CutArt Variations – Practical Mat Decoration

Sometimes our mental image of a decorated mat includes frills and swirls and patterns on every square inch.  However impressive this may seem, a better idea is to add just a small touch.  This column will focus on decorative ideas you might use every day.  We all have skills and we should use them regularly – to keep our work interesting and to keep our customers thrilled.

Sometimes our mental image of a decorated mat includes frills and swirls and patterns on every square inch. However impressive this may seem, a better idea is to add just a small touch. This column will focus on decorative ideas you might use every day. We all have skills and we should use them regularly – to keep our work interesting and to keep our customers thrilled.

 

 

Making CutArt Variations

Every framer has their decorative design ideas – the kinds of elements they like to use and the ways they like to apply them.  The challenge is to vary the details of the idea each time you use it to tailor it to the picture and to make it look different to casual observers.  Framers do this even when the design idea is as simple as a triple mat.  The variations can be: change the colors, vary the contrast, change the reveal sizes, put the narrow reveal in the middle, put the narrow reveal to the inside, make the wide reveal really wide, use patterned matboard for the wide reveal…

So it is if you have a favorite CutArt.  This example shows a geometric starburst at the side of the opening.  Perhaps you would like to add a starburst accent like this more often, but there is just this one.  You feel that if you use it too often, your work will begin to look too repetitive.  You can vary the size and the placement, but the element itself remains the same.  Your work would have more variety and each picture could be more individualized if there were a dozen different starbursts you could choose from.

The Original Idea

The CutArt here is Fanlite from the Accents1 folder of the Wizard CutArt.  The decorative elements are about half an inch wide and 1.25 inches high.  The starbursts are a quarter inch away from the opening and slightly below the center.  (The opening is 6 x 8 inches, just for the sake of perspective.)01 6x8 Original

This design formula – the accents close to the opening symmetrically on the sides – is as important as the element itself.  It illustrates probably the most effective formula for using cutout accents.  Now we will make a portfolio of similar elements so that we can use this formula more often and in more settings.

Things We Will Change

The three shapes in a starburst pattern is a very appealing concept.  As we are creating variations in the drawing program, we will retain this concept.  However, there are some other things we would like to change:

It would be an improvement if the elements could be closer together.

We need a variety of sizes but we do not want the triangles to spread farther apart as we enlarge the element.

We would like to preserve the sharp points of the triangles, but change the short sides.  Perhaps the short sides could be vertical lines. Perhaps they could be all in a line, perhaps staggered.

Perhaps there could be curves introduced to soften the stark geometric feel.

In the Drawing Program

In this illustration we have opened the Fanlite CutArt in PathTrace.  The original CutArt elements are the blue triangles. 101 Variation 1

Notice first that the ornament is oriented vertically.  In its original state, it is horizontal, but we will use it vertically in this design formula.  This change in orientation was done in MatDesigner, where rotation is easy.  This illustrates an axiom about drawing projects that bears repeating no matter which program you use: Do what you can (those things that are easy) in the design program, then do what you must in the drawing program.

We have drawn some lines to reshape the middle triangle.  We want the point at the right to be a little less sharp.  Begin by drawing a diagonal line for a new leg at the top, then mirror it across the horizontal center line (the white horizontal line emanating from the midpoint of the short side of the middle blue triangle) so that the new triangle will be symmetrical.  Note also the gray vertical line that will be the new short side of the middle triangle.

How Close Can These Triangles Be?

Next we must decide how close the smaller triangles can be to the new middle triangle.  This is an important design question because we want the grouping of three triangles to read more like one unit than they do in the original.

As we draw, though, spacing is an important cutting question, too.  When two shapes are close together, there will be overcuts on the back of the mat.  If the shapes are too close, these overcuts will cut far enough to weaken the narrow strip of matboard between the shapes.  As the cutting proceeds, the narrow strip of matboard may be pushed out of place.  This spacing question will be decided by making a series of test cuts.

Offset the top leg of the triangle a specific distance.  Enter the distance in the Reveal field at the bottom left.  Here, the top leg was offset 0.18 inch.  (This, in fact, was not the first test.  This drawing does not show the lines from the earlier test that was too close.)

