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Don't Skimp on the Frame

by Keith Bond on 2/5/2009 9:49:42 AM

This Post is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  Find out how you can be a guest author

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and ordered a succulent, tender ribeye steak and on the side were instant mashed potatoes or frozen veggies?  Very disappointing, indeed.  If I am spending the money for a nice meal, I want the entire meal to be good, not just the main entrée.  I have been to other restaurants with a similar price point as the first, but enjoyed delicious sides made from fresh, quality products.  Which restaurant will I return to? 

The same holds true with art.  If I were to buy a painting worth several thousand dollars, I would be disappointed to discover that the frame was a cheap assembly-line-made-in-Mexico-or-Taiwan piece of junk.  I would expect and demand a quality frame to complement the painting.  If I was interested in purchasing a painting that did have a cheap frame on it, I would ask the artist (or have the gallery ask the artist) if I could buy it unframed at an unframed price.

I know of an artist whose paintings sell for $30,000-40,000 each, but his frames are worth at most $200 each (no, I am not mentioning names).  They are the cheapest possible frames he could put on his work.  Certainly at the prices he commands for his artwork (and he is a well-collected artist), he can afford a nicer frame.  He owes it to the collectors to put a quality frame around his artwork. 

On the other hand, artist Matt Smith once told me that he puts the best frames that he can afford on his paintings.  I share his sentiment:  I feel that I owe it to my clients to put the highest quality frame on the painting that they are investing in.  

There is a growing trend to display a painting unframed.  The edge of the canvas is usually painted to give it a 'finished' look.  While I admit, that some paintings display well without a frame (usually abstract or contemporary), most simply do not.  It is a cop-out in my opinion.  The artist is simply too cheap to frame it properly. 

There are several reasons why I feel it important to have a quality frame:

  • The frame is part of the artwork.  It completes and complements it.  It must be well suited for the painting. 
  • I demand only the highest quality paints and linen, and I use techniques that will ensure that the paintings will not deteriorate over time (to the extent possible).  I want my paintings to last forever (is that possible?).  Likewise, I demand that the frame be of a quality that it too will withstand the aging effects.  I have seen cheaper frames tarnish and I have seen the gold leaf bubble up and flake off. 
  • Although many collectors may not know the difference between a high and low quality frame, they can see that something is different.  The presentation simply looks better.  It looks more professional (it is more professional).  
  • If my work is competing against several other artists in a gallery, I want mine to stand out to its best advantage. 
  • The more serious collectors do know the difference. 
  • I do not want my collectors to think that I would cut corners.
  • Custom frames allow for more freedom in canvas size and proportions.

Early in my career, I simply couldn't afford the frames that I wanted to put on my paintings (hand carved 22k gold frames).  After about a year of buying inexpensive ready-made frames, I decided to learn how to carve and gild my own frames.  I first learned to gild with imitation gold, but later learned to water gild 22k gold.  I built my own frames for several years until I could afford to purchase the higher end frames.  I still build some on occasion, but since they are so involved, I would rather spend my time painting.

In short, do yourself a favor.  Be discriminating with your frames.  The added investment will better enhance your artwork.  If you can't afford to buy what suits your artwork best, then learn how to build them.  Do you want instant or real mashed potatoes with your steak? 

Best Wishes,

Keith Bond

P.S.  Yes, I am very opinionated when it comes to framing.  In my ever-so-humble opinion, most of the frames I see in galleries are junk.

P.P.S. (or is it P.S.S. ? – I can never remember) - For those who may not understand the various framing options, I have briefly outlined the most common choices for paintings.  Choose a look or style that fits your work well.  They don't need to be 22k gold like mine, but they need to be appropriate for your work.  They should be the best quality you can afford.  A rule of thumb is to spend 10% of the retail price of your painting on the frame.  I spend about 15%, because it is worth it to me.

A comparison on most common frame options:

