The most expensive lesson I never learned

Sometimes it’s cheaper to let the pros do it.
Clary Hill, watercolor, by Carol L. Douglas
If you ever work in watercolor or pastel, you know the framing cost for those media is much higher than for oils. That’s because they’re fussy and difficult to frame properly. I occasionally use both in the field but not for events; I can’t deal with glazing and spacers in the high-tension moments at the end of a show. The worst injury I’ve ever sustained as a painter happened when I was levering a large sheet of glass into a frame. It snapped under its own weight and sliced my hand. That kind of thing makes you cautious.
Last autumn I did a residency at the Joseph Fiore Art Center. The result was eight oils and eight watercolors, all 24X36. One of each will be on display at the Maine Farmland Trust Gallery starting next week; later this year the whole set will go to the Jackson Memorial Library. It’s difficult to find a frame that works well with both oils and watercolor, but after much searching I found it in a deep, shadow-box moulding from Omega. I ordered enough material for sixteen frames. It has been sitting in the corner of my studio for a month, waiting for me to find the time to start.
Clary Hill, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
If you’ve done a lot of framing you should be wincing by now at the cost of this venture. The moulding was $800 for the stock alone. I went out yesterday to find the proper glazing material for the watercolors. (It’s easier to find a picture framer than a chain clothing store in my neck of the woods, and that’s how life should be.) The glazing would be between $90 and $140 per picture, depending on what I chose. Each watercolor would also need foam core, mat-board and spacers.
But being professionals, they wanted the frame in hand before they started cutting into their expensive materials. I’d have to return with it this morning.
Glade, watercolor, by Carol L. Douglas
“Then what,” I asked, “would the cost be to assemble the whole thing right here?” The price they gave me was only marginally higher than the materials cost. Bam! I’m dropping off the test picture this morning and they can do the fiddly bits. If it looks as good as I expect it will, they can do all eight of the watercolors.
I can usually copy most things I’ve seen built, and I take pride in craftsmanship, but I’m always working with home tools. I don’t, for example, have a power stapler; I join corners with careful gluing and brackets. Their joiners and staplers don’t just make things faster; they result in tighter, neater work. And while making things is fun, it’s hardly what you want to do when pressed, as I am right now.
Float, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
I’m in a point in my life where my scarcest asset is time, rather than money. But it’s never occurred to me to hire out work I can do myself. Still, maybe there are times it’s better to let the pros do it.
“I need an admin,” I whined to my upcoming portrait client yesterday afternoon.
“Virtual assistants are the thing. And usually at an attractive fee, too,” she responded. How that works, I don’t know, but perhaps it’s time to find out.