Then construct a new small triangle above the middle one using this offset line as its inner leg.  Draw a new vertical line to be the short side (a departure from the original, but a variation we would like to evaluate) and draw a new outside leg to complete the triangle. 102 Variation 1

The vertical line at the right serves as a guide to help determine where the point of the new triangle must be to be even with the point of the middle triangle.  These points do not need to line up precisely.

Watch, too, that the angle of the point of the new small triangle is a bit less sharp than the point of the original triangle.

Completing the First Variation

Join all the segments of the two new triangles and set the bevels.  Then mirror the top triangle across the horizontal center line onto the bottom.103 Variation 1

You want only the new triangles to cut, but there is no need to delete the original triangles.  They may come in handy as a reference.  Simply explode them.  The lines will remain but they will no longer cut.

Make the test cut and assess the progress.  It is important to make an actual test cut.  When items are this small, do not depend what you see on the screen - either in PathTrace or in MatDesigner.

The lines you see on the screen are the lines at the bottom of the bevel, not the top of the bevel.  As you look at the finished mat, you will judge the space between the triangles first by looking at the stability of the narrow strip of matboard between the triangles, then by looking at the space at the top of the bevels – the colored surface of the mat.  If you like the results, save the new CutArt as the first variation.

How Small Should These Triangles Be?

As you evaluate the test results, note the size of the triangles.  There is no real limit to how small each triangle can be.  All the cuts are straight lines, after all.  The real question is: How small can they be and still look good as decorative elements next to an opening.  The answer will be different for most every framer.  Here, the smaller triangles are a quarter inch from their points to their short sides.  Whether or not you like the look of elements this small, it is good to know that it is possible to cut shapes this small.02 6x8 Variation 1

Again, to get a feel for the proportion, the opening is 6 x 8 inches.

Making a Larger Variation

We have decided that this is a good size for small openings, but for larger pictures, we will want a larger element – but we want the triangles to remain 0.18 inch away from each other.  If we re-size the new CutArt in the design program, the triangles will enlarge, but so will the space between the triangles.201 Variation 2

Open the first variation in PathTrace.  The white vertical line at the right is snapped to the point of the small triangle.  Offset it so that you know how wide the new top triangle will be.  In this drawing, the vertical line is offset 0.30 inch.

The vertical line at the left near the middle triangle will be the new short side of the middle triangle.  Its position is an artistic decision.

Note the horizontal center line snapped to the midpoint at the left of the middle triangle.  It will be the mirror axis in the coming mirroring operation.

Finishing the Larger Variation

Delete the blue triangle at the bottom.202 Variation 2

Explode the two remaining triangles.

Join the new short sides to the original legs to form the new triangles.  The gray lines inside the triangles in the illustration are the original short sides of the triangles in the first variation.

Mirror the triangle at the top across the horizontal center line onto the bottom.

Set the bevels, make a test cut, and save this as a new CutArt if it meets your approval.  This will be the second variation.

Introducing Curves

For a less geometric attitude, we will make the short sides of the triangles into curves.  The blue triangles in this illustration are the elements of the larger variation we just completed.301 Variation 3

We have drawn a single line beginning a little beyond the top of the top triangle and ending a little across the horizontal center line.

Using the Move Point function, move the midpoint of the line to curve it.  Remember that these segments will be very small, so do not curve the line too severely.

Integrating the Curve with the Triangles

We need to break the curve into pieces then join the legs of the triangles with the curve segments to form the new shapes.302 Variation 3

Draw a short line crossing the curve near the small triangle at the top.

Break the curve at its intersection with the short line.  The piece of the curve at the top will become the short side of the small triangle at the top.  The other piece (the white curve in this illustration) will be the beginning of the new short side for the middle shape.

Finishing the Curved Variation

Much has happened in this illustration.  Here are the steps:303 Variation 3

Explode the small triangle at the top.

Join the legs of the small triangle with the top segment of the broken curve.  This new small shape is now complete.  This is the white shape in this illustration.

Mirror the newly joined top triangle across the horizontal center line so that it will replace the old triangle at the bottom.

Explode the large middle triangle.

Mirror the other segment of the broken curve across the horizontal center line.  This new middle shape will have two curves as its crown.  It will now be a curved diamond.

