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The Art Branding Quality of Framed Paintings

by Brian Sherwin on 9/9/2011 12:45:37 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

Framing paintings can be a difficult -- and costly-- choice to make. After all, an artist may be a highly skilled painter -- but that does not mean that he or she is an expert at framing art. If you have ever browsed the framing selection of your average art supply store you will find that most can be very expensive. On the other hand, art frames purchased on the cheap might be good for one's budget -- but that does not mean that the frame is a 'good' choice for the painting. In addition to that, most art collectors -- based on what I've been told over the years -- will end up having the framed paintings reframed professionally... especially if the frames the paintings arrive with fail to compliment the artwork. That said, there is another aspect of art framing that appears to be trending within various circles of the art world -- that being, the concept that unique frames can become part of ones art brand.


When we discuss branding for artists it normally comes in the form of exploring how one can brand his or her name -- with special attention focused on how one signs his or her artwork-- in order to establish an association that viewers remember. Obviously that aspect of art branding is vital. However, there are other ways that artists can help to build their brand -- and one of those choices can fall on how the artist decides to frame his or her artwork. In a sense, the right choice of frame can support the overall theme of ones artistic direction and public image. In time, dedication to that choice can become a 'signature' of the artists work that goes beyond the name signature itself. It all adds up to a signature style that viewers are conditioned to associate with as the years go by.


I'll admit that normally I'm not a fan of frames in general when it comes to paintings. I often prefer the rawness, if you will, of an unframed painting. In my opinion, the sides of a stretched canvas can tell a lot about the artist behind the work -- did the artist take extra effort to make the side surfaces clean? Did the artist allow the side surfaces to become a part of the work itself? These choices invite me to learn more about the personality of the painter. However, a few movements in art have changed my opinion over the years in regard to painting frames -- and opened my eyes to the fact that said choice can be just as interesting to question and learn about if the frames involved are unique. Point blank -- I've observed how choice of framing can become part of a painters overall brand image.


I've observed this mostly within the 'realm' of Dark Art, Visionary Art and Pop Surrealism (and yes, I realize these directions in art often mesh.). For example, it is clear -- at least to me -- that the framing choices of artists ranging from Chet Zar to Mark Ryden add to the character of the work while at the same time helping to build upon their art branding image. The same can be said for the framing choices of artists such as Travis Louie and H.R. Giger. When I think of paintings by these artists, I tend to also think about the choices of framing that I know they have used steadily throughout their careers.


I'll offer an example of how strong choices of framing can become in regard to art branding. If I'm not sure that I'm looking at a painting by Travis Louie, I know for certain that I am if the painting involves the ornate frames that I associate with his work -- his routine use of specific types of frames for his paintings happens to be a perfect example of how choice of framing can build upon an art brand. In fact, that connection is so strong, in my opinion, that something would seem 'off' if the frame were removed. In a sense, Louie's aesthetic choice in regard to framing has become a 'signature' of his artwork overall.


I realize that artists who focus on other genres of painting have also used choice of framing as an addition to their art branding -- and that it has worked for them as well. That said, the artists mentioned above were the breaking point for me in regard to changing my opinion of art framing in general. It amazes me how something that often seems trivial can end up becoming a part of an artists overall style -- and thus, brand. Needless to say, these artists forced me to rethink my position on framing.


In closing, I would like to read about your experience with framing -- specifically in regard to paintings. Do you view your choice of frames as being a part of your brand? Did you change your mind about frames in general at some point as I have done? What caused you to change your opinion? If you have a specific focus -- a specific look that you go for -- when choosing a frame... tell me about it. Consider this an open thread about the art of framing and branding quality of frames.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin

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Don't Skimp on the Frame

The Frame Game

Topics: art appreciation | art collectors | art marketing | Brian Sherwin | creativity | FineArtViews | painting 

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Phil Kendall
My frames are sympathetic to the subject and its size. As my website suggests they are part of my corporate image[or brand, if you like]. They are professionally made and fitted to my works of art for me. Just occasionally my framer will suggest an alternative moulding that in his professional opinion is more sympathetic to the subject. As he frames 100's of paintings per week [and it would take me three years to paint a similar number] I respect his opinion.

Originally I saw no need for any frame as I simply carried the painting round the side, so to speak. Then I realised that this took too much time and effort and the business ultimately prefers a framed work of art...

Jana Botkin
I always use the wrapped canvas method, usually carrying the details around the sides. My customers are fascinated by this, and most think it is a great new idea! (I live in a very rural place.) Perhaps this style has become part of my branding.

