Framing My Thoughts

“What kind of framing treatment will show this painting to its best advantage?” It’s a question that arises with every painting I complete. And it’s one that deserves considerable thought.   This time I’ll talk about my philosophy regarding how I select frames. In coming posts I’ll lead you through my thought process as I consider how to frame a specific piece.

The first guideline I follow is to frame the art, not try to coordinate with the room where it will be shown. As an artist, that’s not a difficult approach to take. First, I want to show the art to its best advantage. Second, I don’t know who will acquire it or in what kind of situation it will be displayed. For this latter reason, I tend to keep the framing comparatively neutral colored and of conservative design so it can look good in a wide range of settings.

My board of some 2" samples of frame mouldings

A reference board of 2″ samples of frame mouldings

I next consider the subject matter and the audience it is most likely to appeal to … and how that will relate to my framing choices. I also consider the size and proportions of the artwork and the color harmony within the composition. Both of these elements will affect the presentation.

Simple frames with clean lines are often recommended for cityscapes, abstracts, poster-type prints, and other “modern” subjects. The ubiquitous, lower-priced metal frames are so often used for these paintings that the frame quality must be kept high to avoid making the presentation look cheap and clichéed. And there’s no reason such subjects cannot be framed in a very different manner. These days, large canvases are often presented either entirely unframed (the edges being painted either as a continuation of the main surface image or black to provide the effect of a visual frame from an angled view) or in float frames, which also offer a clean, non-distracting, but richer looking presentation for the art.

Subtle paintings call for subtle framing

Subtle paintings call for subtle framing

Much of my own work is of natural settings, which lends itself to the look of wooden mouldings in subtle tones that coordinate with the colors in the composition. I rarely want the frame to call attention to itself with stronger or more saturated colors than those within the artwork. Still-lifes are often ensconced in more elaborate frames, mimicking an older, European style of presentation. Elaborate frames can either enhance or overpower a simply designed composition, so the framer needs to carefully evaluate its effect.

A frame’s style can reflect or enhance the type of subject matter the art depicts, whether, for instance, traditional (perhaps with metallic tones and more elaborate patterning in the frame), or a specialized or localized subject, for which special shapes, textures, and treatments may be appropriate.

Next time I’ll talk about ways to enhance a frame to make the most of a painting.

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