You work on the painting for days, even weeks. You have 3 close friends and your dog give it a once over critique, you fix the few things your dog found, and sign it – FINISHED!
However, that excited feeling may only last as long as it takes you to realize you still need to frame it.
Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to just hand that chore off to someone else. There have been artists that were so needed by galleries that they just sent in their paintings and the gallery took care of all the framing for them. In fact, I’ve been in that situation from time to time.
Most galleries don’t want to mess with framing any more than the rest of us though. That means I still have to figure out my own framing, and I suppose most of you do too.
Why only ‘most’ – because you might be one of those lucky ones whose work looks spectacular on those gallery-wrapped canvases. Giant 1 ½ inch deep stretcher bars and canvas prepared to look good on a wall without any help from a frame.
Jack White designed the gallery wrapped canvases Miki Senkarik (Jack’s wife) works on with a special textured edge that mimics a white frame. I’ve known Jack since 2004 (although sadly he passed away in 2016), and Miki’s paintings have been selling successfully with that canvas for a couple decades.
Growing up for a time near Kalispell, MT came with many perks – living in a small cedar log cabin and waking early to the symphony of birds; daily exploration of the surrounding woods, creek and Flathead Lake with my cousin Russ; and interacting with my parents’ art friends like Joe Abbrescia, Bud Helbig, Linda Tippetts, Mark Ogle, Sherry Sanders, Bob Cavanaugh and Frank Davita.
One of the true highlights, though, was Master Framer Ed Sanders! He was not only the go-to framer for many of the top western artists, he was one of the most encouraging and supportive friends I’ve had.
Ed did most of my framing during my early college and professional years. He would trade artwork for frames – the perfect exchange rate for a struggling student.
Ed’s frames were pieces of art. I was blessed to have a friendship with such a talented framer who also loved my art. It was heartbreaking when he passed away, and his loss left me wondering what to do about my frames without him.
Have you noticed how tough framing trends can be to keep up with?
For instance, back in the late 80s and 90s most of my Ed Sanders frames had a linen lining. This lining created a nice wide frame and beautifully set off the painting, without the weight that the solid wood frames of this width would have – both visually and by the scale.
I still have a few of those frames left on some older paintings on our walls, but they are a bugger to clean (which is why I generally pass on that chore). They don’t dust off easily like the smooth wood frames do and if they get stained – wait, are you referring to the time someone dropped a plate of spaghetti and it splashed all over one of Ed’s frames (and my painting) up on our wall – I would rather not talk about it if you don’t mind!
I still see linen lined frames from time to time, but they aren’t nearly as common as they used to be.
Black Frames began dressing up my paintings in the early 2000’s and now encompass at least half of my inventory. Their popularity depends quite a bit on what part of the country (or world) you live in. California tends to be more toward gold and the East Coast toward black – remember, that’s a huge generalization that might not be true by the time you see this blog.
I often see black frames outnumber gold at many of the shows I’ve attended in recent years. This might be because of how well black tends to boost the contrast and colors in a painting.
I am not a fan of pure black frames – they feel too harsh – that gold lip has a nice softening and transitioning effect.
At the recent Quest for the West show I saw a few pillar frames (like the one pictured above – except most were black). What’s interesting is just 4 months after viewing the show I don’t recollect most of the artwork showcased by those frames, but I still vividly remember the frames themselves.
One frame I saw at the show even had steer horns sticking out from the top, probably about 5 inches from tip to tip (wish I had a pic, but photos were not allowed). While it was very unique and ultra-western, for me it took attention away from the actual painting. Then again, in the right house, it might just fit right in – maybe.
There seemed to be a white wash trend starting up just a few years ago (come to think of it, with my concept of time, a few years might mean 10 or 15) – I don’t see much of that now.
Most of the representational market seems to lend itself to the traditional gold leaf style which is how most of my work is framed.
In 2003 I ordered a frame from a company in California that I saw advertising in one of the art magazines. When I was framing one of my pieces I noticed the company’s logo sticker on the back was doubled up. That made me curious, so I separated the two stickers and found that the frames were made by Omega and resold by others at a substantial increase in cost.
Omega’s a wholesale company so you will need a tax resale number (which I just happened to have). Since they only sell standard sizes, I began painting most of my work that way – it seemed convenient all the way around.
They are well priced and the company has been great about standing behind their work. The few times I’ve had to send frames back because of a cracked corner they replaced them quickly without complaint. To save time and money I usually order from them in bulk a couple times a year.
There is a difference between individually hand-crafted frames and those I order in bulk. Custom handmade frames have a subtlety and artistry to them that varies from frame to frame – they enhance the unique character of our one-of-a-kind paintings.