In addition, no matter how I framed in the past, I couldn't please people. If it was rustic, someone said it should be gold. If it was gold, an experienced framer said it needed to be white. When I switched to white, the customer would wrinkle her nose and say she'd take it if it were unframed. Sigh. Taste is an individual matter, and by not framing the paintings, I'm much better off both financially and physically (unframed paintings are very light-weight).

Brian Sherwin
Jana -- At the end of the day the customer is always right. That opens a question though -- if the artist feels that the frame he or she selects is vital to the painting overall... does that mean the collector has damaged the work if he or she removes the frame and uses a different one? Something to think about.

Speaking of framing... I've seen artists buy frames at stores like Dollar Tree for their paintings - NO. STOP. DON'T. In most cases a bargain frame is a bargain for a reason.

Phil Kendall
Brian says..."Speaking of framing... I've seen artists buy frames at stores like Dollar Tree for their paintings - NO. STOP. DON'T. In most cases a bargain frame is a bargain for a reason".

The trouble is most would-be professional artists' do not read posts like this...

My frames are part of my personal and professional brand. The client can at their leisure have my frame removed and a new one fitted. As to whether they use a professional framer or a junk-shop frame or a bargain-basement outlet is down to them alone. because it's their property not mine.

So far none of my clients have questioned my choice of frames or asked for a discounted frame-free purchase.

Kevin Mizner
Good post, Brian. I paint on masonite panels, so framing is required. I used to really enjoy trying to find just the right frame to compliment a piece. When I started to hang in galleries, however, all they wanted were gold frames. Recently, I flew against convention and used a dark frame that really set off the painting. A customer bought the picture- but wanted me to re-frame it with a gold frame...

Brian Sherwin
Phil -- do you ever ask buyers if they want the work framed or not. That said, I assume you take the cost of framing into consideration when pricing. So you are covered either way.

Brian Sherwin
Kevin -- glad you mentioned masonite panels. Now there is painting surface that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. I know when I started college in 1998 everyone said "don't use masonite" -- but now more and more artists are using it... even 'big name' artists.

I've read that masonite panels, if treated well, have a longer 'life' than canvas. That is something to think about if you have a legacy in mind. That said, I know there are still many painters out there who swear loyalty to canvas alone.

Poppy Balser
As a watercolour painter I need to frame my work. My choice currently is a plain black frame, regardless of subject matter. I have experimented with natural wood, gold, stained wood and always go back to the black frames. One advantage of this is that it helps my paintings look well together. Even rather disparate subject matters will look nice side by side if they are in matching frames.

Phil Kendall
Hi Brian, Over the years I have simplified the purchasing options. The art gallery that represented me closed so its art from my website or nothing. The collect from my studio option was too much hassle...etc.

The with/without frames option was resolved as'this is my art...this is how it is art is my the cost is the same without the frame'...otherwise you can be driven round in circles with too many options.

A commissioned work of art has the with/without frame option.

A further simplification was to stop painting on gallery wrapped canvases. Though they need no frame one client wanted it framed. That's what they wanted? That's what they got! It was horrible! My professional framer nearly divorced me!

All decisions made any artist must be about building their important corporate brand image. The artist, their art and their art business have got to be very consistent in the modern world. It's about being a professional competing on the world stage.

Mimi Torchia Boothby
Brian, as a painter of watercolors, I am constantly battling the status quo of framing. Watercolors are supposed to be framed behind glass (or plexiglass)which immediately pulls a large percent of light OFF the painting. I have experimented a little with leaving the glass off a frame and it makes whatever more striking and eye catching. I've also put acrylic medium on top of some paintings, this puts a gloss finish on the painting and looks quite nice. You have to be careful with this, I did ruin a small painting when the color (red of course) ran because I didn't fix it well enough. I usually like to use a black frame with white mat around my paintings, but a few have dark brown frames and a handful have dark mats too.
I hear you about branding, I know an artist whose paintings are always framed in ornate old fashioned frames (He has his work cut out for him even FINDING those things) and yes, I would wonder what was wrong if I saw his painting framed in a plain black frame.
Nice article, thanks

Geri deGruy
Great thoughts.

I will sometimes use the matte as an extension of the piece.

Saw some paintings in California recently where the artist had continued the painting right over the entirety of the frame. Certainly could brand an artist!

Your reference sites are fascinating. I loved the advice to an aspiring artist on H.R. Giger's site.