Join the legs from the middle triangle to the two curves of its crown to complete the curved diamond.

Getting Ready to Cut

Delete or explode the original triangle at the bottom.  All the other leftover gray segments can remain.304 Variation 3

Then set the three new shapes to cut.  Make a test cut to make sure these curves cut nicely – but also to make sure that they are dramatic enough.

Often we are so concerned about drawing gentle curves that will cut nicely that we forget that our original intent was to add the excitement of curves to the ornament.  If we draw such gentle curves that they appear to be straight lines, then there is little benefit to our efforts.

One More Idea

Brainstorming about curves and drama always generates another step in the evolution of an idea.  All the variations so far have had the points on the right lined up very nicely, but to add more drama, we want to have the point of the middle shape protrude noticeably farther than the points of the outside shapes.  This will make the middle shape decidedly larger, too.401 Variation 4

Copy the shape at the top.  As you move the copy, the original will remain as a guide.  This is important because you will see how far you have moved the shape – and you will be able to keep the bottom lines lined up, insuring that the new shape will still be the same distance away from the middle shape.

Now, we want to move the middle shape’s crown farther to the left so that the curves of the short sides appear to be continuous again.402 Variation 4

Explode the middle shape.

Join the two curves of the crown.

Using the copy function, move the crown to the left.  Hold the Control key on the keyboard as you move it so that it moves exactly horizontally.

It is not critical that the two curves of the shapes be mathematically continuous.  In fact, it may be more dramatic if the crown were moved a bit farther to the left than necessary.

To finish this variation, join the segments to form the new middle shape and set the bevel.403 Variation 4

Mirror the moved top shape across the horizontal center line onto the bottom of the element.

There is no need to delete the original small shapes.  Just explode them so that they will not cut.

Make a test cut, evaluate the results, and save this fourth variation as a new CutArt.03 6x8 Variation 4

Every framer has had the experience of searching for just the right CutArt to adorn a picture.  When you find something close and a little alteration would make it just right, it should not be a daunting task to make a few changes in the drawing program.  In this space, we have made four variations of the original CutArt – one flowing out of the ideas of the other - using only half a dozen functions in the program.  Just as you do not need to know the entire city to find your way to a friend’s house, you do not need to know the entire drawing program to make a few little changes.  Imagine, then make a few experiments.

Brian Wolf has been a picture framing educator since 1979, specializing in decorative matting techniques. He is the artistry ambassador for Wizard International, Inc. Contact him at WizardU@wizardint.com  Brian’s column is sponsored by Wizard.  www.wizardint.com or call 1-888-855-3335

Decorative Breaks – Practical Mat Decoration

Sometimes our mental image of a decorated mat includes frills and swirls and patterns on every square inch.  However impressive this may seem, a better idea is to add just a small touch.  This column will focus on decorative ideas you might use every day.  We all have skills and we should use them regularly – to keep our work interesting and to keep our customers thrilled.

Sometimes our mental image of a decorated mat includes frills and swirls and patterns on every square inch. However impressive this may seem, a better idea is to add just a small touch. This column will focus on decorative ideas you might use every day. We all have skills and we should use them regularly – to keep our work interesting and to keep our customers thrilled.

 

Decorative Breaks in a Narrow Reveal

As we are looking for ways to use the computerized mat cutter to its fullest, we see that the standard corner treatments and ornamental cutouts are often not the answer.  How can we include decorative cutting in a different way?

This idea begins as a triple mat.  The top and bottom layers are rectangular.  There is a decorative break in the narrow middle layer.  The eighth inch of color is broken and a decorative element peeks from the break between the top and bottom layers.

201 Beginning Photo

This idea is not part of any standard computerized mat cutter program.  Making a mat like this requires the use of the drawing program – both to draw the decorative breaks and to integrate them into the middle layer of the mat.

Drawing the Decorative Breaks

This is a very good beginning drawing project.  You will learn and exercise a number of the drawing functions.  There are not line by line drawing instructions to follow, but the hints offer a good start as you learn more about drawing.

