Friday, February 3, 2012

About Framing

Into the Flow, 12x16, oil

I like to paint, but I don't like to frame.  For me, framing is a completely different craft.  In my mind, anything that has to do with framing - all the way from simply picking out a ready-made to building your own frames - has nothing to do with the craft of painting.

We've all been told that, in a buyer's mind, a nicely framed painting is the complete package.   A painting without a frame is incomplete.  It's like buying a custom car without the paint job and chrome.   I want to be the mechanic who builds the engine and the car's other important systems, but I'd love to leave the chrome and color choices to someone else.

Of course, I can't do that.  I can sell my demos and sketches unframed, but any finished painting really needs to go in a frame to look, well, finished.   (Gallery-wrapped paintings always look unfinished to me.)

There are two problems with framing.  First, although there are some basic principles that govern framing, framing is a personal choice.  For my oil paintings, I like simple "plein air" frames, either gold or silver, or black with a little gold or silver fillet.   I put gold on paintings that are dominantly warm, silver on ones that are dominantly cool, and black, of course, goes with most anything.  A 3-inch moulding works for 9x12s on up to 16x20s.   For my pastel paintings, I still use a mat, though I've started going toward matless framing.  My color choice principles still apply.

But I have buyers who come to my gallery who are adamantly opposed to gold - or to silver, or to black.  If I have a frame in stock that they prefer, I'll reframe the piece accordingly.  But I'm not a frame shop, so if they want something I don't have - maybe an ugly Rococco frame with plaster epaulettes and genuine gold leaf -  I offer to remove the frame and deduct my cost.   This always satisfies the buyer.

The second problem is expense.  Good frames aren't cheap.  You can buy cheap ones, but they are always cheaply made with inferior materials.  I've bought cheap frames, and most of them are made of composite and wood filler that chips and dings far too easily.  I like frames made of real wood.  Still, there are places where you can get good frames that don't cost too much.  ( is one.)   I also look for sales on ready-mades.  As much as I like to support the local guy, it's usually more expensive to go to a framer and have something custom-made.  But they do know what they're doing, and sometimes they'll make you a deal if they have some extra moulding left over from a special order.

Often, you can find beautiful frames for not very much at yard sales.  The painting at the top of this post is one such frame.  It's not a frame I would have bought, but I really like it for this painting.


Sara Mathewson said...

I've really been enjoying your posts. this one about framing is no exception. i learn a lot from reading your blog and look forward to it coming in my email everyday. For someone really just starting out although I've said that for the last several years, framing can be such an expensive part of the painting. right now for me I like plein air frames and although the ones I buy are inexpensive i think they look decent. but, that said if I were ever to enter into a big show say the PSA ones or the other National or International show i would go for the more expensive frames for sure. i just can't afford them for my everyday pieces and i'm in a very small co-op gallery at the present so what i use is fine. Again if i were in galleries that had a lot of traffic say Tubac or Sedona, Tucson, or in other states, I might rethink what I use. thanks for the link, I have bookmarked it. they have some nice frames that look really nice and for the quality are priced reasonably.


Katherine Tyrrell said...

The third problem is that when a painting which you have framed is sold in galleries, the gallery owner charges commission on them. Ludicrous!

To my mind one of the smart things an artist can do who sells more online than offline is to say what the price would be in a gallery and then indicate what a similar painting would be unframed from the artist (ie minus cost of frame, cost of framing and cost of the commission on the frame!) That's not dissing the gallery as you are only relaying fact!

If the galleries only charged the cost of the frame at the cost to the artist one might be inclined to think differently

The only time I've ever had value from a gallery re frames is when the gallery owner was adamant about what type of frame sold and what type of frame would not be allowed in her gallery. I paid attention!

Cindy Michaud said...

Enjoyed this post as always. Question off the subject as I just read your article about grounds in Artists Mag. I painted a commission on a lovely piece of canvas (I glued to masonite) but discovered deep into the work that it was not primed (duh...the softness so appealed to me). I know it is not archival (and I have done others for the customer to choose between) but if she prefers this one what do I tell her and how? I want to be honest and fair.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone! Excellent idea, Katherine. Cindy, that is a dilemma indeed! I guess I'd just be honest. Most likely, the painting will last just fine for years - but I don't know for how long. Maybe you can check with some of your past clients who have raw canvas and see how their paintings are doing. I'll do some checking and see if I can find an expert who has an answer on the longevity.