framing art

5 Thoughts on Framing

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Claudia Lowery

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