Sandra Haynes
Nice article that we struggle with a lot.
My large oils are mostly gallery wrap, and customers seem to like them. However, my scratchboard etchings are all framed the same on the smaller sizes.
When I tried a different (more expensive) frame on them, my long time collectors wanted the same frames that they had gotten in the past. Larger scratchboards are framed similarly in complimentary but more expensive frames. Paintings I ship overseas are unframed.
Also commission pieces are always sold without a frame. Then I will either customize a frame for the piece or once in awhile frame the piece at no charge. Customers have never asked for a different frame and seem really pleased at the extra attention. Please note though that many times I've seen their homes and have payed attention to their taste in decorating or at least have asked enough questions to get a feel for it.
So bottom line....I've narrowed it down to just a handful of frames that compliment each other, the art work, and look good hanging at a show too.

Brady Allen
I think the right frame can really finish a painting. The frames the artists in your article used definitely add to their artwork. I can see how viewing them could change your mind about frames.

One thing to think about an unframed painting is that the stress of hanging is transferred to your painting surface directly from the stretcher bars and can cause damage down the road. Frames offer protection in more than one way.

I use dark bronze colored frames as they complement my paintings better than gold ones I've tried, but I do like a frame with shiny bits peeking through.

I guess you could call it my signature style, but until recently I haven't thought of it as a part of my branding.

I would love to get a custom frame pattern made, but that obviously costs extra.

Geri deGruy
also saw a couple at a recent art show. she painted and he created these elaborate, gorgeous frames for the art. stunning.

Janet Bludau
Great topic Brian. I am struggling with these choices right now, as I have for years. Just when I think I have found the perfect set of frames or the perfect framer for that matter, I run up against a problem. The most commonly occurring problems for me are:

1. To have a cohesive look and therefore create branding for yourself as an artist, you need to have your artwork all framed in the same, or similar, frame. Yet, the number one framing rule is - choose a frame for the artwork itself, not for your decor, etc. Well, not every piece of my art looks best in one type of frame.

2. Having said the above about decor, I do think that decor influences framing. Just when I've framed a new batch of landscapes in gold, heavy frames, the "beach - cottage" look starts making a comeback!

Honestly, I love the look of very plain, light wood, thin floater frames. This is what I see being used in nice galleries. It is a more contemporary look of course but then, I lean toward contemporary works.

3. Having said the above about thin and simple, many of my works are small. When selling art at a show, the customer really does feel like they are getting "more bang for their buck" if there is a larger frame and therefore the finished piece is making more of a statement.

You can see why I like this topic! I will be interested in reading all the responses.

Mimi Torchia Boothby
a successful artist whose workshop I attended told me that he spends a lot of money on frames. He told me that invariably, when he visits the homes of people that bought his paintings (for 8 grand or so) he sees that they have been reframed.

Nancy Riedell

Due to a hand disability, I no longer have the ability to frame my artwork myself. So, I have to go to a professional framer. However, although she charges upwards of $350 per piece, she does a very professional job. I have had several people tell me that my art looks noticeably better than artists who have had a cheaper job done (e.g., aluminum frames, spotted matting, crooked artwork). I think the frame is easily 40 percent of the entire work so I take framing very seriously.


Anna Rose Bain
I appreciated this article, as I agree with you that framing can tell a lot about the artist. Something that's helped me with framing choices in the past is to think of it like "picking the right outfit". The outfit has to perfectly match the occasion, and has to compliment the form that's wearing it. You also wouldn't match a polka-dot top with striped bottoms -- instead, you'd want something plain to bring out the pattern on top. Therefore, if a painting is somewhat elaborate to begin with, the frame should be simple and understated, with very simple ornamentation at most, to compliment the painting's details. If the painting itself is simpler, then perhaps go with a more detailed frame. Just a thought. :-)

Dianne Harrison
This topic is a perpetual challenge. I agree completely that cutting corners on frames is a real mistake and that the frames you present your work in are part of your brand, intentionally or not.The current popular trend of painting around the edge of the "gallery wrapped" canvas is something I cannot bring myself to do. I recall an element of design that made real sense to me when I first began to paint and draw. When you put your first mark on a drawing or painting it is important to think of it as the fifth mark because we are composing within a rectangle whose proportions define the world in which we are creating our composition. Like garments, frames do dress a painting and often are really a matter of personal taste. When they are right I find that they work as inviting doorways or window casings that make viewers want to come in.

Marian Fortunati
Although I know your experiences have provided you with a sound basis for your opinions, it seems to me that unless the artist is creating the frames him/her self, that it is the ART after all that is what is important.

I attended an art collecting seminar recently and the leader basically told the viewers that they should not consider the frame in making a purchase. The reasons for this were than most buyers reframe their purchase to fit their own tastes and the venue into which the artwork would be placed.

