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Current Framing Options - Part 1

by Lori Woodward on 7/18/2017 10:39:51 AM

This article is by Lori Woodward, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She is a member of the the Putney Painters, an internationally known group of a dozen artists who paint under the mentorship of Richard Schmid. Lori authored and illustrated step-by-step articles for Watercolor Magazine from 2007 to 2012. She has taught art marketing seminars at Scottsdale Artist School and at the 2012 Oil Painters of America national convention and show.



This past week, a few artists contacted me asking whether they should switch their framing from gold over to black, thin frames. One of my recent blogs had mentioned that dark, thin frames are trending for both traditional and contemporary work.


One of the artists asked if she should switch from her wide, gold frames to thin frames. Then she added that her current customers seem to like the gold frames she's already using. I replied, "Stay with whatever is working for you."


Framing has been my biggest expense over the twenty five years that I've been in business. I have to admit that I'm excited about using cradled panels and gallery wrapped canvas, and therefore, "getting out of the framing business" altogether. 


There are many, many framing options available to artists today. Your framing selection will be determined by several factors: your style, your venues, your buyers, and your budget.


For example, if you're selling in a commercial gallery that sells work at prices from $2000 to $40,000, you're likely buying custom framing with real gold leaf or bole clay. For those of you who sell at a lower price point, you're likely to buy standard-sized plein air frames in bulk or custom sizes from a company that sells to artists at wholesale prices.


As I said, frames are a significant cost of doing business. The retail price of your artwork should completely recover your framing, material, and shipping costs. If you work with a gallery that takes a 50% commission, when the painting sells, 50% of your framing cost gets eaten by that commission. The only way to recover your framing expense is to double the cost of your frame and add that to the retail price, or else price your work high enough to completely recover all your expenses and net a profit after the gallery commission is paid. If your retail price is too low and doesn't cover all your costs, you're actually subsidizing the buyer.


Today, there are dozens of framing options. Choose the one that fits for the price of your work and your venue. Always do the math and make sure you are pricing to net a profit when the sale is said and done.


Here are some of the options we artists have today.


Custom framesReal gold-leaf or bole clay.

These frames can cost in the hundreds of dollars, even for small sizes. There aren't many of these framers. Their work requires skill working with high-end costly materials and wood carving tools. Each frame is made one-at-a-time, and is truly custom made for each painting.


Stock Plein Air frames: usually made overseas.

Stock "plein air" frames come in standard sizes and have closed corners, which means the seams where the corners are joined don't show. The "gold" is usually gold paint or metal leaf. An artist can buy these in bulk - wholesale, but these companies require the artist have a tax-ID number which shows that the artist is registered as a business; in other words, files as a business with the IRS. I saved money with these companies by ordering with some of my local fellow painters in bulk.


Custom frames from a local frame shop

Rarely will a local framer sell to an artist at wholesale prices. These shops sell to the public at retail prices, and each frame can run you, 4-times as much as a frame bought from a wholesale frame company.


Custom or Standard Frame Companies

These are companies that make frames on site with custom moldings. The corners are not closed (you can see the seams). Companies who specialize in these types of frames make their frames in bulk and usually in standard sizes. They don't outsource their manufacturing to other countries. That said, they offer discounts to artists who buy in bulk. Some of these companies require the artist to have a tax ID number, others don't. 


Gallery wrapped canvas

Heavy duty canvas (usually cotton duck) stretched over wide wooden bars - 1.5 to 2.0 inch deep. Paintings on gallery wrapped canvas do not need additional framing. Just make sure the stretchers and canvas are well made so that the unit lies flat against the wall.


Cradled wood panels

"Cradled" means that a wood panel is glued to deep wooden side pieces. The result is similar to gallery wrapped canvas except that the surface is entirely wood. Again, there is no need for additional framing. I like this option because both my substrate and frame are taken care of in one product. I buy from a company who makes these in the US, and they're quite reasonably priced.


Unframed panels or paper

When I sell directly from my website, I let the customer frame the piece by offering my work unframed. Of course, I couldn't choose this option for a brick and mortar gallery or show that requires "ready to hang" work.


Each option above is indeed used by successful artists today. So, if your collectors like your current frames, then consider staying with them. It's too expensive to switch to another framing option if you've still got a closet full of frames that you've already paid for. You can use what you have now, then consider switching to another option as your prices and venue dictate.


If you're so inclined, do a little research at the gallery or show where you currently sell your work. Ask your gallery manager if there is a style which buyers are asking for. If you show at tent shows, take note of which artists are selling well at that show and what framing options they use.


