To frame or not to frame?
Framing is an art in itself and choosing the right frame can enhance a piece of art, while the wrong one might become a distraction. Apart from a frame’s aesthetic features, there are many other factors that need to be taken into account when choosing the right frame, such as accommodating for the environmental factors that may affect your artwork in the long run. While personal taste and subjectivity do play a role in the framing choices that you make, here are a few basic considerations before you get started!
Color, Material & Style
Since frames today are available in thousands of styles, the choices are practically endless. However, one should remember that the artwork and its frame are always viewed together and therefore should be complimentary. If executed incorrectly, a frame could possibly overpower the artwork inside or lack in giving it the presence it rightly deserves.
While it is important to pick a frame that is less eye-catching than your artwork, frames too similar in color to the artwork or as busy in terms of decoration should also be avoided. Take into consideration how a frame can present the work most effectively - for example by having a moderate amount of contrast with a dark frame on a light painting often helps to enhance and set your artwork apart from everything else in the room.
Due to their accessibility and affordability, prints are an incredibly popular medium used to fill up wall space. Consider the spectrum of colors in the print, and choose a color for the frame that matches that.
All these apply to photographs. At first glance, the dominant colors in your photograph should immediately stand out at you. Black or white frames should accompany black and white photographs. Similar to prints, colored photos should have their dominant colors matched to its frame, allowing the photo to stand out.
For Drawings and Illustrations
Contemplate the medium in which your drawing and illustration works have been made with. Most times, these are made with more organic or perishable mediums such as pastel, graphite or charcoal. Artworks that fall under this category may also be more delicate.
Due to this nature, these artworks look best when framing with a mount, or ‘mat’. Mats do their part in conserving more dainty and fragile artworks over time. Do note in this case that the glass should never touch your artwork directly, and the mat should help separate the two. For example, if a graphite piece finds itself rubbing against the glass, it might cause condensation and damage to the paper; mold and mildew may form. This gap given by the mat gives the artwork an air gap so it can ‘breathe’. This same guideline should apply to all works done on paper.
For Oil Paintings
Oil paintings have been around for centuries, long before people managed to produce glass in large sizes and quantities that could cover the canvas. To understand how to frame oil paintings, we have to consider the characteristics of oil paintings themselves. Oil, unlike acrylic of watercolor, does not dry with water evaporating out of it but rather through oxidation. While a completed oil painting might feel dry to the touch and possibly be safe to handle after a few weeks, it will not be completely dry for decades. The thicker the layer of oil paint on canvas, the more likely it might crack, as the paint is still considered unstable.
The choices in framing an oil painting are endless. Factors to consider are once again to note what the dominant colors are and how a frame can compliment the overall composition of the artwork. However, this all comes down to personal preference. Oil paintings allow for more flexibility in choosing bulkier wooden frames, but should also adhere to what the painting evokes, its ‘weight’, and the location that it will be placed in. There are arguments that glass should not be used in the framing of oil paintings as it might trap moisture behind it. In its worst-case scenario, oil paintings behind glass might lead to its canvas rotting if the painting cannot ‘breathe’ due to not being sufficiently dry.
For Mixed Media
Mixed media works are amongst the most elusive as they have the capacity to span across all mediums. Take into account entities from all the mediums that have been mentioned so far, and apply it when you decide on what frame to pair it with. In some cases, mixed media works have three-dimensional characteristics to them, and the bulkiness or lightness of frames should be considered alongside this.
Know About the Artwork’s History
Christie’s Auction House states how we should “be sensitive to period” as “knowledge of a work’s past can be a useful design guide”. Look into how the artwork at hand has been framed in the past, and take into account how it has been presented by galleries, curators or artists. How was the work presented when you decided to purchase it? From Old Masters pieces to contemporary pieces, research is paramount in deciding on the most complimentary frame for your work.
Some works that come with huge historical contexts should stay in their original frames, such as the aforementioned Old Masters. However in such unique cases, these artworks might have incurred damages from sitting badly in their original frames for extended periods of time, and should be assessed by a professional accordingly.