  • Unframed:  A cop-out in my book.  A sturdy frame will help stabilize the stretched canvas, thus minimizing the damaging effects of expansion and contraction over time.  Ralph Mayer said it best (to paraphrase):  the old masters would have never skimped on quality art supplies (I include frames).  It is a recent phenomenon that artists will use inferior products simply because of economics. 
  • Thin Edging:  This is also a cop-out in my book.  On very rare occasions have I seen this and felt that it was the 'best' framing option.  These frames are usually, but not always, built by the artist.  They are a thin strips of wood tacked to the outer edge of the canvas.  They are sometimes painted, sometimes left natural.     
  • Ready-made:  Cheap to medium quality (and price).  These frames are mass produced.  They are an inexpensive alternative (imitation) to a 'closed corner' frame (discussed below). These frames are like frozen veggies.  They are appropriate at Denny's but not at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.
  • 'Chop' Frames:  These frames are the so-called 'custom' frames you find at your neighborhood custom frame shop.  These are not true custom frames.  The molding is finished in long lengths and then cut to size.  As such, there is a visible seam in the corner.  The quality ranges from cheap to medium-high (so does the price), but the seam lessens its appeal.
  • Museum Quality Custom Frames:  This is a true custom frame of the highest quality.  They are often referred to as 'closed corner' frames because they are cut and joined before the finish is applied.  They are often hand carved.  There are a variety of finishes available (always applied by hand) including gold leaf, imitation gold, paint, stain, etc.  These frames are works of art in and of themselves.  Cost ranges from medium-high to very high.  There is surprisingly a wide range in quality and price depending on style and who builds the frame.  However, even the low end frames in this category are higher quality than all other categories.  Think Texas Roadhouse or Outback Steakhouse on the lower end (still a great steak with great sides) to Ruth's Chris somewhat higher and beyond.
  • Wannabe Museum Frames:  There are several framers who have found a niche market somewhere between the ready-made frames and the true museum quality frames.  They are usually also referred to as closed-corner frames.  They are built in the same manner as the museum frames, but the framers are less skilled.  They sometimes use short cuts in their methods or materials, and it usually shows.  Most of these use imitation gold rather than real karat gold, but not always.  Quality ranges from poor to medium-high, though most I have seen are of medium quality and price.  As long as you avoid the lower quality frames, this is a good choice.  Many would argue that Texas Roadhouse or Outback belong to this category, but considering how I grew up, these are high-end restaurants to me!

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Related Posts:

A Reason to Use Non-Standard Frames?

Try a Real Gold Frame

Topics: Art Business | art marketing | Best | Frames 

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Kyle Wood
via web
Keith Bond is right about not skimping on the frame. High quality frames help enhance the artwork. Putting a cheap frame on a painting or drawing, especially a piece that is well executed does not do any justice for the artwork. As artists we should be mindful and select our frames carefully.

Roderik Mayne
via web
The issue of framing is a real problem for me. As a relatively new watercolourist I know a) a watercolour needs to be framed and b) it should be framed in the best possible manner. Unfortunately there is no escape from a (except selling a work unframed which means the purchaser is responsible for the framing). As, I said, a new watercolourist who is not selling a great deal framing becomes an added and often unaffordable expense. At my level of selling a frame at 10% of the selling price would be $30-$40, in other words an off the rack frame. I do perhaps delude myself that, as I sell more I will be able to afford better framing, thus putting the cart before the horse.

John Stevenson
via web
As I recall, it's P.P.S. .... but, in any event, I'd like to ask whether some actual recommendations on vendors (with online catalogs) could be added to each of the categories compared at the end of this post. (It's nice to know about Outback vs. Ruth Chris', but not vital to framing options!) For example, I have recently purchased several complete and pre-made frames from Roma Moulding - here: - into what category would they be considered to fall?

Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
via web
I completely agree with you that every component of the work needs to be considered. In fine crafts the equivalent to this it finishing the back of a piece of jewelry or the bottom of a vase or bowl to the same quality as the front of the piece. It's just another way to show how much you value your own work. After all, if you don't value your own piece enough to properly finish it, why should others value it more than you?

Mary Lawler
via web
Classic problem. I heard it just the other day. "well if the artist chose that frame it must be the best choice" WRONG. Artists can be the worst offenders. I know artists who spray paint their wooden frames or buy the cheapest thing they can get their hands on that looks like real crap.
You make an excellent point, treating your work with the utmost respect adds to the value of the piece monetarily and psychologically. It's a shame that framing can be so expensive. I used to own a frame shop and it was ridiculous what we had to charge people.
Artists would do well to learn how to cut their own good quality mats and try to stay within standard frame sizes, it can save on the cost.
Also excellent, idea John suggested, post some online frame suppliers that are halfway decent and reputable.

Delilah Smith
via web
I do not agree.To try to match a frame to a clients taste is a waste. I paint gallery wrapped and let the cleint buy his frame to suite his nature.It is much easier to ship an unframed painting.

Pat McLaughlin
via web

Don't Skimp on the Frame

If I were to buy a painting worth several thousand dollars, I would be disappointed to discover that the frame was a cheap assembly-line-made-in-Mexico-or-Taiwan piece of junk. I would expect and demand a quality frame to complement the painting.

It'll be many years before, if ever, any of my work being worth such a sum. That said, I understand that a good quality frame can enhance a work. The problem I see is many times such a frame won't work where a client wants to place it. Then either the artist eats the cost of the frame or the client pays a good amount more than necessary. {I've heard many jokes about artists 'selling the frame' and throwing the work in as a 'bonus.'}

I've a couple works in 'plain jane' frames I've constructed in a student show. I've checked and prices are reasonable with the vanilla frames. This allows a potential client to get a frame which meets their needs.

Frankly, I don't like vanilla frames, but then I don't want to end up in the joke situation. So, is there a workable solution to the dilemma?

