Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Choosing the Right Frame For A Painting

© Joanne Licsko
10"x14" oil on canvas

Fellow blogger, and artist Rahina QH in her June 7th post, mentioned that the cost of framing was extortionate.  I agree.  But money spent does not guarantee that you will get the perfect frame.  She got me thinking about all the unused frames that my husband and I have piled up, plus the money invested that will never show a return.

The painting "Accessories",  shown above, was expensively custom-framed with many layers of molding, nearly six inches deep total, all in the perfect colors found in the painting.  It was a beautiful frame, but it overpowered the painting.  After much anxiety, I removed and replaced it with a thin strip of bare wood molding sprayed mat black.  The painting stands best on it's own.

This month, I was part of a team hanging a group show for our local art association.  The artwork itself was loosely following a central theme, but there was little else each work had in common.  Something became distinctly obvious to me as we tried to make a cohesive exhibition.  For the most part, the framing was detracting from the artwork.  A small seascape was one of the last to be placed.  The image was a large crashing rush of white water over a very dark, almost black wet rock.  The "white" water was actually made up of very soft colors of grays, pinks, and greens but it was only because I took a closer look that I could see the subtle colors, and that it was a superb work of art, hidden by the wrong frame.  The frame was a typical, standard size frame that is always available in chain art supply stores.  The manufacturer has tried to make an "all purpose" frame including a little wood, some green, a linen mat, a little gold.  My heart goes to the artist; I think I bought the same style frame years ago.    It was cheap, available in many standard sizes, and quickly attached when one has to make a deadline, but it didn't work for my painting, and certainly doesn't for hers.  

I could take up a lot of space with my theories about suitable framing, and I can't say I have all the answers. I will limit myself to just a few points and I hope, dear readers,  you will add some theories of your own to the comments below.

A mat should not be brighter, or whiter than the highlights in your artwork.

There are some very talented framers, but not many.  A framer wants to sell frames.  

Some have wonderful moldings, but be wary of the beautiful frames that overpower the paintings.  I once heard these words at an opening.  "What do you think of the show?" "Nice frames." Let the painting be the focus.  Keep the frame very simple.  

If you must frame, find a basic frame that supports your style of work, and use it consistently. If you want to bring some together for a future exhibit, your frames will provide the continuity that will put the focus on your paintings, and help define your work separate from others in group shows.

Good framing is the bridge between the painting and the room decor.  Frames are more furniture than art. Potentially, the best outcome is when the experienced collector, or their decorator chooses the frame. They know the environment where it will be hung.  Sadly, not all art buyers have the sensitivity.

Anyone who tells you that you can always reuse the frame for another painting is rarely correct.  

My personal solution:  

I refuse to frame my work. I now use gallery wrapped canvases for all my work. They cost a little more, but with no staples showing they are accepted into juried shows and galleries almost everywhere.  I paint the sides, top and bottom either black or some harmonious color.  All my canvases have a united look when displayed together. 


If a gallery wants the work framed, they may, but, I do not buy the frames if the work does not sell. The profit they may make on the frame is theirs, therefore, the expense does not come out  of my percentage.

If the collector wants to frame the painting after they have purchased it, they are free to do so. In fact, asking to see the work after it has been framed may provide an opportunity for further contact to enhance your relationship with your collector

I am interested in hearing from other artists to know what they have learned that helps with framing issues.


  1. Hi Joanne, thanks for sharing your experience to frame or not to frame. the new painting is stunning! the lighting, the reflections, the objects... an incongruity which keeps pulling you back to it.

  2. Thanks very much for sharing. This is a very informative article. Most of my work is currently colored pencil on wood panel which can be framed w/o glass with the proper varnishing. I am looking for the most consist way to frame, but have not yet found it -- time and experience will help me, I am sure. Your comment about not making the mat whiter than you brightest highlight is a new insight for me.

  3. You make so many good points here, Joanne. I guess all of us have seen a lovely little work surrounded by a hideous large frame. I too, have my stash of frames I'll probably never use. I think you are right about simpler being better and I'm buying the gallery wraps, also. I just wish I'd known all of this sooner. I guess we all have to learn from our own mistakes. Hopefully, other artists will read and learn from your post.

  4. Hello Joanne, welcome to "art in the world", I hope to soon see your work published somewhere.

  5. My wife would certainly be in favor of gallery wrap. I have a room stacked with frames that are too good for garage sales but probably will be anyway. Some really good points.
    Wonderful painting.