Feel free to ask questions and share information about framing options on the comments section in this blog. Remember, there's no one "right" answer. It all depends on the venue, price, and style of your work. In the long run, the decision as to framing style and price is up to you, the artist, who is also a business owner.




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Related Posts:

Planning For Profit - Doing The Math

Getting Seen and Heard in the Crowd

Is The Gallery System Dying?

Art Sales Trends in 2017

Topics: advice for artists | Art Business | FineArtViews | framing art | Lori Woodward 

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Mary Erickson

If you simply double the cost of the frame, and your gallery takes 50 percent, you are merely paying for the frame - you are not making money. The framing industry standard mark-up is 2.75 percent. That means if the moulding costs the frame company $10, they charge you $27.50, minimum. In retail, you must make money on every aspect of your business. The electrician that comes to your house doesn't charge you what the parts cost to repair. The restaurant doesn't charge you the cost of your vegetables. My recommendation is to charge four times the cost of the frame. If your prices cannot handle that, you are either underpriced, or paying too much for a frame. Keep in mind, people pay $700 today for a cell phone that will likely be obsolete in 4 years. Why would anyone charge less than that for a quality painting that will be handed down for generations?

Mark Brockman
I get my frames through a catalog, no way I can afford custom frames, still they are not inexpensive. I just purchased some environmentally friendly frames, they are MDF covered with what looks like contact paper. I like the environmentally safe aspect but I don't care for the frames, not for show and sell anyway. They are ok for simple home use. I won't buy them again.

I work with pastels and watercolors but dislike mats so I frame without them. Wide frames look good, give a painting presence, narrow is ok if you do mat. As to mats I think one should use neutral colors, not the way must framers frame with a narrow color that picks up a color in the painting, it's distracting. Gold leaves me cold, I prefer rich, warm, dark colors. I used black for quite a while when I worked in oils, in fact in one gallery I was know as the 'bright colors black frame' artist. But for watercolors and pastels dark warm colors work best. Of course this is just my opinion.

If you buy from my website I do not sell framed, if you buy from me personally or from a gallery, I charge for the frame. Mary is right, though I only usually charge twice what I paid for the frame.

Michele Rushworth
Lori, can you (or other readers) let us know what your sources are for things like wholesale closed corner frames, gallery wrapped canvas and cradled panels?

I've been using for wholesale closed corner frames but they don't sell the kind of narrow non-floating frame I want.

Carrol Morgan
Lots of good information and advice. You answered questions that I frequently hear from artists. Please add a discussion about hanging devices, as our gallery encourages the use of flat D-rings instead of eye hooks which can damage frames and surfaces during art handling and storage.

Michele Rushworth
Lori, I understand you said to just go with what works in framing your artwork, but I'd like to see more sales (wouldn't we all) and I'm getting ready to buy a bunch of new frames. What trends do you see?

Suszanne Bernat Droney
Thank you, Lori, for all the invaluable information regarding framing. It's great that you take time to research and write about these various subjects that affect all 2-D artists.

Question: who do you buy cradled frames from? I would like to visit their website to see exactly what these frame look like and if they might meet my needs. Again, thank you.

Lori Woodward
Hi Friends! I'm at the studio today. Thanks for your comments. I'm reading them during breaks and will read them again the this evening. Michele, trends are for slimmer dark frames, but it also depends on the style of work.

Lori Woodward
I can't recommend framing companies on this blog because it would be an endocement and I don't want to get involved that way, that said, it's OK for any of you to say what kind of frames you use.

Addren Doss
Lori, Thanks for all your wonderful blog postings! I have been using the cradled panels by Ampersand from Jerry's. Is there another option? I really like the look. Thanks so much!

Lori Woodward
I've used several brands. Recently I've been buying cradles panels from American Easel.

Michele Rushworth
Thanks, Lori! I'm planning on painting a series of larger square somewhat contemporary landscape paintings and that would seem to indicate the thinner dark frames.

Ernie Kleven
I have been making my own rustic barn wood style frames for my landscapes. Some people love them but I can't say they've been selling. Any thoughts? I guess I've answered my own question.

Judy Lenehan
Thank you for addressing these kinds of issues. I do fibre collage by gluing fabric, etc to stretched canvas. There is a 3D quality to them that would get lost if glass were laid on top. I've framed with floater frames (no glass) and some are framed and matted using spacers which gives the fabric some breathing room, but this second method is very pricey. I go back and forth about whether they need to be under glass or not. Both have advantages. Any thoughts on how to approach the framing? Thank you for your time.

