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.