Who know... At this point my most important consideration is creating the best art I can.

Joanne Benson
One of my favorite topics! I do my own framing and it can be a challenge. I have a collection of frames that I have developed over the years. Invariably none of them will be suitable for my latest masterpiece....These days I wish I could just have one or 2 standard frames that I use all of the time.

I tend to like more simple frames so that they don't detract from the artwork. That being said, I paint in 4 different mediums so my framing varies by medium.

Watercolors or acrylic on paper get either a gold or black metal frame or a medium color oak frame. I do sometimes use frames I have been given by friends or gotten from garage or rummage sales as well.

My pen and inks generally get black metal or wood to match the black ink.

I almost always use soft white mats for everything but sometimes I do add a colored liner to complement the artwork.

Oil panels get plein air style frames in gold or wood finish and lately I have been thinking about using gallery wrap canvas with no frame for oils and acrylics on canvas. I did a large acrylic and painted around the edges and really like the look although the client I did it for wanted it framed. I told her that she should take it to a framer and get exactly what she wanted because it would have cost me $500 to have it framed and she may not like the result.

I always used to put dust jackets on the back of my wood framing for watercolors but have discontinued that because people often will want a different frame. I can easily pop something else into a standard size frame and store the original from that frame in a plastic sleeve to sell with just a mat. This makes getting ready for shows much easier and saves me from storing so many framed works. For works on paper I use a nice white backer board with a label describing the work, etc. The whole package fits nicely in a plastic sleeve.

I have had to reframe things for people a number of times to match their decor or to hang two pieces together, etc.....

Pastels are the hardest to deal with. They are either framed in plain metal or wood with double mat or reverse double mat under glass......

If only I could afford a framer.....

As someone said earlier...framing is a matter of taste or matching the decor for most people. No matter what you do it may not be suitable for the buyer. I don't use super expensive frames for that reason. They are always attractive and professional looking (not $ store variety) but generally not custom moldings. Of course I do peruse the frame shops for bargains. And as I said earlier...I have lots of bargains in my basement waiting for the perfect painting!

I agree with the thought that framing your paintings alike makes it much easier to show them together as a group or for a show and can be part of your brand. I have a friend who uses a signature gold frame that complements her work beautifully.

Thanks for bringing up this topic! It is always interesting to hear what others are doing and maybe even get some new ideas to try.

Tim Holton
There is a rich tradition of artists designing their own frames, including the PreRaphaelites, Whistler, Klimt, and Degas. I recommend (if you can find it) Eva Mendgen, _In Perfect Harmony, Picture and Frame 1850-1920_. Van Gogh Museum/Kunstforum Wien, 1995. 278 pgs. Out of print.

Tim Holton
As a frame-maker and gallery owner selling paintings, here's a 10-point distillation of my experience on this topic:

1. Framing is inevitable: even a painting unframed is framed by the wall once it's hung. The problem is that most of the time we don't know what wall that's going to be. But paintings are inescapably architectural elements. (The first paintings were murals.) In that sense, paintings are inevitably made for the frame of architecture. Good framing begins with acknowledging and embracing the architectural place of pictures.
2. Framing is an art form in itself (as is architecture, of which it is a part) although subordinate to painting, and should be respected as such.
3. The frame cannot be indifferent to the picture, because indifference to the picture is in fact harmful to it. Therefore, the frame either serves the picture well or badly. That it's common for a picture to be helped by being removed from its frame should not blind us to how a picture may be dramatically improved by a sympathetic and complementary frame.
4. Just as the perception of the subject or motif of a painting is greatly influenced by its background and immediate setting, the artist giving great attention to complementary color, line work, form, etc., so is the perception of the whole picture greatly informed and influenced by the immediate setting of the picture -- that is, the frame.
5. Framing is a collaborative art form, historically participated in by both the artist and the patron -- except in days before the Renaissance when artists painted on panels with raised edges serving as the frame, or with engaged frames, i.e., frames grooved rather than rabbeted to receive the panel and so inseparable without ruining either the panel or the frame. Therefore, unless you make your frames physically inseparable from your paintings, you must surrender absolute authority over how your pictures will ultimately be framed. The best you can do is provide the absolute best frame you can -- one that clearly is perfect for the picture, so that no one will want to replace it.
6. The frame first of all defines the fundamental fact of the composition: the form of the canvas. Even a narrow dark frame improves the painting by affirming and emphasizing the fundamental compositional form.
7. Framing projects the picture's significance to the greater world, reflecting a) that someone cares about it”if only on the level of caring to protect its edges (the most vulnerable part); and b) that the picture has significance for and a relationship to life beyond its edges. (The demise of framing reflects our increasingly individualistic conceptual framing of Art as sacrosanct, untouchable personal expression.)
8. Framing has historically been abused a) to separate rather than connect the picture to the world, b) to project status and wealth rather than to enhance the picture and c) to serve as mere packaging to impress the customer and enhance the sense of the picture's value -- that is, to SELL the picture.
9. On the other hand, framing done right a) connects the picture to the wider world, and is both alive to the picture and subordinate to it, sustaining and expanding the picture's spirit into the room in which it hangs, by interpreting the line, form and mood of the picture into the 3-dimensional, architectural realm; and b) is made "for beauty's sake and not for show" (to borrow William Morris's words).
10. A picture can only be well-framed if it's in a well-made frame. Just as good painting begins with solid grounding in the craft of painting using good materials, a beautiful frame is above all well made from beautiful materials. As history abundantly shows, a badly made frame, no matter how opulent, projects decadent taste, not true regard for the picture.

