How to Make a Print Look Like a Painting

Recently, a customer came in the store with a really rich, relatively large print of a Rembrandt painting, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. It was unusually commanding for a reproduction on paper. As such, it was asking for something a little different than the typical mat/glass/frame treatment.

Mike got the idea to frame it like an original painting- just a big, chunky frame around it with no glass or mat. Granted, a sheet of paper alone won’t fool anybody, so we revived a seldom-used, nearly forgotten technique to enhance the illusion.

It’s a really simple technique, mostly sleight of hand. All you need is a glossy acrylic gel medium and a variety of brushes. After applying a coat of gel medium, the picture will possess the texture, depth, and sheen of an original.

Now, don’t lose your mind and do this to every print you own. It’s seldom-used because it is most appropriate in very particular scenarios.

This print is a great example of when to employ this technique. First, it’s a 15th century painting, and a Rembrandt at that. Most of us have to opt for the next best thing when it comes to art worth millions. Secondly, it was stolen. So, if you’re a snob like me and accept no substitutes, the original can’t even be seen in museums anymore. Thirdly, there’s just something about the image. It works.

If you do choose to try this technique out for yourself, here’s a couple pointers to make the whole enterprise more convincing:

-The old masters would apply darks in thin glazes and lights thickly. So, the whitest part of the image would have the thickest paint most likely. Apply the gel thickly where the highlights are strong, and thinly in the dark and middle tones.

-Follow the strokes in the painting. Apply the gel as though you were actually making the painting. Don’t apply huge, sweeping strokes in highly detailed areas and vice versa.


Thanks for reading, and good luck if you try this out.

How to Make the Most of Your Wall Space

Saint Patty’s Day was yesterday, and the weather could not have been better. The recently dreariness skulked off to ruin someone else’s day, and a welcome breeze graced the shop’s open doors. I did however, banish any and all snakes looking to get something framed. Sorry, snakes.

While the shop currently runs a bit short on inebriated festivities and snakes, we have a surplus of paintings in the gallery. For roughly 33 feet of wall space we need to hang roughly 50 feet of canvas. Prevailing methods of displaying artwork tell us we are desperately short on wall space.

I’d like to elaborate a bit on how to handle this puzzle because customers often request narrow frames with the explanation “We just don’t have enough space on our walls.” Considering that in most cases a wider frame might add an inch or two on each side, something about that does not add up. The customer is of course always right, but nothing says the customer does not occasionally worry a little too much about some imagined predicaments.

In honor of March Madness, I offer this basketball analogy to guide your framing choices. Call it March “Tadness.” In the annual NBA draft, pro teams select college and international players to join and hopefully strengthen their team. The question with the NBA draft is always, do you pick to fill a hole on your team (for example, you need a point guard, so you draft a point guard), or do you pick according to the best available player (maybe you already have a good point guard, but you can draft a potential superstar point guard). Always -ALWAYS-  take the best player on the board.

And so it goes with framing. Always pick the frame that looks the best, not necessarily the frame that slides most easily into that empty slot in your living room.

When I know I have more paintings than space would apparently allow, I resolve to hang them “Salon-style.” It occurred to me I probably substitute “Salon-style” for “crowded” because it implies some time-tested, stuffy European taste, and thus allows me to pretend I have taste. Also, it sounds less like a compromise and more like a deliberate decision.

The Salon used to be nearly the only way to make a name for yourself as an artist in France, thus the overwhelmingly crowded walls. They made use of nearly every available inch to hang as much as possible. At the time it was simply out of necessity, but now any time pictures are tightly stacked on a wall, it demonstrates a tip of the hat to old European flavor.

The Salon gradually fell out of favor because the Academy collected a little too much dust and consequently became a favorite target of the avant-garde, going back to Courbet rejecting the whole affair and staging his own exhibition adjacent to the Exposition Universelle.

Even up through contemporary art the Salon proves an ample punchline, as Martin Kippenberger had some fun with the concept.

People likely resist hanging their photos and artwork in clusters at home because they go to art galleries, or especially museums, where artwork is most often presented with several feet between pieces. Certainly, one of the best ways to view and “read” a piece is to isolate it and give it sufficient space. On a functional level, curators also space paintings out that much because of the considerable foot traffic in museums and the tendency of people to queue up around particular pieces. For instance, Van Gogh’s Starry Night is going to need a lot more wall space than an emerging artist simply because a lot of people are going to huddle around the Van Gogh, potentially enough to start crowding out other pieces.

