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 frames: Real 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.
What a better way to kick off your art career, than with a new gorgeous FASO Artist Website to display your talent! We make it easy to put together, very easy to maintain, and there is a Positively Remarkable Support Team to help along the way. To sign up for a free, no obligation 30 day trial, click here.