts for backing and protective layer + way to attach these to frame face
  • wood for frame 1 1/2″ – 2″ wide (+ saw, glue, clamps, sandpaper, wood putty/caulk)
  • Staple gun
  • black or dark grey paint or dye (+ panting supplies)
  • gold paint
  • stencil and stencil brush
  • matte craft sealer
  • tape measure and pencil

In the end, each frame ended up costing a total of $31.60 plus I also have some new leftover crafts products to add to my collection.

Frame Cutting & Assembly

I began by measuring and marking my door stop molding, following the dimensions of the poster frames I found.  I made sure that the window of my frames was slightly smaller than the poster, backing, and protective layer so that the frame could slightly overlap them.   The molding was .79 cents per foot and had a slight ogee shaped edge on one side that I thought would lend itself nicely to a picture frame.  The molding, used for door and window stops, was thin and narrow pine with some slight graining.  The frame I bought was an inexpensive poster frame with thin cardboard backing and a sheet of acrylic protection.  It was held together with black plastic U shaped clips that slide over the edges of the cardboard/poster/acrylic sandwich, like a report cover binding.

poster frame measure

My next step was to cut the parts for the frames.  A miter saw would be super for this but I don’t have one and instead just used a saw guide and handsaw.  The wood for the frames was small and easy to cut in this situation.   I realized quickly that it’s important to keep the straight edge towards the outer perimeter of the frame and the shaped profile side towards the inner perimeter of the frame window.  I would like to say that I made a wrong angle cut only once but I practiced doing it wrong a few times!

poster frame sawing

The saw guard protected the table but I still should have covered it.  Look at that mess!  Once I had all the parts cut and dry fit I sanded the edges and rough spots and then flipped the frame over to start the attachments.  Gluing the mitered corners together and then stapling them on the backside using a heavy duty staple gun helped to stabilize the frame.

Frame Finishing

Touching up the uneven spots with caulk and sandpaper prepared the frames for the finish work.  The first step in the finishing was paint.  I decided on a milk paint.  I thought I wanted a finish that was sort of painterly and imperfect, maybe even a little translucent or washed.  I more or less envisioned a colored stain or dye.  I wanted to reference the finish of the mirror frame on the medicine cabinet that would be next to it without duplicating that.  The milk paint product I found at the craft store showed samples in their display and while they had some dyes like I first saw in my mind, the option that I actually chose was a painted finish with a slight unevenness about it and the matte quality associated with milk paints.  It was also best for raw wood.  Perfect!  Designer tip! Milk paints are non-toxic water-based paints that have been used for centuries.  They have a matte finish and older milky quality.  Following the instructions, I painted and sanded the wood a couple of times before a final 3rd coat of paint.  At the end though two coats would have been fine.


With my painted frames I was ready for the last step, the stencil work.  The stencil I found is perfect!  After wandering through stencils one caught my eye in particular.  At work, my boss coined the term, “The Decorating Gods”: those that protect and guide our design process and decisions.  Well at that moment those “Decorating Gods” were providing their divine intervention to lead me to the perfect stencil.

poster frame painted.jpg

The pattern, named “Pixelated”, is a series of seemingly random wee little hexagons.  These wee hexagons are the perfect reference to my hexagon tile flooring and a reminder of my love of dots in painted artwork, like Seurat’s paintings, Aboriginal artwork or my Jamaican turtle.  It offers a linear or geometric feel but without the harshness.  I think they complement the artwork without competing too.

I tried to line the stencil up in a pattern that I repeated when painting the frame but was ok with some randomness.  The gold that I used, liquid gilding from Martha Stewart Crafts, is very much like the liquid gold that comes from those metallic gold marker pens.   I don’t do a lot of stencil work so practiced first, A LOT, on paper and wood.


The trick with stenciling is to be patient.  Stenciling requires that you build layers working with a drybrush technique, one in which you use a dry paintbrush, or stencil brush in this case, to apply the paint, generally blotting off excess paint from your brush before painting.  Look at how perfect these stencil brushes are for a gilding project with their gold sparkle!

stencil brushes.jpg

After the stencil work was completed I did some minor touch up and then sealed the frames using a spray type craft sealer with a matte finish.  Finally, I assembled my parts: the frame, cardboard backing, and plastic protective layer, using the hanging hooks that came with the original poster frames I purchased.  These hinged pieces were perfect to attach to the wood frames and then secure into the cardboard backing.  I basically just repositioned them to the top and bottom of the frame.  I attached them using the staple gun to the wood frame. The hinged side with cardboard teeth remains on the cardboard side so that it simply hinges onto the cardboard and is pushed into it, locking it all in place.

Once it was all done I ditched the acrylic layer.  It created way too much glare.  You could see everything in the reflection which totally distracted from what you should be looking at.  Also, the sides needed some reinforcement.  I devised a sort of prong from the flat plastic wired thing that secures the coffee bag when folded closed.  Does anyone know what those are called?  I stapled them to the sides onto the wood and manipulated them so that they were doubled over and pretty sturdy to further help hold down the poster and cardboard.

Once completed I had a pair of poster frames with much more style and story that any of the overpriced options I had seen while shopping.  I feel inspired to stencil something else.  Hmmmm….what should I stencil next?  Have you successfully stenciled?

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