So, arranging photos and art in your home in an austere, gallery-type way isn’t altogether sensible primarily because you do not have the foot traffic of a public space.

Also, a legitimate concern exists that with everything meshing together so closely, some, if not all the pieces will get lost in the mix. It can happen, but it isn’t always so. For example, I used to live near the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and the room I always spent the most time in was the one presented like a 17th century chamber stuffed with natural oddities (lots of taxidermy) and some fantastic old paintings tightly arranged. One of the paintings supplies a kind of chamber within a chamber, which I have no sophisticated opinion on, just that I thought it was kind of cool.

Lastly, I want to link to a nice blog post of some very well decorated walls. I think I’ve been listening to too much Martha Stewart radio these days, because I don’t think I’ve ever been so preoccupied with wall decoration until now.

Don’t tell me you don’t have enough wall space. Make it work.

The Dark Origins of a Frame Shop

The first time I heard of Tadporters, I half-expected it to be run by the eponymous Tad Porter. A lot of our customers do, too. Some don’t even question it; they insist they once spoke with Tad.

Since I was applying for a job here, I did some googling to gauge whether the owner preferred Tad or Mr.Porter. I found he prefers neither. “Mike” is probably more appropriate.

In full disclosure, if you try to clear up the murkiness shrouding “Tadporters,” you will certainly uncover darkness. Once you get close, the writing is on the wall. Literally.

Taddy Porter

A bottle of Taddy Porter hangs prominently on the wall in the Tadporters design room. And that’s that. The not-so-dark mystery of Tadporters is merely a dark beer.

Long story short, Mike had a band (a barbershop quartet) back in the 1940s and drank enough Taddy Porter that his bandmates (barbershop quartetmates) started calling him Taddy Porter. “You are what you eat”- apparently still true when beer is your sustenance.

Crunch Taddy Porter down into something brand new, Tadporters, and what’s left is a memorable, unusual name. It’s a little catchier than, say “Mike’s Place.” And so concludes this chapter of Tadporters.

But that still doesn’t solve the ambiguity around the name Michael Johnson.

Michael Johnson was, after all, the alias of Crispus Attucks, killed in the Boston Massacre and remembered as the first martyr of the American Revolution.

If you click this link, you’ll find a number of people with wikipedia pages: record-setting athletes, at least four musicians, a U.S. senator, and many others who all suspiciously have ties to our so-called owner’s name.

Michael Johnson

“Gilded” shoes, huh? We do have a LOT of gold frames in here… Perhaps the mystery has only just begun…

*Note- Some of this information may or may not be entirely fabricated. For instance, Mike had a band in the 1840s, not the 1940s.

Merry Christmas, now I have to kill you.

Santa Claus

Somewhere along the line, we stop believing in Santa. Most of us stop believing because we see our parents bringing in the gifts, someone at school tells us, whatever. It’s typically too early in life for us to rationalize why Santa Claus cannot possibly be real. More or less we accept it.

For the sake of a Christmas post, let’s pretend Santa Claus is at least possible.

He’s up there at the North Pole, with a gargantuan factory full of an untold army of workers. Considering the location (as remote as any place in the world, worst weather on the planet), his work force has to consist of serfs… at best. (Hey, you want these gifts for free? Of course he can’t pay his elves.) Magically, the elves have yet to revolt.

Imagine how much those elves steal. They aren’t paid and they’re likely worked to the bone for their entire lives. So Santa is dealing with some major liability issues inside his own factory.

Which brings me to one of the least plausible aspects of Santa’s story.

Imagine how much his insurance costs.

Impossible. The guy has TVs, jewelry, cars, you name it, for BILLIONS of people. The factory is guarded by what? Disgruntled dwarfs? Sounds secure. That’s not even considering how he gets all those gifts to their respective houses. Open-air flying sleds: not the safest way to ship cargo.

Maybe Santa could cover his insurance tab, maybe not. Last time I checked, insurance salesmen don’t accept “magic” as a form of payment.

In this day and age, anybody with an internet connection could find Santa’s headquarters. It would only be a matter of getting there. So what happens when somebody shows up? Santa would probably have to kill them or at least hold them prisoner. He’s a generous guy and all, but he can’t give away the secret of his location and what goes on in his factory.

