Frequently I’m asked if an artist should frame their art and if so, what is the best way to do that. There are several schools of thought, but I’m going to share my personal experience as a gallery owner, art collector, and artist.
Don’t be old fashioned. My mother was a producing, selling and teaching artist in the 1960’s through the 1980’s and beyond, and she ALWAYS framed everything. Much of it was in the style of a wood frame with a one inch or so linen or burlap looking inset strip along the inside edge. Over time they look dirty and tired. Believe it or not they still make and sell that style. Years ago it worked, but now? Please…..don’t do it. But, if you do, choose the best available.
If you must frame, please choose a frame that doesn’t compete for the viewer’s attention. Now THAT is a thought my mother did instill that holds true today. Frames should draw you into the work and never distract. Maybe I’m missing something here, but when I go to a museum or gallery and see a piece of abstract, modern art framed in an ornate, gold frame I just wonder quietly, “Why?”
Does a gallery wrapped canvas have to be framed? No, but please….do something with the sides by either neatly painting all the edges black or some other complimentary color OR continue the painting around the sides. The latter requires a little more effort and doesn’t always look as good because the artist has put the majority of effort into the front and the sides are just….well, sides. I’ll confess, I’m guilty of this and have repented. I try to at least make it look cleanly finished. A solid color visually lifts the painting away from the wall giving it depth and the “feeling” of a frame. Basically, don’t leave it with raw canvas hoping a potential buyer will acquire the appropriate framing. Trust me, people notice.
What about the back? This is a REAL pet peeve of mine as a gallery owner. NO DUCT TAPE! You think I’m kidding….right? Nope, I’ve seen masking tape, duct tape, and all varieties of measures to attach work in a frame. Not going to lie….there was a time I’ve done it, too, but gradually realized how totally unprofessional it looks. Over time heat and humidity causes it to release or crumble. Yuck. Oh, and another thing…if a store like Big Lots can sell mass-produced printed art that has a simple piece of paper adhered to the back surely artists can step up to that. If it’s a gallery wrapped canvas sans frame then it’s not necessary, but the back should still look at least tidy. Use eye screws and wire as much as possible saving saw tooth hangers for small, lightweight work.
Most of the above suggestions are about oil or acrylic paintings, but what about watercolor? Well, including a mat is usually in order but again, choose a neutral color most of the time. I have seen color mats used quite effectively, but it’s more the exception. If you can’t afford having a mat cut floating the work on top of a white or neutral board can also look good, especially if the artwork has the deckled edge look. Since watercolor is framed under glass if possible non-glare glass is nice. Some prefer Plexiglas due to the reduced physical weight for larger works. It scratches easily so proceed with caution. I’m not a fan of metallic frames and for some reason a lot of watercolorists choose that, possibly because it’s what’s most available. That’s personal preference so choose along those lines.
These are not hard and fast rules; just guidelines for you to consider taking what you need and leaving the rest. I confessed my personal flaws in framing and how I came to see the proverbial light, but it took years to get there. When standing next to an artist friend at a show once he commented on how much he liked the way the artist finished the edges of her work that we were observing. His own work is always impeccable and that one comment caused me to raise my personal bar. Then when I opened the gallery and encountered artists who cut corners in framing or not finishing edges neatly, customers noticed. I mean, who wants to spend the big money on something that appears shoddy regardless of how good the art is? Even lately I’ve kicked it up a notch in photography framing because done well it elevates the work. As artists we expend so much energy creating art and yet we sometimes get lazy in the framing or finishing. Let’s set our sights higher and know that the end result will always inspire respect as we offer our work in a more professional manner.
Artists know there are probably a hundred more realities than what I will list here, but I will start with the first 5 that pop into my easily distracted, constantly coming-up-with-ideas mind. As well as being a small gallery owner who deals almost daily with 35 or more artists, I am also an artist myself. It carries a double “burden”, but also gives me insight into what an artist thinks. Believe me when I say, we’re all a little crazy, a little delusional, or a little full of ourselves. Speaking from experience? But of course! So, for the purpose of this blog I won’t say “artists” because that smacks of finger pointing. Instead, I’ll simply say “we” and include myself in the category of artist.