Thinner frames definitely have their appeal – they place most of the emphasis on the painting and they can look clean and elegant. I’m still a wider frame kind of guy – traditionally 3-5 inches in width (although I have used some frames as thin as 2 and as wide as 7).
Most of the frames on my paintings also tend to be subdued – not flashy. The last thing I want is for the frame to compete with my painting (in reality, I love ornate frames – the type we might see in a museum – but collectors of my work prefer subdued).
Whether I buy from a wholesaler or a custom handmade-frame shop, I expect the frames to be built to last – hopefully my lifetime at least – and to reflect the high quality of the galleries that represent my work (then again, I saw an ordinary chop frame on a $50,000 G Harvey painting about 15 years ago when I was in Scottsdale).
Ornate frames can be a wonderful addition to the right painting and may work in some markets – just not often in any markets I’m very familiar with.
I’ve had some massive museum frames on some of my work. When you add in the weight of the board (they are usually on larger paintings) to the weight of the frame, with all that extra plaster or wood ornamentation, they become very cumbersome to maneuver and expensive to ship.
I have noticed a trend towards the floating frame in western and landscape painting shows. I probably won’t jump on that wagon anytime soon because they are more complicated to attach ¼ inch panels into, but I love the idea of showing the entire painting, rather than losing up to a ¼ inch off each edge.
I saw some amazing work in beautifully crafted floating frames at the Quest for the West show last Fall. Kristie pointed out that she thought dusting would be a chore.
If you use them you’ll have to share what you think about them with me.
Framing is one of the biggest expenses for an artist, especially for the gold leaf custom pieces. One of my 18×24 paintings sold with a 24kt gold leaf frame that cost $2000 – that more than doubled the cost of the painting.
That’s the sort of thing that convinced Kristie and I in the early 90’s that it would be way easier and cheaper to make our own frames! We ordered molding, joiner, clamps, staples, gold leafing (both composite metal and the real 24kt stuff – some of which I still have in my tool room), the special brushes and adhesive.
We quickly realized a couple important things – it wasn’t cheaper or easier!
A 30X40 frame eats through that molding, especially when it’s doubled or tripled up with inner and outer moldings. Getting the corners cut flush, gluing and stapling, adding the gold leaf on straight and beautiful, mixing a patina that compliments the paintings – whew!
I can remember Kristie out in the wee hours of the morning gold leafing frames so I could patina them before loading everything up for a one-man show at the Turner Gallery in Cherry Creek. The paintings were dry but a few of the frames were not! Boy I wish YouTube had existed back then.
We soon decided to leave frame making to the professionals!
We did gain some skills for sprucing up an otherwise unusable frame though. If you come into my workroom you will find 3 or 4 frames sitting in mid patina or leafing – generally waiting for years for me to finish them – I really don’t like framing when I can be painting.
Mostly I just touch up a ding here and there.
I’m always on the look-out at thrift stores and yard sales for frames I might be able to make work for one of my paintings. This jaunty old fisherman was given to me by a friend who was downsizing.
In actuality, I’ve never used one of the ‘found’ frames for gallery work – but you never know!
Some artists spruce up the back of their frames nicely with Kraft paper and felt corners – I am not one of those artists. Those details are wonderful, but I am always anxious to get back to painting and tend to avoid anything except the essentials.
I do make sure the hanging wire is always about 2 inches from the top of the frame. There’s nothing worse than seeing the wire and hook appear over a painting on the wall! I try to be consistent so my pieces are easy and predictable to hang.
Using a coated wire for hanging makes the paintings easier on the fingers to carry. Just a note here – it’s a good idea to double check and make sure you’re putting on the wire so the painting will hang right side up…yep – so many times!
One thing I am picky about is the quality of the wire and clips to make sure they are strong and will hold the heaviest of my paintings with ease. I keep a tackle box full of clips and screws at the ready.
If you have an amazing painting and frame it poorly it can ruin the presentation. Check the frame corners especially, because they are notorious problem areas – make sure they are fitted well and not cracking (which happens to the best of frames)!
My galleries are a great resource for letting me know what frame styles collectors are interested in – and I rely heavily on their expert knowledge.
My take away from selling professionally for over 30 years is – collectors will often change the frame out anyway, especially if they have a consistent theme in their collection. I have had that happen even with Ed’s frames and expensive 24k gold frames (and price was not an issue).
So, while we want to frame our work as elegantly as possible, let’s not let framing become a stumbling block to getting our work out to the world.
If you have a favorite place to get frames, please share with the rest of us in the comments below!
Want some help photographing your artwork before you ship off your beautifully framed painting?