Paul Harman
Some excellent information and guidance in your article as always. Thank you for the good content.

My biggest criticism of some artists especially those putting pieces in shows is that they paint these beautiful paintings and then stick them in some garage sale or flea market frame that is not properly mounted, sealed or professional and stick a big asking price on the piece. The tawdry frame denigrates an otherwise beautiful painting. Rather like putting a silk purse in a sows ear as the expression goes. Frames can make a nice painting look fabulous. A poorly framed piece no matter the quality of the art will show poorly and be more of a distraction that will make people walk right by. I know frames can be expensive and framers even more so look for quality frames on sale. I still believe that investing in quality frames or having a professional framer do the work you are not equipped to do is a good investment in the long run.

Lori Woodward
Thank you Mary Erickson for your point about making a profit from the frame as well. I agree, I can honestly say I know of artists who don't think about recovering their frame costs at all.

I have always priced my work by the square inch - high enough to cover all my expenses, the sales commission, and make a profit on top of those.

Lori Woodward
Judy, I guess it's your choice whether to use glass or not. Since i haven't worked in collage, I can't say what would work best.

I have been varnishing my watercolors for more than a decade and framing them as I would an oil, but collage may be different. I guess it depends on if the collage would stay clean.

Ernie, When did sales of your paintings slow down? Some artists are experiencing a sales slump so far this summer - it may be regional.

Just to reiterate, there's no one type of frame that works for all styles of paintings. Buy the best your can afford in a style that makes your work look great and is priced right for the retail price of your work.

Paul, I agree - it saddens me when I see cheap frames on nice artwork, but perhaps that's because the artist doesn't know where to buy better frames. I guess some just don't want to spend much money on frames - as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

One of the pleasures of selling from my website (I'm not working with galleries at the time), is that I buyers don't mind unframed works. Then it's up to them to choose the frame they like. When I worked with galleries or did shows, I had to frame each piece - ready to hang.

Chris White
I wanted to know more about framing, so I got a part-time job in a professional frame shop. What I've learned has been invaluable, and I look at it as being paid to go to school! I only work a few days a week, so I have plenty of time in the studio to work on my commissions and other projects, and when it comes time to frame my pieces, I do it myself with the whole frame shop at my disposal. I've really learned that when it come to frames, you get what you pay for. Custom frames are more expensive, but the quality is so superior to off-the-shelf ready-made frames, that I always recommend spending the extra money if possible.

However, I know it isn't always possible, especially if you're selling at art fairs. There are many very nice inexpensive frames that can be purchased reasonably in quantity.

I am not concerned with trends, but rather what suits my work the best. If you are framing your art for sale, trust your artistic instincts to help you pick the best frame for your artwork.

Judith Lochbrunner
I wish your comments on prices at a local frame shop were not so negative. I am fortunate to have a local frame shop that works with me. The owners look for good buys for moulding and keep a supply of ready made frames using many regional suppliers. I can get a frame custom made for less than the price that many "wholesale" frames.

Yes framing is expensive but encouraging artists to not search out a local frame shop that will work with them is going to cost us all as our communities will suffer.

I hope you take some time to look again at what local frame shops can do.

Thank you.

Lori Woodward
Judith, thank you for your comment. yes, there are exceptions. I've often used a local frame shop in Nashua NH. The owner there offers framing at a price that works for me.

That said, the others shops in my area offer prices that drive up my retail price. I am a loyal shopper at local farmer's markets, and used to buy all my art supplies from a local vendor, but when they closed, I started buying my supplies online.

We have many choices. What I state is general information and advice that has worked for the majority of artists. If you've found a local framer that offers artists great prices and works well with them, then that's excellent news.

As I said, there is one framer in my area that has worked with artists for years and still does. Most of my local artist friends buy from several sources. They have tax IDs, and depending on the final retail price of their work, they buy what makes the most sense for their work and the venues they sell in.

Go with whatever works for you!
In my area, many of the retail frame shops would charge me 3-4 times the price for a frame that I buy wholesale. For me, I need to keep my materials prices down because it's not easy for me to make a profit with my business, and it's getting harder all the time.

We're all in different situations and localities. I'm happy that something local works for you because I do truly love to buy local.