Selecting a frame is not all about choosing a right color and material. Besides aesthetics, frames also protect the artwork in the long run from damage and degradation.
Prints, photographs and other works on paper are a good example as they are delicate in nature and therefore require a little more care when choosing the right frame. Acid free mats, backings and glazing the work with ultraviolet light filtering Plexiglass or glass are some of the considerations to ensure that no stains form on the artwork and prevent the deterioration of the paper caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
The Location of the Artwork
Where the artwork will be displayed is also an important consideration when choosing the right frame. Think about the decoration of the space and how the frame suits not only the artwork but also the setting.
Perhaps a monochrome frame would suit a modern space of grey and white hues or a natural, nautical space could do with a frame made from driftwood-like whitewashed timber for a perfect pairing. If your artwork were going up in a rustic setting, natural wood tones would compliment not only the artwork but also the overall interior.
Don’t be Afraid to be Unconventional
A conventional frame might not suit all works so don’t be afraid to try something out of the ordinary. Sometimes, a frame might not even be necessary if you decide to go bare and display your painting unframed, on a tabletop against the wall.
There are no hard and fast rules in framing, but the best frame (or even no frame at all) is simply the one that puts your artwork in the spotlight!
Do All Artworks Need to be Framed?
In certain cases, a frame isn’t necessary at all; many early 20th century painters disregarded frames completely. This should only apply to paintings on sturdy platforms such as canvases, as it is crucial that works on paper or more perishable mediums are sealed and protected from external factors that might degrade them.
A framer should never be afraid to say when a work does not need a frame. Do make sure that the piece is stretched properly, and that it has the right depth and shape to sit on the wall you are intending for it to go on. Whilst it might require a frame one day to provide it with additional protection, you should trust your taste and how the artwork is presented from a visual point of view.
However, when in doubt, go black or white – they work well with most interiors. Simple black frames have the potential to add a dab of drama and define territory to your artwork, whilst white frames work well with colored works and white walls.
Consider the Purpose of Frames
Together with glass, frames should also be used to create an artificial environment where your artwork can thrive. If you live in a humid country with high levels of light, frames (with glass) should be used to counter such factors that might change the quality of your work. The last thing you want is for your work to depreciate in value! Creating this protected environment for your artwork also allows for further protection if and when it has to be moved between locations, say if you find yourself moving home or even countries.
Make sure that your trusted framer has applied the appropriate sealing techniques. The frame should isolate interior and exterior conditions. The materials chosen in this framing process attribute towards managing the climate within the sealed environment. Features such as ‘Artsorb’ can also be added into the framing process to control humidity.
Choosing the type of glass should be done carefully. The most important feature that your glass should have is a UV filter. Glazed glass plays a colossal role in protecting works that will fade over time if exposed to the damaging effects of UV light. Additionally, be sure to choose glass that does not compromise the way in which your work will be displayed. Low-reflective types of glass are best for this if they do not interfere with the surface of your artwork.
Conservation tips to prolong artwork life
All artworks, regardless of their medium, will experience adverse changes if exposed to extreme changes such as humidity and heat. Mould may occur on canvases, paper, or even in paint itself if its frame expands and allows contact between the artwork and external climates. This might even lead to paint loss, and pigments may potentially fade. Here are a few things to remember as you decide on a place to hang your artwork, whatever artwork they may be:
- Do not hang works over sources of heat, such as a working fireplace, heater or oven. If you are planning on putting artworks in a room with a working fire, do keep in mind that they will most definitely need to be in glass to protect it from smoke. This applies to rooms where candles are frequently used too!
- Pigments across mediums may be volatile to direct sunlight and electric lights. Avoid placing artworks too close to sources of light, unless they are LED lights.
- Do not hang works on damp or recently plastered walls, especially if they are close to air vents. If your artwork is valuable or sentimental, never store it in an attic.