As Degas said, the frame is the reward of the artist. It reflects that he or she has made something worthy of a place in the world. A mediocre frame, on the other hand, reflects a lack of authentic consideration, respect and appreciation for the inevitable architectural role of the picture.

Donald Fox
I've never liked frames that encroach on the picture surface. My preference is for floater frames (some call them shadow box though that's technically different). I used to strip frame my canvasses with double wood strips cut with mitered corners, the inner strip painted black. Sometimes I'd stain the outer wood strip, sometimes not. Panels are more of a challenge but wood pieces can be glued to the back so that even these can be float framed.

Nancy Hilgert
I'm a graphite/mixed drawing media artist, and absolutely, framing is really important to the overal finished presentation of my work. Though I strive to find good deals in frames and framing, I will spend wherever and whenever to put my work in the best quality frames and UV glass. Great frames give the work an edge, they tell the buyer, the competition, the gallerist how you value the work. I don't ship my work in unprofessional looking packing either, which doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune. All that said, I have to reiterate that I work constantly to find deals and make deals with framers, just never sacrifice the best possible finished product.

Brian Sherwin
Some great responses -- for those of you who create your own frames... any suggestions on how to learn the process? Feel free to offer links.

Virginia Giordano
Is there any way to add photos when responding to a post? Be great to to see some of the frames and styles which have been referenced.

Tim Holton
Here's a page about our closed corner hardwood frames: .

Our designs are rooted in the vernacular tradition, and are generally fairly plain and relatively easy for someone with basic woodworking skills and equipment to make. Good examples of plainer frames on landscape paintings are on Paul Kratter's paintings here, Go to our gallery page,, to peruse other artists we represent, most of the pieces being shown in our frames. Finally, the Portfolio page shows work we've done for customers: .

Virginia Giordano
Thanks Tim - beautiful workmanship and wood - fairly plain, as you say but keeps the focus on the art. This is my favorite style frame.

I always frame for exhibitions, not always for open studios. I'm really picky about what happens to the edges of my oil paintings so I insist on floater frames. My work is contemporary, so my frames are simple and unobtrusive, and I stick to a couple of styles depending on the size of the work. The other benefit to this is that the frame, colour chosen by me, separates the painting from the colour of the wall, not chosen by me and not always flattering to the work!

Works on paper get a mat cut outside the edge of the image (I always draw an "edge" to work to -- ok, usually over, I never was good at colouring in the lines -- and don't work right to the actual edge), or sometimes floated, exposing the rag or torn edge of the paper. I've seen these reframed more often, but usually matted the same way. Power of suggestion, maybe?

I've found a local framing wholesaler who recognizes that artists run small businesses just like galleries do, which helps keep the costs down. Bless his heart.

Most of my buyers, so far anyway, prefer the work framed and most of them trust my judgement.

Sharon Weaver
One of the things that drives me crazy is staying current on framing trends. Interior design trends will influence what frames work. It used to be all gold frames but now that has changed to dark wood. It seems that just after I buy a bunch of frames the styles change.

Virginia Giordano
Frances or anyone, I have framed art on paper without a mat using spacers to separate the frame from the art - what we are calling floating. I usually prefer that where you can see the edges. Re art on canvas in floater frames, not sure I've seen that or can visualize -?

Carol Schmauder
I paint in watercolor on paper and framing is important for the protection of the paintings. I never thought of the frames as being part of branding. I frame my own works, purchasing the framing materials from a reputable wholesale shop in my area. I try to use frames that compliment the paintings.

