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?
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!