Stephen Crisafulli
Hi Lori,
Great article! The trend in framing is so varied. We get comments from artists who say their gallery will only accept dark or espresso colored frames and the very same day, another artist in a different part of the country saying only gold will be accepted. Something of interest, we've been noticing a trend toward silver leaf finishes.

I always tell our customers (If you're not constrained by gallery requirements) to use your creativity in choosing a frame. The artist is the one who puts the time, effort and creativity into the work and it should follow through with a beautiful frame to adorn your masterpiece.

Something else worth noting, we specialize in flat panel, plein air frames but sell many other types as well. When we go to open-air plain air art walks, we see the same type of frame over and over again. If it were me, I'd choose something different that stood out from all the others. A classic or maybe even a slightly contemporary frame might be enough to bring the buyers eye to your work.

Thank you, Lori. Very informative.

Eliel Lopez
Thank you for such a great article Ms. Woodward. I agree with the concept of allowing prospective buyers the option to choose their own frames whenever possible. I am currently matting my work for both archival and aesthetic purposes. Framing is something I rarely do because of many of the same reasons that many have already stated.

Lori Woodward
I'm gathering information from artists right now. The next post will take a look at custom hand made frames with closed corners and a few artists who use those. Following posts will focus on various frame styles and price points. Finally, I'll cover gallery wrap art. All are successfully being used today by artists, but much depends on the price of the artwork and where it's being sold.

My work is not priced high enough to buy real gold leaf framing, so I opt for a simlair "look" with closed corners. Sometimes I buy custom sizes at a local framer or a company that ships the finished frames to me.

There are many options and styles to choose from today. It seems the trend is moving toward thin frames and floater frames - even for some traditional paintings. It sure why, but I suspect it's because the buyers homes' decor is a bit sleeker Han it was 20 years ago

Jo Allebach
I usually use gallery wrap for my landscapes. I am entering a show (out of state) that requires frames on EVERYTHING. Can I use floaters as opposed to regular frames? What is another solution?

Jo Allebach
Write another comment . . .

Lori Woodward
Hi Jo, floater frames can be costly because they are more difficult to construct than regular frames. How large are your landscapes?

How many paintings do you need to frame if you get into the show? I'm asking because buying frames for one show (when you normally use gallery wrap) is A big expense.. How much work would you need to sell at this show to pay for all your materials, supplies, fees, and frames and then make a profit over that amount?

Lori Woodward
Hi again Jo. I just took a look at your website. It appears that you sell mostly from your website, correct? That's good because it cuts down on your costs and helps you to make a profit.

If I were in your place, I'd reconsider entering a show that will change my works presentation plus take considerable time and expense to frame work that is not normally framed. It sounds like it may result in income loss than gain

Jo Allebach
Thank you, Lori. The added expense is definitely a consideration. My gallery wrapped landscapes also do not need the confinement that a frame provides. I enjoy all your posts. Thank you again.

Roswitha Cheatle
Hi Lori,
On the cradled panel, should the wood portion be stained or varnished? Thanks, Roswitha

Lori Woodward
Hi Roswitha, you can stain or varnish or both. I paint the sides of my cradled panels with black acrylic paint.

Lori Woodward
It can be varnished,
Ainted, or stained... whichever you prefer

Always, always buy the best quality frame you can afford at your current price point. Buy one that complements your art.

Serious collectors know the difference in quality frames. The frames you choose tells the collectors how YOU value your art.

Cheap frames cheapen the quality of your work and lessen the amount you can ask for your art. They tell your collectors that you don't think your art is worth a better frame.

High quality frames enhance your art, and reinforces to the collectors that this art is high in value and is worth the high end frame.

Often the less seasoned collectors can see the difference, but don't know what they are seeing. they don't know why a high quality frame looks better. Education goes a long way.

I would add that you should consider your target audience. Be realistic. If your art attracts people who purchase for the reason of decorating their homes, then your framing choices would more likely follow the current trends.

If you sell to serious collectors who purchase pieces of art without regard to how it will fit into their decor, then your framing options aren't limited to the current trend. You can choose what works best for your style of art.

Most artists shudder at the thought of their art merely being decor. I have a few things for you to consider.

1) There is nothing wrong with selling to people who are decorating. They are a valid market and if your work naturally fits that market, then embrace it. But I emphasize "naturally". Don't chase the market. Create the art you love.

2) If your work doesn't naturally follow the decor / interior design market, then do everything you can to attract your target audience instead of chasing the design market. This includes your choice of framing. Don't just follow the trends in framing. Choose the best frame for the artwork.


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