001 Breaks Graphic

Here is a picture of six variations on this idea.  Copy it and save it as a graphic file.  The first design is the decorative break used in the photograph at the beginning.  The next three variations change only the crown of the break.  The last variation is the break used in the photograph at the end.  They have all been tested and they cut nicely provided they are in these proportions and they are 1.5 inches high.

Using the Image

Put this image into the background of PathTrace and draw lines and arcs that follow the lines and arcs in the picture.

002 Path Trace Drawing

When the image is in the background, make it 1.75 inches high and 3.85 inches wide.  This will make the picture the proper size and proportion so that the images of the decorative breaks themselves will be 1.5 inches high.

This illustration of the drawing in progress is zoomed in on the element on the left to get a closer look.  Note the Height and Width settings of the image at the lower left.

There is an Opacity slider above the size field to make the image more faint so that you can see the lines you are drawing more clearly.  The element on the right is only the image.  You can see the darker gray lines we are drawing on the element on the left.

The Decorative Breaks’ Construction

All these breaks are drawn with only lines and arcs.

The vertical line at the top of each one needs to be exactly in line with the vertical line at its bottom.

The arcs and lines at the tops of all these breaks are identical to the arcs and lines at their bottoms.

A Few Drawing Reminders

To draw perfectly horizontal or vertical lines, hold the Control key on the keyboard as you draw.

To snap the beginning of a line or an arc to specific point, move the cursor near that point and right-click.  The beginning point will snap exactly onto the closest point to the cursor.

Zoom in very close to see that lines and arcs flow together without an angle.

Use the Move Point function to refine the shapes of arcs.

Use the Tangification function and the program will smooth the junctions of lines and arcs.

Draw the top half of the break, then mirror it across a horizontal center line.

Join all the segments and set each finished break to cut as a V-Groove.

Save each decorative break as its own CutArt file.  This is how you will add it to a mat design.

There will be a few more drawing reminders in the details that follow.

Integrating the Break

The decorative break has been drawn and saved as a CutArt.  To use the break in the mat design, we now need to replace the sides of the middle layer of the opening with the CutArt we have drawn.

101 In MD

Design the opening in MatDesigner.

Include the CutArt anywhere in the design.  There is no way to snap the CutArt to the correct spot on the opening here in the design program so its placement is not critical.  We will be able to snap the CutArt into its exact place in PathTrace.

Send the design to PathTrace.

In PathTrace: Positioning the CutArt

Use Copy Object to move the CutArt into place.

103 Snapped to Side

Move the cursor near the top of the CutArt and right-click when you select it in order to grab it by the point at the top.

Hold the Shift key and the original will disappear as you move the copy around.

Move the CutArt near the midpoint of the left side of the middle layer of the opening.

Right-click to snap the top point of the CutArt to the midpoint of the side of the middle layer.

Now that the CutArt is snapped to the side of the middle layer, we need to move it up or down to a place where we think it looks best.104 Positioned

Still using Copy Object, hold the Control key so that the CutArt will move perfectly vertically.  Hold the Shift key, too, so that only the copy remains.

Move the CutArt to its final vertical position.  In this example, it is just a little below the center.

Deleting the Sides of the Opening

The CutArt will replace the sides of the middle layer.  First we need to delete the existing sides of the middle layer.

105 Exploded and Deleted

Explode the middle layer of opening.

Delete the sides of the exploded opening.

Extending the Endpoints

This is not a critical step, but the segments of the opening will join better if the endpoints of the CutArt are extended to be closer to the corners.

106 Extended

Hold the Control key on the keyboard so that the sides of the CutArt remain perfectly vertical.

Use Move Point and move the endpoints of the CutArt closer to the corners.

In this illustration both endpoints have been moved.

Mirroring

Next, mirror the CutArt onto the other side of the opening.

107 Center Line

Mirroring works by using a reference line as a mirror axis, so we need to draw a vertical center line.

Move the cursor near the midpoint of the top of the opening.  Right-click to snap the beginning of the line to the midpoint.

Hold the Control key to keep the line vertical and end the line anywhere.

Mirror the CutArt on the left across the vertical center line onto the right side of the opening.

108 Mirrored

Mirroring is a two step function, but it is very simple.  First select the item to be mirrored, then select the line that is the mirror axis.  The mirrored copy will appear on the other side of the opening.

