As an artist, every so often I get questions about what happens to a painting after it leaves the easel. Shipping is an important piece of the puzzle. Having the client ecstatic about their new painting is an important piece (my favorite!). And then there’s framing. Framing is a really big deal. The right frame can make a work of art really stand out, while a bad frame can substantially detract from the piece. But how to decide? Among the thousands and thousands of frames you can choose from, how on earth are you to find one of the great ones that pulls the whole piece together, and can indeed pull a whole room together? It just so happens I have a few thoughts on the subject. On to Framing 101…

Thinking of the Larger Space

When purchasing art, let alone framing it, there’s a lot to be said about simply loving the piece. It speaks to you, it inspires you, it makes you FEEL something. Usually that something is something that you want to feel again and again, hence the desire to take the art home and have it within eyesight day after day. This is what I like to call the gut-check for art. Do you love it? Are you swept away by it? Can you imagine yourself looking at it for many many years? Does it speak to you in some important way? If so, perfect! You should find a way to bring it into your life and enjoy – by all means and definitely ignore the art critics!

However, oftentimes it is also a good idea to think of where your desired piece might end up. Where will the art be hanging? What size wall are you trying to fill? Is your room large and voluminous? Is it a bright, light-filed, airy room or a dramatic, elegantly-lit, dark reading nook? Is your painting a contemporary piece or more classical? Sometime it’s good to match a classical piece with a classical frame. Hopefully, the artwork that you want to buy and the mood that you want to bring to a particular space will work together to create an environment for your life that is more than the sum of its individual parts. When that happens, well, it’s just magic! There’s nothing as wonderful as bringing art both literally and metaphorically into your home, into your life, and into your everyday routine.

“I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.” – Helena Bonham Carter

Other lesser items to consider when thinking of your art space: Are your tastes more traditional or do you like it more modern design? Do you like straight lines, reclaimed beach wood, or gilded filigree? Are you looking for something to stand out and be a real eye-catcher or to blend harmoniously with other elements in the space to create an overall effect? Do you have lots of wall space and want one big piece, or a few smaller pieces that work together? All fun things to consider and maybe even write down as you start to think about finding or actually placing your beloved artwork.

I personally have a fondness for a blend of old and new. I really like clean lines of more modern furniture and light fixtures, with a few more muted and earthen tones to create a warm and welcome, even somewhat well-worn space. I also like a few vintage touches: soft linens, pillows or a blanket, bronze switch plates, terra cotta pots, a worn indie rug, and a hint of copper or brass really work to bring what might be a bland space into something remarkable. (For me, that is! You might like something totally different, which is wonderful. Just keep these kinds of “building blocks” in the back of your mind as you tie your space and your painting together. I’ve found Pinterest to be incredibly helpful in putting together a series of design ideas that you can refer to later on.)

“Blank Canvas”: A Case Study

Recently, I finished a portrait of my daughter, Esme. (This is one of those rare pieces that I get to keep.) The tones of the portrait somewhat revolve around my daughter’s auburn hair, beautiful fair skin, and a yellow floral dress she happened to be wearing when I took her picture. It’s very simple but fun and I think will look lovely in one of the nooks of my living space. Unfortunately, when we painted the room many years ago, we picked what we thought was a warm grey only to discover that the deep dark red tones of the molding in our historic home (built in 1909!) make it look rather green and muddy. It was not working. Interestingly, this portrait became the perfect excuse to remodel or at least repaint what was an earlier poor design choice.

Framing and Portrait

Nope. Not working. This really needed something new. New paint and a really nice frame to match. Something that would feel warm and cozy, but also have a bit of punch visually. What’s the next step?

Visiting Your Local Custom Framer

I can’t say enough about making a trip out to your local custom framers (or if you can have them come visit you. ;)) This is opposed to trusting your beautiful artwork to a chain store that has framing services as only a tiny portion of its business or where the employee may or may not have had extensive training on handling works of art. Another thing to keep in mind is that the artwork you’re framing is possibly one of a kind and irreplaceable, expensive, or both. A custom framer will know how to safely handle and store your artwork while it is in their care. Yes, they will be more expensive, but you’re much more likely to end up with the right one and this is a long-term investment – something that you’ll be looking at for many years. When you make up your mind to go, see if you can schedule an appointment with said framer so that you know you’ll have some help with your search.

If you can, bring in the artwork itself. Bring in swatches, pictures of the wall where the art will hang, pictures of the rest of the room, and even your tablet or phone for looking at your Pinterest boards. This is so your framer can get a feel for what you are shooting for in your space. Oftentimes this alone is worth the step of visiting a custom framer because they can eliminate a whole bevy of frames that you won’t like and point you in the direction of the frames that will work best in your space, saving you a ton of time and decision-making exhaustion.

A good framer will have a lot of framing stock for you to choose from. They should have an expansive table or area where you can lay out the artwork and actually place framing stock against the piece to see what they look like together. Plan on spending at least an hour or so. Don’t be hasty. If you don’t find anything that you like right off the bat, don’t worry, there are times where things just don’t look right or you feel unsure. Sometimes it’s better to come back for another visit than to make a quick choice that you may be unhappy with later on.

It just so happens that Salt Lake is home to a wonderful custom frameshop: Tanner Frames, very conveniently located in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. I’ve always had a great time visiting Travis, the owner, and they have always done a fabulous job with not only my artworks, but for many other artists here in the Salt Lake Valley and beyond. As a longtime customer, Travis already knows a lot about me and my wife’s tastes and can point me to the frame stock that I’m going to like right off the bat. He is also great at finding some fun outside-the-box combinations that I wouldn’t have looked at on my own. I really value his input and his experience.

Unless your painting is pretty abstract or has a lot of different colors, a good tip is to find a color element in the painting that stands out a bit and then find those same sets of colors on the frame. For example, in the portrait my daughter’s auburn hair and yellow dress have a varnished gold look.

For this particular visit I tried to find a frame that has both modern lines (not filigreed) and also has a not too bright, gold finish that won’t overwhelm the painting. I know from prior experience that this color would go nicely with the warmly painted walls and red tones of my living room’s hardwood moldings. With that, we left our precious painting in Travis’ care knowing that we had a couple of weeks to finish painting the living room a new color.

Sneak Peek:

On to Part II…