The framing conundrum! Years ago I was taught that each individual piece of artwork deserves a unique frame that best presents it, and that was a belief that I had a hard time giving up. I've been convinced, however, that in order for one's body of work to look unified in a gallery setting, the framing had to be more cohesive. So I started framing the work to be hung together in a more similar manner, even if they now look as if they were 'framed by committee.' I think that frames can definitely function as part of the artist's brand, as was the case with so many late 19th and early 20th century Southwestern and Western artists, as just one example. Their frames were wonderful, often designed and crafted by the artists as part of the artwork, and they have a very distinctive look. You know these artists as a regional group by the harmony between artwork and frames. Who can design and execute their own frames these days, however? Not many artists. So. You have to pay for good framing. Who can afford good framing? Not many artists. So you have to do the best you can do within your budget. It's not a very good situation, but that's the way it seems to be.

Brian Sherwin
Virginia -- Not that I'm aware of.

Thanks everyone... curious to know your thoughts on this -- if an artist views the choice of frame as a part of the work itself... does that mean a collector has potentially 'destroyed' part of the work if he or she decides to remove the frame?

Brian Sherwin
Sharon -- Yeah... I would not follow interior trends. They change so often. Heck, some of them have choices based on season -- but I can't think of any collector who changes frames from one season to the next. LOL

Brian Sherwin
Tim -- you might want to consider sending your framing tips in as a FineArtViews guest post. :)

Brian Sherwin
Marian -- I see you point. I used to be hardcore against framing for that very reason. That said, I've seen artists utilize framing as part of their branding -- and it works for them. True, it is probably something to consider from an artist to artist basis... but it can be done.

I suppose though that even situations like that there will always be a collector out there who desires a different frame. But then -- from a historical stand-point... will that choice knock the value of the work later down the road?

I recall watching an episode of Antique Roadshow -- I think that is the name of the show. The expert was looking at a painting and one of the ways he could tell it was by the artist was due to the frame. In that sense, I suppose a steadfast choice in frame can be important later. Something to think about if you are into framing in general.

When the artist designs and crafts their own frames, the frame is obviously a part of the work of art as a whole concept and it would be a partial destruction of the concept to change it. I don't see commercially produced frames, even expensive custom frames, in quite that way, although it's a gray area and each artist would view it her or his own way. If I've put a lot of thought into the commercial framing of a piece, I wouldn't be pleased to have it changed, but if it was reframed I guess I'd grudgingly accept it as what happens when the art leaves the artist's control.

Brian Sherwin
Kim -- Technically the artist still has "control"... in the form of copyright and moral rights. For example, a collector is not legally allowed to destroy the work.

I've never heard of a collector getting in trouble for removing a frame though. :)

Heh-heh! I suppose it really depends on how much hassle the artist wants to go through to make sure the frame stays intact. The framing issue has been complicated by the fact that some buyers view framing as a decorator embellishment or accessory--and even see art that way, unfortunately! Maybe artists need to talk up their framing choices as an important aspect of the whole art process so that people change their perceptions.

Tim Holton
For general edification and amusement on this topic, here's James McNeil Whistler discussing in a letter to his Parisian art dealer the great importance of frames to his work:

"You will notice and perhaps meet with opposition that my frames I have designed as carefully as my pictures - and thus they form as important a part as any of the rest of the work - carrying on the particular harmony throughout - This is of course entirely original with me and has never been done - Though many have painted on their frames but never with real purpose - or knowledge - in short never in this way or anything at all like it - This I have so thoroughly established here that no one would dare to put any colour whatever (excepting the old black and white and that quite out of place probably) on their frames without feeling that they would at once be pointed out as forgers or imitators; and I wish this to be also clearly stated in Paris that I am the inventor of all this kind of decoration of in color in the frames; that I may not have a lot of clever little Frenchmen trespassing on my ground..."

Must be noted that Whistler was an egomaniac. He was NOT of course the groundbreaker he claimed to be, but got the idea of embracing the art of the frame, and even using gilt oak frames, from the Pre-Raphaelites.

Donald Fox
"if an artist views the choice of frame as a part of the work itself... does that mean a collector has potentially 'destroyed' part of the work if he or she decides to remove the frame?"
Yes. Assuming the artist intends the frame to be part of the work and not just an afterthought, it is the artist's responsibility to make that known. The piece should never be reproduced without the frame for starters. The artist can create a label for the back that specifically states the frame is integral to the piece and then ensure that gallerists, dealers, and collectors understand this. The idea could also be written into the sales agreement. I would think that artists who paint on gallery wrapped canvases and actually paint around the edges would also specify that the pieces are not to be framed.