Finishing

Join the four new sides of the middle layer.

109 Joined

Set the new shape to cut as a normal bevel.

110 Set to Cut

Make sure that you set the new shape to cut as the middle layer of this opening.  At the bottom left, note that the Current Layer is set to Layer 2.

The mat is ready to cut.

As usual, these steps use the Wizard software.  Your program’s functions may have different names, but the process will be the same no matter which program you use.

202 Ending Photo

It appears as if there are many steps to this process of integrating these decorative breaks into the sides of the mat.  Explanations often mask reality, though.  Once you understand the process, you will find that all the steps are quite simple and the procedure will take only a minute.

The fact remains that this idea of mat decoration is outside of the kinds of things computerized mat cutter programs do normally - so of course we are required to do things manually.  New ideas will always require a little extra effort, but the results will be something special.

Brian Wolf has been a picture framing educator since 1979, specializing in decorative matting techniques. He is the artistry ambassador for Wizard International, Inc. Contact him at WizardU@wizardint.com  Brian’s column is sponsored by Wizard.  www.wizardint.com or call 1-888-855-3335

Drawing Flowing Curves – Practical Mat Decoration

Sometimes our mental image of a decorated mat includes frills and swirls and patterns on every square inch.  However impressive this may seem, a better idea is to add just a small touch.  This column will focus on decorative ideas you might use every day.  We all have skills and we should use them regularly – to keep our work interesting and to keep our customers thrilled.

Sometimes our mental image of a decorated mat includes frills and swirls and patterns on every square inch. However impressive this may seem, a better idea is to add just a small touch. This column will focus on decorative ideas you might use every day. We all have skills and we should use them regularly – to keep our work interesting and to keep our customers thrilled.

 

Drawing Flowing Curves

Whether we are drawing lines to be cut or to be drawn with the pen, adjoining curves should flow gracefully from one to the next.  We have all had the experience of watching how terribly small angles cut.  There is either a shallow corner where the blade withdraws, twists, and plunges again - or there is a plowed spot where the blade twists in the matboard while it is on the move.  Neither of these cutting scenarios is particularly attractive.  At times these small angles are critical to define an image, but more often the transition could be smooth and the slice would look so much nicer.

 

If we are drawing lines with the pen, so many elements are so small, you would not imagine how a drawing glitch here and there would even be visible.  But when curves meet at small angles, the pen instantaneously changes direction and there could be an erratic wiggle in the line.  We could call these wiggles “character,” or we could smooth them so that there are no wiggles.

 

In either case - cutting or drawing - the fix is pretty easy once you understand how the tools work.  The examples here use Wizard’s PathTrace, but every drawing program has an automatic smoothing function of some description, though the specific operation sequence may differ.

 

The Tangification Function

101

Two arcs join each other.  In this illustration, one is gray and the other is white.  Look closely at their junction point.  They meet at a slight angle.  If this is a drawing to be cut, this is the point where the blade may withdraw, shift, and plunge again.  Or the blade may instantaneously change twist as the machine keeps moving.  This angle can be smoothed using the Tangification function.

Here is how Tangification operates.  Click the Prep Design tab at the top and select Join Segments under Choose Operation at the left.  First join the two arcs.

 

 

 

 

102

Next, select Tangify Segments under Choose Operation.  At the bottom left is the Maximum Angle field.  You can enter any value and choose the maximum allowable angle here.  Notice that it is set to 22° here.  This means that any angle above that will be left alone.  Any angle less than 22° will be smoothed.  The arrow in the drawing field points to the junction of the two arcs.

 

 

 

103

Move the cursor to highlight the joined arcs and click one time.  The transition will be smoothed and the two arcs will now join at a 0° angle.  Again, the arrow in the drawing field points to the junction of the arcs.  After tangification, the angle at the junction is now smoothed.

If the tangified curves were superimposed onto the original curves, you could readily see that tangification works by altering portions of both arcs where they meet.  Most of the change here is seen in the larger arc on the right.

 

There are times when the particular changes made by the tangification function alter the curves in a disagreeable way.  There is a way to take advantage of the tangification function and minimize its impact on the design.  We will do this by cutting away pieces of the original arcs and inserting a shorter curve between the larger curves.

