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To Frame or Not to Frame: That is the Question

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

To Frame or Not to Frame: That is the Question

For the artist, the decision to frame their work for sale can present an extra (possibly significant) expense. Sometimes, though, investing in a framed finish can make all the difference in securing sale – or not. A frame can be essential to helping the buyer to see the work as a finished piece for their home.

Framing is an art form in itself. As such, DIY frames are a definite no-go! – Unless, of course, you are confident that you can frame to a professional standard yourself.

Buying and using frames from a store (e.g. Wilko the Range etc.), can be a cheap alternative, but beware: a cheap frame has a cheap look. If you are asking for hundreds of pounds by way of payment for your artwork, then treat it with the respect that it deserves by framing it accordingly. Would you want to put a quality painting – and, you might say, investment – on display on the wall in a £5 frame? I know that I wouldn’t.

Frames are a matter of taste. Fashion, too, dictates which frames are best. Dark mahogany wood is, in general, a thing of the past; panels – paintings requiring no frames – were fashionable some years ago, and are coming back again, I believe. The main advantage of a box panel is that the painting is not “fenced in”; it is free to be admired without a border, without a distraction. This kind of work is equally great on a large scale or a smaller one – though it is worth bearing in mind that, the smaller the work, the more signposting may be needed if it is to be noticed. Scale does not correlate with significance – it is not the case that, the smaller the work, the less significant it is – but it is nonetheless important to remember that, on a small scale, a work could be consumed by the room, or space, in which it resides. One might say that a frame can, in this sense, be the stage on which – and in which – the artwork performs and by which it is signposted; if a painting is on a panel, in contrast, it can dance free, as a live performance may, claiming (and combining with)its “host” space with freedom, flexibility and fluidity.

Be forewarned that galleries can be quite snobby when it comes to frames. They are right to be picky, though; they are best-placed to know their customers, they take responsibility for putting your work on their walls, and they showcase your work to the wider public. If your frames do not complement your works, and do not reflect quality – or, indeed, the price that you are asking for the works in question – then they are well within their rights to refuse to sell your work in their gallery. I have seen work stapled to gallery walls – and even attached by cellotape, once (this work was by Tracey Emin, displayed in the Royal Academy). Tracey Emin can, of course, afford to employ such methods – in both senses of the word; her name alone, even if written on a mere scrap of paper, is probably worth a few hundred pounds due to her recognition, reputation and fame. The guy who stapled his work to the gallery walls, meanwhile, is sadly not well-known like Tracey Emin: he is a wonderful sketcher, artist – and, personally, I love his work. His prices were low – lower than they ought to be – but he was not displaying his work for sales purposes alone. Sometimes an exhibition is intended to be a means to communicate an artist’s practise MORE so than appeal to a buyer to invest. I will return at some point to this as it is an intriguing scenario and one that to me is questionable. There is a line of thought that if an artist’s work is commercial, i.e. sells; it is not considered serious art work.

Get your market right. Who is viewing your work – and do you even want to sell it? Do you want to churn your work out? If so, then a cheap frame is perhaps okay in this instance, as the work can be relatively low-priced. If, however, you treat every single piece of work that you produce as a piece of your soul – a part of you – and you only present it for sale when it reaches the prerequisite point of satisfaction needed to put it out there, then treat it with respect. Take time, and effort, to find a good framer: find the frames that work best for you and your artwork, and that do you both justice. A frame should not dominate the work; it should only support, and complement, the artwork. If it is the art piece that you remember, and not the frame – then the frame has done its job well.

On the other hand, some artists have signature frames. The ultra-commercial galleries that are to be found in city and town arcades for example – I’m talking DeMontfort and suchlike – all exhibit signature frames. The works of the well-respected artist such as Fabian Perez, are presented in large, dark, distressed frames which not only complement the pieces that they surround, but actually become intrinsic components of the artworks themselves. Similarly, self-supporting artists – who have reached and even surpassed the threshold of selling work that generates a good income – can be seen to do likewise.

Finally: my main piece of advice on all of this is to understand what it is that you want from your own work. Do you want to sell it? If so, to whom do you want to sell? At what price level should you pitch your work? Without answers to these questions, you cannot make an informed judgement as to how you ought to present your work. Do your homework: visit galleries – both commercial and less commercial galleries – and don’t forget about museums, too. I’m an advocate for – and real believer in – being different, in standing out from the crowd. Be a leader – not a follower. Of course, this is all relative to the extent to which you feel that you can push the boundaries, and test the limits of convention, without alienating yourself. As a gallery owner, I look for high-quality, individual and distinctive pieces of artwork. I look at the artwork itself before considering the frame; I then look to see if the frame reflects, and complements, the content of the artwork – and, when it comes to making a final decision, I go with my gut. Never, ever underestimate the importance and power of gut instinct!




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