Keith Bond
I have always considered the branding of frames. When I was first starting out, my frames were far less expensive than the ones I use now, but I always got the best I could afford at the time.

Although I don't put the same frame on every painting, I do have a distinct look or feel. My frames all fit within a certain style or look. I want them to be recognizable as a brand.

Just as my work has evolved, so has the look of the frames. My brand today is slightly different than 10 years ago.

When I used cheaper frames, I often had people request to get the painting unframed. Now that I use expensive frames, I almost never get that request. The frames I use are top quality and they really complement the work.

Keith Bond
One more thought.

I rarely like gallery wrap. Although it can be done well, most of the time I feel that it looks unfinished. I also think that for many artists it is a cop-out. The artist is too cheap to put some money into framing it nice, so they paint the edge instead. I am sure that this is not true of all artists. But more often than not it has that appearance (in my humble opinion).

If I were a gambling man, which I'm not, I would bet that most gallery wrapped paintings are a matter of economics rather than artistic expression. Sure those artists would deny it and would have some artsy explaination. But I believe the root of it is economics.

Also, I would like to second Brady's comment. The frame supports the weight, leaving the canvas free to expand and contract naturally. With gallery wrap, the stretchers bare that weight, which puts stress on the canvas. The tension and stress can cause damage when as the canvas expands and contracts naturally over the years. Maybe more importantly, the frame holds the strecher bars in place so they don't bow with changes in atmospheric conditions. If they bow, that adds even more stress to the canvas. And it is usually unevely distributed.

If you choose to use gallery wrap (for the right reason I hope - artistic expression rather than economic) make sure you use the extra heavy duty bars, so they wont bow. This will protect the canvas much more than the light or medium duty strechers.

Keith Bond
Sorry, one more comment.

If you go to most custom frame shops, they use moulding that is finished in length somewhere over seas. There are several middle-men. By the time you pay for your frame it has been marked up a lot.

If you can find a framer who makes finished corner frames start to finish in his own shop, you get a much better quality frame. Often for a better price. True, some of these framers make really really high end frames that are very costly. But there are also many framers who are in the same ball park or even less per foot than the chop frames you would get at a typical neighborhood frame shop. And the quality would be much better.

Tim Holton
Well said, Keith. I keep my prices as low as I can, but the real concern is value. And I understand the crucial importance of the frame design to the picture, so I make each frame from scratch so I can maximize its adaptation to the picture as well as the craftsmanship - in other words, the care that's involved in making the frame AND serving the picture. But a well made frame by a frame-maker making it from scratch actually does eliminate many costs associated with the way most shops operate, including material mark-ups (I start with raw, mostly domestic lumber) and upselling with framing elements felt necessary to compensate for mediocrity (an effective, satisfying frame -- like a good meal -- doesn't have to be big and elaborate; we usually over-eat when the food's unsatisfying).

Finally, considering the cost of re-framing, doing it right the first time is always cost-effective. In my gallery, people commonly express gratitude that the painting they're interested in won't have to be re-framed. And it helps them justify the price of a beautiful picture.

And if that's their response, it's safe to assume the frame has been instrumental in attracting them to the picture.

John Anderson
It seems to me that it is very difficult to judge in the present moment whether the art we are producing will contribute to the advancement of art or not. That is a question that will likely be left to future interpretation. There are aspects of our current art that may speak differently to others than our original intention. Is not the true contribution art makes not in speaking to those who view it--for ultimately, it is they, not we, who bring the final meaning to our work--no work is completed by the artist--it is completed by those who see it and experience it. In a true sense then art transcends our perception as artists. Sometimes the most primitive efforts of artists may, in fact, say more than those who are more sophisticated. We as artists are not the final judges of what our art will contribute to the advancement of art.

Donna Robillard
This has been an interesting discussion. I have not been painting many years, but to start off I did frame them. However, lately I have been painting around the edges and really like it. At the same time, I am not offended if someone wants to put a frame on it. Often when I look at some paintings I wonder if the artist wanted me to look at the frame or at the painting. There are times, though, that the frame can enhance the painting - which I think the frame should do.

Ed Dyer
First and formost a frame should compliment a painting, not compete with. It should be a harmonious relationship nothing more, nothing less.
I have used the same excellent frame style for almost every painting that I do, oils, acrylics, pastels, whether my paintings are in a gallery, my studio, or outside art venues. They have become my "banding" being discussed. In fact I have noticed in the gallery I am with, about four other artist have started to frame their works like mine.

Paintings in pastels, I use to frame them in the customary fashion, no longer. I framed them as I would with my oils. And here's the kicker, I have sold more pastel paintings in this manner.