  6. Here Here! totally agree. Struggle with frame or not to frame with each piece. Of late the extra cost of the aquabord meets the need these days

  7. Well, I once had a painting at a show in Arizona. I didn't want to drive to pick it up after the show where it did not sell. I had my cousin pick the painting up and was told the painting would have sold twice but the potential buyer felt the frame was cheap and this somehow devalued the painting itself.

    The frame does need to look like quality and enhance the painting.

    I do think you have the right idea about not spending money of frames. Very expensive and if the piece does not sell, takes up a lot of space.

    I'm curious about this painting which I like a lot. What is the front most piece? It sort of looks like a derringer.

  8. Thank you all for your comments:)
    Bill Jones (www.onpainting.wordpress.com)... we had a painting rejected for the same reason 30 years ago, because the client felt that the gold leaf looked cheap. The frame was $350. thirty years ago. Cheap? Any way, we still have the frame because one cannot throw out a gold leaf frame even if it hasn't suited any painting yet.
    You know your weapons Bill. Yes it is a Derringer. A perfect size for a woman's handbag. Let that be a warning to you. Start helping around the house.
    Note to all: Check out Bill's latest posts. He has a unique sense of humor and writes very well.

  9. I'm doing the dishes as I type this.

    Years ago in the small Iowa town I grew up in there was a sporting goods store that sold guns. On the counter top was a small metal bullet trapping (angled) target. A friend of mine asked the store owner to try a shot with a .22 derringer. The owner said ok, shoot into the target. My friend loaded the pistol, aimed, squeezed the trigger and missed (from about 6 feet). The bullet went out the front window across the street and into the barber shop window, across the shop and into a mirror. The store owner said my friend couldn't shoot any more.

  10. Good story but keep your mind on the dishes!

  11. Stunning work, Joanne...really a beauty!...and everything you have said is true. I still frame or I should say my gallery frames. She has excellent taste and gives me a real deal on the prices. I have not had an issue with frames....they can buy it unframed if they choose to. Sorry to have been remiss in my visiting!

  12. Joanne, very helpful article! I was initially drawn to your blog because your work is so astonishing, and now I am catching up reading your text entries!
    Also, Thank you for your kind comment on my blogged painting. It means a lot to me coming from you!

  13. hi Joanne !! this is the very first time i visit your blog and it is great !i am inloved with your pictoric values .
    and reading this last post , i like the solution you got for this problem .

  14. Hi Joanne,

    I agree with your comments on framing....just the other day my wife went through the attic and came back with an armful of old frames and matting. Now I am sizing my work to fit existing mounts and frames!! I prefer simple inexpensive black frames with black edged matting...seems to set off any painting without competing with the colours and tones of the work. (Your point taken on the white competing with highlights).

    The other day we stumbled across a builders merchant who was selling cheap black and white photos already matted and framed. Out with the old and in with the new...any buyers can always add the expensive framing which suits their budget and hanging installation.

  15. Really glad to discover your blog! I'm still struggling with framing issues. What to get, what to avoid and how not to lose focus on the work itself! GREAT post! Thanks.

  16. I'm also struggling with framing issues, and your points were helpful. I would like to embrace your "refuse to frame" stance, but because I try to paint a painting a day, I end up with a lot of bad paintings -- it would be too expensive to buy a gallery-wrapped canvas for every painting. Even wrapping my own is expensive and time-consuming. I do a lot of work on gessoed hardboard, which I then brace on the back if the painting is successful -- but I can't figure out a way to "refuse to frame" them. Paint the sides (of the hardboard and the wood bracing strips) grey? I wonder if I could get away with it. Thanks for your post.

  17. I am glad you said you use gallery wrap canvases and no frames. Personally I like the look of such canvases hanging without frames. Unfortunately, all the shows I see seem to specify that work be framed in order to hang.

    Also, I know a guy who does high end interior painting and decorating, and sells antique paintings in conjunction with that business. He says that having the correct frame on a painting is crucial to him selling it. He says most buyers are greatly influenced by the frame, and that they often are not able to look at an unframed painting and appreciate how it would look when framed.

    And of course, I resent the fact that frames can cost as much or more than the painting!

  18. It has been my experience that although many show's prospectus states that paintings must be framed, when asked most curators will allow gallery wrapped canvases provided they are finished off professionally. That means clean painted sides all around.
    I agree with your friend, that buyers are greatly influenced by frames, and I think that especially holds true in the antique paintings. For most of us contemporary painters, I think it is a little less so.