 

Inserting a Transitional Curve

201

Here is an example where we could not accept the changes to the curves that tangification might perform as it smoothes the transitions.  There are adjacent curves to be considered for both spacing issues and aesthetic appeal.

The lines in gray are the original pen ornament.  The swirls of the ornament are only a little more than a quarter inch high and the lines that cross in the center are not even a sixteenth of an inch apart.

 

We want to make the larger flourish on the left a little more grandiose to suit another picture more proportionately.  The white curves represent our proposed changes.

 

There are three elements to the new white curve.  There is one curved line at the top and another at the bottom.  At the left there is an arc.  The segments are joined in this step, so they appear as one curve.

 

Arcs are very handsome when you are able to incorporate them, because of their constant rate of curvature.  Curved lines (when you move the midpoint of a line, it turns into a curve) are easy to use because you are able to move the midpoint from one end of the line to the other.  As you do this, the rate of curvature is greater on the shorter end of the line and you are able to blend adjoining elements nicely.

 

These three elements have been joined and tangified and everything looks just as it should except there is a slight disagreeable flat spot on the curve near the arrow.

 

202

There is a Move Point function in PathTrace that may help.  Click the Trace and Draw tab at the top.  Select Move Point under Choose Operation at the left.

The illustration shows that Move Point is not always the answer, though.  After tangification, there are more control points along the curve.  The curve sometimes behaves more like a wet noodle than a curve as you move the control points.

 

The illustration also shows that the action of Move Point is only for discrete elements, joined or not.  The angle you see to the right of the arrow is where the curved line at the bottom joins the arc on the left.  Patience and experience with the Move Point function could likely correct this flat spot, but inserting a transitional curve is sure to leave all the other portions of the curve undisturbed.

 

203

First, we need to decide where to break the curve.  Click on Draw Line under Choose Operation.  Draw lines approximately equidistant on either side of the flat spot.

The exact position where these lines intersect the curve is not critical.  As you place the lines, imagine the transitional curve and how long it needs to be in order to improve the curve.

 

 

 

 

204

Click the Prep Design at the top.  Select Break Intersection under Choose Operation.

Break the intersections that the lines (the lines we drew in the previous step) have with the curve.

In this illustration, the white segment is the piece that will be replaced.  In this zoomed-in view, you can see that it is less than graceful.

Delete this line.  It may possibly be helpful as a reference, but more often, it is in the way of your view as you set to improve the curves.

 

205

We will now connect the pieces of the broken curve with a line segment.  We could certainly draw a new line, but we have four broken line segments already snapped to the broken endpoints of the curve.

Click the Trace and Draw tab and select Move Point.  Move the endpoint of one of the broken line segments on the left and snap it to the broken end of the curve on the right.

The white line in this illustration is the moved line segment.

 

206

With the Move Point function still selected, move the midpoint of this intervening line.  As you move the point, the line will curve.  This is a small segment and tangification will fix nearly any imprecision at this point, but watch how the curve changes as you move the point left and right as well as up and down.  With a little experimentation, you will be able to bend the line so that it connects the broken pieces of the curve without a hiccup.

In this illustration the white curve makes the transition in the broken spot of the curve.  We have not disturbed the other portions of the new curve that we like so much.

 

207

Join all the new segments and tangify them.  Unless there are grievous errors, you will not see a change after you click the Tangify Segments button.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

208

In this illustration, all the leftover pieces of the original ornament have been deleted.  The new ornament has been given its cutting instructions.  It has been set to draw with the pen.  The new ornament can now be saved to use over and over.

 

 

 

 

As you are evaluating this idea for its practicality, you may imagine that all these steps are much more involved than simply refining the curve using the Move Point function, whatever its pitfalls.  This may at times be the ideal answer.  But do not discount the big advantage of this alternative procedure.  Inserting a transitional curve to repair a problem area leaves the other areas of the drawing untouched.

 

Fini Detail 1

Brian Wolf has been a picture framing educator since 1979, specializing in decorative matting techniques. He is the artistry ambassador for Wizard International, Inc. Contact hime at WizardU@wizardint.com  Brian's column is sponsored by Wizard.  www.wizardint.com or call 1-888-855-3335