We think we’re something special. Yes, the rest of the world doesn’t “get” us and though frustrating at times, mostly we like that designation and use it to excuse our quirky and sometimes questionable behavior. A recently made friend has bestowed me with the title “the Crazy Art Lady” which is kind of fun and dismissive of my way of seeing things. I like it, and I believe most artists love being able to say, “Oh, and I’m an artist” as an addendum to the career status. Being an artist almost immediately puts you in a “cool” category.
Artists make a lot of money. Hmmmmph! I say. They didn’t come up with the term “starving artists” for no good reason. I haven’t seen too many of us starving because it is true most have a day job and art is what we do the rest of the time. Yes, there are some who have made a career of producing and selling art, but it’s more the exception rather than the rule. In fact, we occasionally undersell art in order to buy more art supplies. We recycle canvases, scavenge interesting items, and barter for much needed supplies. Resourceful people we are at creating something out of almost nothing. We create because we are creators. Sadly, we’re not bankers, though.
Artists have plenty of venues in which to display their work. Not so, not so! We have our homes, our families/friends homes, a studio….maybe a gallery, maybe a doctor, lawyer, bank, hotel, etc in which we may exhibit work, but mostly we have eyes pealed and ears perked for the slightest mention of a place to show. Creativity comes into play here, too, as we offer a few pieces of art to a local restaurant or bar, a friendly coffee shop or contemporary office lobby for free. Sometimes those places will result in a sale, but more often it doesn’t because the casual onlooker assumes the property owner has bought art to decorate, not exhibited on a loan agreement. The exposure is the main benefit, but if you the reader have a place where art is welcome, please let your artist friends know. They will thank you.
Artists create only original art. Hate to disappoint you, but there is “nothing new under the sun”. All artists look at other work and either recreate it with their own twist or develop a uniquely recognizable style that reinvents something from someone else. Even van Gogh studied Japanese art and meshed it into his work. One of my favorite books is “Steal Like an Artist” where he explains the difference. Copy work IS stealing, but looking at another artwork and being inspired to create your own interpretation or version is NOT a sin (or crime). I deal with this all the time in the gallery where an artist will create a new image that reminds someone of another artist’s work, and yet is completely different. If John Smith paints Elvis, and you paint Elvis, and then I paint Elvis, chances are, Elvis still looks like Elvis….but hey….it’s still new work. Okay, maybe not THE best example, but I think (hope) you get my point.
Saying you are an artist doesn’t make you an artist. I really struggled for a few years to even say “I. AM. AN. ARTIST.” This is because my mother was an exceptional painter in the realism style, and taught art in our home studio to hundreds over a 40 year career. I compared my skill to hers and always came up short. However, it occurred to me one day that I am not like her, but I have my own artistic style, therefore I CAN say, “I am an artist”. I had a body of work, had a solo show, and began to sell before I could say the actual words. Unfortunately, I have dozens of “artists” visit the gallery with a cell phone photo of two or three shots of a beginners level painting and they want to put one piece in my gallery. It’s so sweet, but I do have to be gentle and encourage them to keep working and bring me more examples in a year. I’m not saying they are NOT an artist, I’m just saying keep at it and return. Who knows where the work will progress to in that time? All I know is, when you tell someone your mother or aunt or cousin is an artist, brace yourself because it’s all relative. Build a body of work and let someone who is an artist see. Don’t depend on the non-professional to back you up. Just do what you love and enjoy it along the way.
So, there you have it. Five reality checks that I “think” most artists will at least partially agree with knowing that there are always exceptions. We are all hopeful to sell art, but mostly we are all hopeful to CREATE art. It is what sustains us through the ups and downs that life brings. It seems to keep us sane….or at least most of us.