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The Challenges of Framing Art

by Jason Horejs on October 31, 2013 · 94 comments

All I have to do is say the word “frame”, and I see artists get a dejected, depressed look in their eyes. Framing has long been the bane of painters, photographers, pastelists, pencil artists and all others who work in two-dimensions. Framing art is time-consuming and expensive, and just when you think you’ve found the right frame, your clients let you know otherwise.

Framing costs impact your bottom line and change the way you price your work. Finding a good framer in your area can prove an exhausting challenge.

 Is it any wonder that many artists are moving away from framing?

With all of those hurtles, is it any wonder that many artists are moving away from framing? Many artists who paint in a contemporary style are creating their work on box-stretched, gallery-wrapped canvases that don’t need to be framed. I’m also beginning to see artists who are painting in more traditional styles taking this approach. In my gallery, I have very few artists who are using a traditional frame.

That said, some artwork begs for a frame. Frames can add real elegance to a piece, and many art buyers with traditional homes simply won’t buy work that isn’t beautifully framed.

I frequently receive requests from artists to share my thoughts on framing, and I would like to take the opportunity to do so. I’m also interested in drawing on my readers collective wisdom in the framing department, so if you have some advice or input on the ins and outs of framing, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Finding the Right Frame

Client FrameOften, a client will see piece of artwork, fall in love with it, and then say, “but that frame has got to go.”  Is there anything more discouraging than having to reframe a piece when you put so much time and investment into framing it in the first place? Wouldn’t it be great if you could find exactly the right frame every time?

Well, you can’t. Everyone has different taste and different needs when it comes to presentation. The perfect frame for one buyer might not work at all for another. With that in mind, I suggest you find frames you feel do a great job of accentuating your artwork. For some artists that will be a simple, minimal frame, and for others it might be an ornate, gold-leafed frame. Employ your artistic eye to find the perfect match for your work, or find a framer who also has an artistic eye and have them help you find the right frame. Even though your clients may end up reframing the work down the road, at least if you have a frame you like and can reuse on a future piece.

I would also encourage you to aim for consistency. Sure, not all of your work can be framed in exactly the same way, but if you can keep your framing as consistent as possible, you will simplify the decision making process and your framing will become a part of your brand. I’ve worked with artists who limit their frames to three or four different mouldings.

How Much to Spend on a Frame

Of course, another major consideration is cost. Frames can run the gamut from $30 – $10,000 (and more), depending on the size of the piece and the quality of the frame. Understandably, many artist struggle with  making a big investment in a frame. It can be difficult to pay for framing when you are unsure that the piece will sell. The higher the framing cost, the lower the artist’s profit margin when the piece sells.

I’ve done some research into framing costs, and I found that among well-established artists, those who are selling in the $2,500-$10,000 range, many are spending 7-15% of the retail cost of the artwork to purchase the frame.

Pegging framing investment to retail price is a good place to start, and 7-15% is probably about the right target

I hesitate to give numbers like this because my research is far from scientific (it comes from conversations I’ve had over the last several years about framing and pricing), and because there are many caveats. As the price of the art goes up, for example, the % spent on framing can go down. Still, I think that pegging framing investment to retail price is a good place to start, and 7-15% is probably about the right target.

If your prices are low, you are going to be limited in the frame that you can afford. If you are selling a 24 x 30 at $500, your framing budget would be $35-$75. In framing, you get what you pay for, and you’re not going to be getting much at those prices.

Another interesting way to think about framing cost would be to look at it in reverse. Find a frame that you feel is absolutely spectacular – a frame you would love to buy if money were no object. Take the cost of that frame and divide it by 15% to find out what your retail price would need to be in order to justify the frame.  So, if the frame costs $400, you would get $400 / .15 = $2,666. Now, buy the frame, raise your price to where it would need to be in order to afford the frame, and go out and find a gallery where you can sell the work at that price.

Many successful artists consider framing to be an investment, not an expense.