I totally agree, never scrimp on buying good quality frames. You are looking for the very best finished professional presentation possible. Why would you do otherwise? Preception is reality.

In over ten years, I never have had a client, casual buyer, or gallery owner ask me to either change, take out a painting, or that disliked the frames.

Graphite, ink drawings is another matter and issue.

In making my own frames, simply stated, I am not a renaissance man, nor do I have the time.

Ed Dyer
First and formost a frame should compliment a painting, not compete with. It should be a harmonious relationship nothing more, nothing less.
I have used the same excellent frame style for almost every painting that I do, oils, acrylics, pastels, whether my paintings are in a gallery, my studio, or outside art venues. They have become my "banding" being discussed. In fact I have noticed in the gallery I am with, about four other artist have started to frame their works like mine.

Paintings in pastels, I use to frame them in the customary fashion, no longer. I framed them as I would with my oils. And here's the kicker, I have sold more pastel paintings in this manner.

I totally agree, never scrimp on buying good quality frames. You are looking for the very best finished professional presentation possible. Why would you do otherwise? Preception is reality.

In over ten years, I never have had a client, casual buyer, or gallery owner ask me to either change, take out a painting, or that disliked the frames.

Graphite, ink drawings is another matter and issue.

In making my own frames, simply stated, I am not a renaissance man, nor do I have the time.

Ed Dyer
Write another comment . . .

george w doerre
working on a low budget i don't have money to tie up in a frame inventory. i make my own frames
both glazed and no glass pieces. they are almost identical, so thats my "brand frame". the panel
and canvas pieces are mounted in a floater frame
which offers a black space between art an frame
and that usually shows helps show off the art well. the frame is a sturdy unstained piece which
does not call for attention at all. the view sees
the art..period. for glazed pieces i shape the wood so that there is a 3/8 to 1/2" rise to hold
the art and glass. i paint this a flat black. the
wood thats left is stained or unstained depending on the art. this closly resembles the
floater frame described above. a mat may or may
not be used. a 20x24" frame is about $10.00
and no one has ever complained about it. i tell
the gallery owner, when i sell thru one, if they
don't like the frame come down $15. on the price.

Barrie Lynn Bryant
I have had this article and group of comments on my desktop for four days now which has afforded me the opportunity to spend entirely too much time considering the content! Can we say I'm obsessing a bit? Yes, we can! Well, it's no consequence for me, really, since the subject is very near and dear to my heart. Allow me to introduce myself. I”m a picture frame designer, maker, carver, and gilder.

I'm going to save everyone plenty of grief by making my long story short. I'm not even sure anyone will be reading my comments since I'm four years and change late to this brief blog party Brian hosted with his article about picture frames. At the time he published it I didn't even have a FASO website. And I wasn't even aware of it until four days ago when I discovered the kind words about our art upthread by Colorado artist Geri deGruy who must have seen us the one time we exhibited in Castle Rock.

My wife and I have been art business partners and collaborators for 20 years. I began making simple frames with fabric wrapped mats solely for her western themed artwork during winter 1996 and we did our first art show and sale with these on Mother”s Day in Williston, ND. We shared reasonable success throughout the western art market and continued in that vain until winter 1999 when my wife decided to ditch the western theme and return to her first love, fantasy, or what she soon began referring to it as--imaginative realism.

Her change prompted me to change, and I began making different unique frames more suited to her new work. My change prompted me to begin studying picture frame history so that I could learn where it had been, which in turn might improve my choices about where it could lead.

I lucked into a complete back issues cache of Picture Framing Magazine and began learning about periods and styles and joining and gilding and much more besides. The earliest issues of PFM from 1990-1994 are chock full on these subjects, all written by the most prominent makers in USA. These authors were the makers, mind you, not merchants. With this knowledge my frame making grew in leaps and bounds. I soon approached frame making by creating one-off frames for nearly every artwork I framed.

There's a marriage between her work and mine, and it mirrors our relationship as a married couple. Each of her works is individual, so each of my frames must so justly be. We work contrarily to the destructive curatorial platform that a body of work should be cohesive. The very idea that artists should strive to create cohesive bodies of work undermines their creativity. If your style is that tight, I say loosen up!

The bottom line is there could be an individual frame maker for every individual painter on the planet. It isn't that way because artists rarely develop relationships with frame makers, and there aren't very many of us around as it is. Artists develop relationships with frame merchants instead. It might be easier and the final product may look great, but the result is less individual and more generic. It's difficult to help your brand with those lesser qualities surrounding your work.


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