While our workshop at Tadporters isn’t exactly Santa’s workshop, Mike isn’t exactly Santa, and I’m certainly no elf, we can sympathize with Santa’s hypothetical plight. (As a side note, it’s a good thing we aren’t like Santa. Nobody wants to sit on a guy’s lap to get a custom frame. Ew.)

Like Santa’s factory, our shop often has the kind of valuable work we have to keep secret. If you knew what we had back there at certain times… we wouldn’t have to kill you per say, but a tracking device may be in order.

For example, we frame priceless things for Graceland every now and then; not the kind of thing we’re giving our customers a tour of (except through photos). Since we just finished some work for Graceland and it’s out of the shop, now is a good time to share it.

Framed Graceland memorabilia

Framed Elvis Presley album covers

Framed Elvis Presley album covers

Mystery Train framed

Framed Elvis Presley albums


As with most things in Memphis, Elvis pairs with Christmas in a number of ways. Elvis’s Christmas album is one of my favorites. I might like other Christmas music more, but since this is no season to go blaspheming the King, I’ll just say it is my favorite. Can’t beat “Blue Christmas.”

Graceland is kind of the star that everything in Memphis orbits. Perhaps that’s why they keep it lit so brightly at Christmas. I was surprised to learn Graceland is the second-most-visited private residence in the United States, second only to the White House. It pulls in the whole world.


As a final Christmas/Elvis tidbit, how’s this for a lump of coal? On December 20th, 1957 Elvis got his draft notice. Merry Christmas. Yeesh. I wonder if Santa dropped it off?

Here’s to avoiding the draft this Christmas! (Shouldn’t be too difficult)

Merry Christmas, everybody!


That Sinking Feeling

For the past five years, the Memphis Grizzlies have ranked (out of 30 NBA teams) 26th, 30th, 29th, 29th, and 28th in attendance.

Two professional teams suit up, match wits, bang into each other, shoot a bunch of balls, and one side emerges the victor. The press lauds the victors, dismantles the losers, and the whole event is recorded for posterity.

In the distant past, Memphians flocked downtown for such an event. Most loyally devoted themselves to the cause of the local team. This was, however, so long ago the Bluff City still had bluffs to speak of.

Also, this was no basketball game. The year was 1862 and the showdown was the Battle of Memphis.

From Wikipedia:

“The First Battle of Memphis was a naval battle fought on the Mississippi River immediately above the city of Memphis on June 6, 1862, during the American Civil War. The engagement was witnessed by many of the citizens of Memphis. It resulted in a crushing defeat for the Rebels, and marked the virtual eradication of a Confederate naval presence on the river. Despite the lopsided outcome, the Union Army failed to grasp its strategic significance. Its primary historical importance is that it was the last time civilians with no prior military experience were permitted to command ships in combat. As such, it is a milestone in the development of professionalism in the United States Navy.”

The battle is beautifully rendered in an antique print from Harper’s Weekly, a New York-based publication, we have in store.

Harper’s Weekly reported the battle on June 28th, 1862 as follows:


We devote pages 408 and 409 to illustrations of the WAR ON THE MISSISSIPPI, from sketches by our artist, Mr. Alexander Simplot. One of the pictures represents the GUN-BOAT FIGHT ON THE MISSISSIPPI OPPOSITE MEMPHIS. As a contrast to the descriptions by loyal men, we give the following account of this remarkable combat from the pen of the reporter of a rebel paper, the Memphis Argus, of June 6:

As was generally anticipated, several gun-boats of the Lincoln fleet made their appearance around the bend above the city this A.M., arriving below the island a little before 6 o’clock. Their appearance created an immediate movement in our fleet, under the brave Commodore Montgomery, who had been awaiting them, and his boats were at once headed up stream to offer them battle. Our fleet was composed of the General Van Dorn, flag-ship, General Price, General Bragg, Jeff Thompson, General Lovell, General Beauregard, Sumter, and Little Rebel, all rams under the supreme command of Commander Montgomery. Upon arriving opposite the mouth of Wolf Creek,  the Federal boats in the mean time advancing from the island, the order was given to open fire, which was accordingly done by the Little Rebel. Three shots were fired from the Confederate fleet before any reply was made by the enemy, who, however, continued advancing. A short time afterward fire was opened by the advancing boats of the Federal fleet, and a brisk interchange of cannonading was kept up for some time, the shots from both sides generally falling wide of the mark. Up to this time no damage had been done. The engagement had then continued probably twenty minutes.