K. A. Collins
via web
I agree with you on frames,it is like dressing
up the kids putting your best foot forward .


Oscar Ortiz
via web
No frames for me. I'm with Delilah Smith:
"To try to match a frame to a clients taste is a waste. I paint gallery wrapped and let the client buy his frame to suite his nature.It is much easier to ship an unframed painting."
It is guesswork. How many times have I heard people passing on on beautiful piece of work just because the frame "didn't do it" for them... I refuse to subject hours of hard labor to the judgmental ephemeral taste of a frame.

Linda Smith
I don't believe worrying about expensive framing is important unless you sell very expensive paintings and can afford to offer that. Simple is best in many cases. I use wood edging that I cut myself and find it preferable to more elaborate framing. The picture should be the focus not the frame.

I tend to agree with the last few comments. Some paintings look great just gallery-wrapped and/or painted on the sides. Some need frames, especially small or thin ones. I also make my own simple frames from wood, a frame made by the artist can be charming.

Carl Parker
You are correct about framing. Way to go.

Sue Almand
I also disagree that all work should be framed. I worked formerly as an interior decorator. I rarely see an "artist framed" piece where the frame truly enhances the work. Often it totally detracts from the work. Best to leave this up to the buyer, or offer to take the buyer to a framer who gives you a professional discount and pick it out together so the buyer gets something that suits their taste AND the artist thinks is appropriate.

I agree with last several comments. As an emerging artist, I've yet to sell an original.
If I wait until I can afford to buy expensive frames for my work - I'll never sell a painting. That's a bit of a catch-22.
I feel that, in the early stages of a career when you're broke, you should go for an affordable, but simple frame and let the buyer change it out for something they can afford and that suits them. When I get to the point of successfully selling my work for thousands, I'll start footing the cost of museum quality frames.

Framing Fairy
Great blog.
As Framers, in the UK, we often find that the Artists don't consider the frame enough. It should absolutely be framed correctly if you are seriously selling your work.

Artists are not always best placed to decide what compliments their work (Artists are Artists not Framers and visa versa - errm unless of course, they are!). A good Framer will know, most of the time, what works best to compliment a piece (and how to protect and execute it properly). They are working with all sorts of pieces every day and gain vast experience in this. Don't under estimate their knowledge and skills. It's a craft which is so often ignored these days.

Artists (and Interior Designers) I would urge you to strike up a good relationship with your Framer of choice (and pay for decent craftmanship). We work closely with our clients to arrive at a solution that compliments and protects the piece.

Just as an extra point, I sometimes find a clash can happen with Interior Designing. They are usually interested in framing to suit the room and overall decoration rather than the picture. There is often a direct clash here. In my opinion framing should do the job of enhancing the piece.

Tessa dutoit
Thank you for an informative site - interesting opionions. This has given me renewed respect for my art and more careful consideration regarding the frame - my work is very diverse, so each piece needs to analysed individually.

Charles Arsenault
While Keith is right for a noted professional artists, new artist like me and many others like me don't want to out price our work because of the frame. For instance, if I sell a piece $200, dose it make sense to put a $300 frame around it? No is the answer. I believe that the frame should be in keeping with the price of the painting. When I start selling work for tens of thounsands, I'l will be happy to spend a thousand for museum quality frames. Until then, I will live in the real world where total price makes a major difference.

Jose Carrilho

Although in some cases, having a frame or not may not make such a huge difference, I believe that it's in classical paintings that a frame is more needed.
I like to see small paintings with wide frames and regular or large paintings with regular to thin ones.
My preference usualy goes toward gold - as you guys say there: If you want it sold, make it gold. But I also like black frames. Some works do get enhanced with a black frame, namely the lowbrow art ones.
It goes without saying that it's not common to add an expensive frame to an inexpensive work, but it can happen and I'm not against it, namely because one can buy a work for lets say $200 and like it more than one valued at $20000.
So, it's not only about numbers, it's also about enjoying something.
I do find some prices of frames exagerated, especially with all the available machines that can cut wood with intricate detail. If its hand-made, then it's another story. But that's rare nowadays.
I'm also of the opinion that an artist should help the buyer choosing the right frame. I don't mean that the artist himself should pick the frame, but since he's in the business and has more contacts, he can point a reliable framer or framing service.

Kind regards,


I keep hearing about "painting" on this site. My medium is colored pencil drawings. art can be anything, not just painting. I am also new to the art scene, 2 1/2 years and I agree that the frame makes the picture. I try to use antique frames whenever possible. More detail and character

Cloe Martin
In this world where everything comes with a price tag same is applied in the case of picture frames as well. Your artwork is valuable and need to be preserved for years and frames are the best option to not only protect your art but also enhance its beauty but make sure you select the best.

Cloe Martin
Hey Keith!! You are right about not skimping on the frame. High quality frames help enhance the artwork. Using a cheap frame for a painting or drawing, especially a piece that is well executed does not do any justice to the artwork. As artists we should be more concerned and select our frames carefully.

Jennifer Wilson
Learn about the quality of painting to care
at working on the painting.
quality painting


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