To Frame or Not to Frame

Backstage at the Art Studio

When I began to think about submitting paintings for art shows, I also began to think about frames for those paintings.  As I strolled through framing stores or framing sections of art supply stores, I thought more about it.

Looking at art in galleries and museums, frames are even more on my mind – the many styles and possibilities.

I sometimes wonder why an artist chose a particular frame for his or her painting.  Some of them work, it seems to me, but many others distract.

Some juried shows require a frame and are often quite specific about what kind of frame is acceptable.  I don’t argue the point.  But I’ve made the decision not to frame.  I stick with painting the edges and offering my work unframed with hanging hardware installed.

I have a couple of reasons for this and will be interested in your take on the framing question.

Reason #1 – Frames can be quite expensive and if I add a frame, I have to build the price of the frame into the price I charge for the painting.  By not adding a frame, I’m keeping the price lower for the buyer.

Reason #2 – Frames – to me – fall into the “décor” category and are as personal for the buyers as choosing a sofa or carpet or any other furnishing for their homes or businesses.  Because I work in abstract expressionism with a focus on color, I can guess that the buyer might like color, but beyond that, I have no idea how anyone’s home or office  is decorated or a buyer’s taste when it comes to framing.

I was told a few years back by a framer that most people who buy framed art have it reframed to suit their décor.  It makes no sense to me to spend – and charge – money for a frame that will be removed and replaced by something to the buyer’s liking.

When invited to mount the solo show coming up this spring, I was quite clear with the gallery owner that my work would not be framed.  She was fine with that.  The finished black edges define and don’t distract from the art.  If pushed, my taste would be for the simplest black frames, but I already know, after selling a couple of pieces that were framed this way, that the buyers wanted something else.  Something more ornate that I could not have guessed.

Of course, if a buyer asks to have it framed and we can choose a frame together, I’m happy to facilitate that step.  Some buyers know exactly what they want and others want to try a painting in one room or another before giving it a “forever home.”

Initially, I suggest that a buyer hang the painting without a frame and live with it for a bit before they decide whether to frame or not to frame.   It’s a take on the advice I got from an interior designer years back when I moved into a very modern high rise apartment and had questions about some of my antique furniture.

“Live with it for a while before you decide to make a change,” the designer told me.  I did, and the antique oak dining table and chairs stayed.

One note – if a gallery I’d like to be part of wants to show my work and requires that paintings be framed (as some do), I will by all means frame my work with those simple black frames.  I’m not about to shoot myself in the foot.

If you’re an artist or an art buyer, I invite you to let me know your thoughts on framing.


Life on the Edge(s)


I’ve been working on edges this week.

In Walt Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland, there’s a musical number, “Painting the Roses Red,” in which the minions of the Queen of Hearts are tasked with doing just that – painting the white roses red.

I’ve been humming that tune all week, adding my own words, “Painting the edges black.”  And doing just that to the pieces I’m preparing for the art show.  I’ve chosen not to frame the pieces, but finishing is required.  Hence, painting the edges black.  It’s not the same as working on a new piece, but there’s a nice Zen feel to it, the steady and slower work of carefully dipping my brush in the black paint, carefully applying that paint to the edge and nothing more.

While I work, my mind is on edges.  All kinds of edges.

A friend from New England once visited me in the wide wide West and was physically uncomfortable because it was “too big.”  He needed edges.  Edges. Definition. Boundaries.

In their wonderful book Art and Fear – my constant companion in the art-making world – author/artists David Bayles and Ted Orland speak of edges in a chapter titled “Metaphor.”

  “Sooner or later…every visual artist notices the relationship of the line to the picture’s edge. Before that moment the relationship does not exist; afterwards it’s impossible to imagine it not existing. And from that moment on every new line talks back and forth with the picture’s edge. People who have not yet made this small leap do not see the same picture as those who have — in fact, conceptually speaking, they do not even live in the same world.  Your work is the source for an uncountably large number of such relationships. And these relationships, in turn, are a primary source of the richness and complexity of your art.”

After I re-read that passage, I took another look at my paintings and – lo! – Bayles and Orland are quite right.  I saw something different about the work I’ve been doing.  I understand something different about the work I’ve been doing – and about myself as an artist.

Writers know that there’s often something in their work that they didn’t “intend,” but it’s there all the same and readers will sometimes remark on it.  It’s like a light going on for the writer.

It’s a great thing to begin to understand one’s own work.

The black edges still have to be done, but it’s the edges on the faces of the canvas that matter to me.    And I’m pretty sure I understand why.