After that, more Federal boats showed up to the fight, and Montgomery ordered the fleet to fall back. The Confederate forces had some success in the battle, but generally got a whooping. In fact, they whooped themselves in some cases.

“In the mean time another Federal ram, the Monarch, started to the first’s assistance, rapidly passing the city under full head of steam. The Beauregard, having disabled her first adversary, turned about to run into the Monarch. The Price [Confederate] was also moved up, and the three boats were rapidly coming together.

A heavy blow aimed by the Beauregard at the Monarch missed and struck the Price, which was unable to get out of the way. She was struck squarely on the wheel-house, which was torn completely off, leaving the boat nearly a wreck. She at once made for the Arkansas shore, and sunk as deeply as the shallow water would allow. A number of person on board were killed and wounded by the enemy’s sharp-shooters.”

The rest of the fleet was either blown to bits or captured after that. After a number of shots and getting rammed, the Beauregard “commenced sinking rapidly in deep water…”

Ah, that sinking feeling. Spectators in Memphis have known it for centuries.


The Gilded Week

Gilding has come up a few times this week in Tadporters, which is to say, a few more times than it has since I started working here. You can check our facebook page to see a couple of the videos we’ve posted.

Gilding is the process of applying a thin layer of gold, silver, or metal leaf to a frame. Gold leaf is 24-karat gold pounded into an extremely thin sheet.

Gilding is a fascinating, labor intensive, time-honored craft. It’s remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years, and to learn the craft, a potential gilder undertakes a five year apprenticeship. It’s basically as much of an education as a double major in undergrad.

Typically, a person would only gild if they make or repair moulding, so in a frame shop it’s merely a peripheral interest for us, like glass-making or wood-carving. It would normally only come up when some annoying little flake of leaf weasels its way onto the surface of a picture. Nonetheless, as far as peripheral interests, it’s a particularly bewitching one.

I suspect this is due to the gold involved, the material Black Elk called “the yellow metal that drives white men crazy.” It certainly has hypnotized the Western world for millennia. Minus teeth, most people would happily accept gold anything. And most people would probably accept gold teeth, too.

Gold usually connotes weight: gold bricks, rings, jewelry, etc. By contrast, gold leaf is fragile, ethereal. Metal drifting off like a feather seems more  magic trick than reality. And since gilding has existed for thousands of years it also conjures images of alchemy, pharaohs, and royalty. It’s a  mesmerizing material.

Gilding provided one of the most notable examples of satire in American history, when Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner labeled the late 1800s the Gilded Age.

Gilding and gold leaf also call to my mind one of my favorite art pieces, Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle (Zone of immaterial pictorial sensibility) by Yves Klein. Essentially, Klein sold empty space (nothing) to collectors in exchange for the empty space’s value in gold leaf. They were given a receipt for their purchase, although Klein encouraged them to burn it.

Half the gold was then thrown into a river, and the other half went into paintings. Of note, one of his gold monochromes has since sold for $21,000,000. The project was tongue in cheek in a lot of ways, but it was also entirely blissed-out. It was also, along with much of Klein’s other work, foretelling of art’s direction in the subsequent years.

To bring that back around, Klein’s original inspiration to work with gold leaf spurred from his time working in a frame shop.

“And the gold, it was something! These leaves that literally fluttered with the least current of air on the flat cushion that one held in one hand, while the other hand caught them in the wind with a knife…. What a material! The illumination of matter in its deep physical quality, I came to embrace it during that year at the ‘Savage’ frame shop.” – Yves Klein



What you talk about in Tadporters

In the midst of picking out frames, matboard, fillets, etc.,  long conversations often arise in the shop. One thing in particular (aside from framing) comes up all the time. In full disclosure, this is only from a few weeks of observation, but patterns are patterns.

Some people talk sports, a lot of people assess the local economy/FedEx, and an unnamed source Mike persistently floats conspiracy theories. But none of this truly captivates you, dear Memphians.

What you really love talking about is… (drum roll, please) why Memphis stinks. Comes up all the time. Somebody has one foot out the door, turns around, and before you know it, “downtown is dead” has snowballed into “Memphis is the worst city in the world.”  This should come as no surprise, since the inferiority complex of this city is well-documented.

