framed artwork

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Choosing a frame and visualizing what your work of art will look like in that frame is very difficult. Frames, like the works of art that they surround, are works of art in their own right. Frames are characteristic of the style of their specific time period and they provide a unique look to a work of art. They come in various shapes, sizes, forms, carvings, details, etc.

What’s the rush?

Take your time. Make sure you don’t have to get to a dentist appointment or that you don’t have to pick up the team at soccer practice immediately after you drop off your artwork to the framer. Slow down and don’t let anyone in the frame shop rush you either.

Framing is expensive and you will be disappointed if you don’t get what you want because you rushed through the process. When I curated exhibitions, I had to select frames for many different works of art from Renaissance pieces to post-modern works. I confess that I held up the whole museum installation process because I couldn’t decide on a frame. You couldn’t be slower at it than I am when it comes to picking out a frame. But, if you take your time, you’ll be glad you did when you see the results.

Framing example

Frames, like the works of art that they surround and protect, are works of art in their own right. Frames are characteristic of their specific period or artisan and they provide a unique feel or look to a work of art. They come in various shapes, sizes, forms, carvings, details, etc. and despite the similarities, no two frames are alike. Select your frame with care.

Using your visual memory

While you are in the frame shop, ask if you can take the molding samples off the display wall. Hold them up against your work of art and wait a minute or so. Hold the molding or frame samples up at the top left corner of your work as if you were reading the piece from left to right. This point usually works best in giving you an idea about the entire frame. Since your eye will go to the  upper left corner first, you’ll get the same reaction when you have a completely framed piece. If you stare at the frame molding in the upper left corner for a minute or so, and then look at the bottom right, your visual memory will bring the image with you and for an instant you can get a sense of the how the frame molding will look at the lower right side of the work.

Think about your choices. Perhaps you’d like warm wood frames for warm subjects like landscapes and pieces with red/brown/gold color schemes. Some people prefer sleek, metallic frames that work well with modern art like serigraphs and boldly colored prints. Many framers say that you can make a bad picture look good by putting a gold frame around it. Gold does give a good contrast to most colors. Beware, there are many framers who just suggest gold frames because they are the easiest solution for that customer who is taking too much time selecting a frame. Select your framing slowly and wisely.

Monet's Impression Sunrise

A good example of this notion of an artist’s mature style may be understood by studying this piece by Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926), titled Impression Sunrise, produced in 1872-73. This seascape shows the influence of Joseph Mallord William Turner, the English Romanticist, on Monet as evidenced by the work’s emotional feeling and interplay of light, shadow, and reflection. The subtle yet warm colors would benefit from a wood frame that could enhance the nuances of the artist’s palette.

As for metal frames, you can choose metal frames in basic black, gold or silver but also there are metal frames that look like wood and other colors. Consider the shiny or the matte finishes. Metal frames are easy to put together yourself. If you decide to build your own metal frame from a frame kit, make sure you have enough table space or floor space. Be careful while putting the glass into the frame because if you crack it, that’s it–you have to get another piece. For metal frames, try to order them from a frame manufacturer. Some manufacturers make it easy to build your own frame with just instructions, basic straight parts and a screwdriver. The kits are cheaper and once you get the hang of it, you won’t want to spend the extra labor expense for metal frames.

Read more tips about frames and what questions you should ask your framer.