Well, wipe that muddy tear away from your eye, ye morose riverfolk.

I thought of a few things today to change your opinion of our  ridiculously self-deprecating city.

First, you should watch Jim Jarmusch’s 1989 film, Mystery Train, set in Memphis. It’s a classic and it might just convince you no city is cooler than ours. The plot centers around three sets of foreign protagonists, all somehow connected because of Elvis. The best line in Mystery Train is definitely “It feels cool to be in Memphis.”

Secondly, just listen to the song Mystery Train over and over.

Now that you got trains heavily on the mind, get on the train. Take it to New Orleans. The train is slow, but the scenery is beautiful. Roger Ebert noted  “the best thing about Mystery Train is that it takes you to an America you feel you ought to be able to find for yourself, if you only knew where to look.” I feel the same way about the train ride from Memphis to New Orleans. The landscape the train cuts through feels like a window to how you always imagine the South,but you never see. It makes you feel proud of where coming you’re from, and excited for what you’re heading to.

Lastly, if you got the time, watch Jarmusch’s classic set in New Orleans, Down by Law.

Head back home. Know that it feels cool to be in Memphis.

Old News

If I ranked the most boring things possible, reading an old issue of the newspaper would rank pretty high. Probably top ten somewhere, just below purgatory.

The newspaper is meant to be here today, gone tomorrow… and recycled weekly. But the newspaper  is a lot like food. It’s best fresh and thrown out past its expiration date; but if kept around you might just have a science experiment on your hands (with newspaper, a history lesson).

Lately, I’ve been working with the old news quite a bit creating a webpage to sell the shop’s antique prints. Maybe it’s because most of our prints reflect the history of Memphis as it unfolded, but I’m fascinated by all of them. I consistently feel the impulse to transcribe all the articles, but I realize not everybody is a weirdo like me who finds the syntax of the 1800s so amusing.

At any rate, anyone can look at these prints and see how beautiful they are. As somebody with engraving experience, I can assure you, even with the quick turnover of the news, these prints are insanely well done. The detail is dizzying.

The articles and illustrations reporting on the Civil War are especially compelling. The print above is an image of the Battle of Pittsburg Landing (more commonly known as Shiloh), dated back to 1862 when it was still breaking news.

Definitely worth a look.

The most overlooked side of framing

Usually, when thinking about frames we think about them from the front, right? While it’s counter-intuitive, the back can offer just as much to see as the front, especially with famous works of art.

The artist Vik Muniz had an amazing show a couple years ago where he reproduced to scale, inch-by-inch, the backs of world-renowned paintings like Starry NightLes Demoiselles d’Avignon, and American Gothic. The pieces are so precisely forged it would be nearly impossible to tell them apart from the originals. Unless of course, somebody looked at the back… which would be the front of the painting… but the back of this work.

Vik Muniz

Verso (Starry Night), 2008
Mixed media object
29 x 36.25 x 12 inches

In the press release, Muniz explained:

Whenever someone wants to see if an artwork is ‘real’, the first gesture is to look at its back or at it’s base; the part of it that normally isn’t visible to anyone else but experts, dealers, museum conservators or the artists’ themselves. This happens because while the image’s objective is to remain eternally the same, its support is constantly changing, telling its story, showing its scars, its labels and periodic clichés. So when a cousin of mine told me his 7-year old could paint a Picasso, I told him ‘probably, but he couldn’t do the back’. As a teenager, I used to fix the neighbor’s TV as a hobby. I wanted to learn how to fix clocks too. Whenever something’s function is basically visual, there is always an opening in the back for the curious to do it damage.

-Vik Muniz in an unpublished interview, 2005

Here’s a link to the rest of the work.

I really wish I could see what the backs (fronts?) of those pieces. What could they be? Paintings?  Another back?

So, if the whim strikes you, turn around your frames today and see what’s going on back there.


Biggest frame ever?

The aforementioned Frankenframe is now up and on display. While it’s certainly not the biggest frame ever, at 7′ x 7′ it’s the biggest in the shop and a sight to see if you’re passing us on Poplar.

Like Dr. Frankenstein, Mike pieced together some beastly parts to animate an even more beastly whole. Unlike the doctor, Mike made his monster a real looker. Consequently, the Frankenframe has yet to encounter any repulsion or rejection; he’s fitting in just fine. And thank god for that because a torch-wielding mob  could do some serious damage to a frame shop.