Changing Frames

What if the frame you’ve chosen doesn’t end up working for your buyer? This happens all the time. You’ll still be glad you invested in a good quality frame – the buyer might simply have passed the work by otherwise. Now you have to figure out the logistics of changing the frame.

Here is how we typically handle the issue in the gallery. I will talk to the artist and find out how much the current frame is worth to them. I then offer that amount to the client as a framing allowance (or discount) against the retail price of the art. The client can then take the art to their own framer, or I will accompany them to our framer if they need help, and select their own frame.

Setting the Price on Framed Work

I am an advocate of developing a simple formula for pricing your work (watch my podcast with Barney Davey on the topic here). Often, artists ask, “how do I account for framing costs in my price?”

When developing the retail price for your work, you need to roll the frame into your formula and make sure that your costs are covered out of your portion of the commission. I’ve spoken with artists who would like to have a base price that would be used to set the gallery and artist commission, and then add their framing cost on top of that. In other words, if they have a piece they want to make $500 on, they would double that to $1,000, in order to cover the gallery commission, then add $150 for the frame. The retail price would be $1,150. When the piece sells, the gallery would keep $500, and then send the artist $500 in commission and $150 to cover the frame.

I can definitely see the appeal of this scheme, but, unfortunately, it’s simply not how the gallery commission structure works. Gallery’s pay commission on the total sale price. So your markup needs to include the frame. If you are shooting to net $500, and the frame costs $150, your retail would need to be set at $1,300.

The only exception I’ve seen to this is when the gallery has a framing business and they take care of the framing costs and markup (the result for the artist would be the same $500 though).

Where to Find Great Frames and Framers

Finding the right framer can be a challenge. We have several different framers that we work with and recommend to customers. We’ve worked with custom framers who create their own mouldings and do seamless corners, and we work with a framer who uses manufactured mouldings. We select the framer based on our client’s budget and needs. I’m especially happy with the service a local frame shop, The Art Department, provides.

Find a framer in your area that has an artistic eye and that offers great service. Get to know the framer you’ll be working with. In many ways, the framer will become a partner and adviser in your art business.

Talk to artists in your area and find out who they are using.

What Advice Would You Give?

What do you think about framing? What advice would you give someone who is struggling with framing? What has experience taught you about framing? Please share your thoughts below.

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About 

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

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{ 93 comments… read them below or add one }

Delilah October 31, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Hi Jason,

I had a friend that the gallery they had their work in changed out the frame of their work and put it on another artist painting to sell that work because the client wanted that frame. Then put their painting in the substandard frame. How would you suggest that as an artist we should handle this sticky situation if it should ever happen to us?

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Robert Albrecht October 31, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Just a few comments on the above.
1. The gallery has no right to change the frame to make the sale unless they have contacted the artist and have their approval to do so. They do not own the frame if it is on a commission basis. If they purchased the piece in advance then they do own it and can make whatever changes they want since the artist has been satisfied with the original purchase price from the gallery.
2. If you find your artwork in a substandard frame that has been switched out, I would hope that you could have a discussion with the gallery as to the benefit of placing a new frame of equal value to the original frame and explaining that you realize that they needed to do this to make a sale but you are an artist…not in the frame business and you would like your art to be re-framed ASAP so that it will have an opportunity to sell also. This would be at their expense since you already paid for the original frame they decided to sell with another piece or they could pay you to have it re-framed to your standards.

Sticky situation indeed but if this becomes a “norm” at this gallery to make switches, then you might need to look at that relationship overall. Why frame at all if they are just going to move them around??

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Jason Horejs November 1, 2013 at 8:18 am

I agree with Robert’s comment. I would hope this wouldn’t happen very often, but when it did, you shouldn’t feel any hesitation in expressing your dissatisfaction. Let the gallery know that you don’t care to have the other frame on your work and tell them what the frame you placed on the piece was worth. Ask them to purchase the same frame for your piece to replace the one they took.

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Dean Russell Thompson October 31, 2013 at 12:59 pm

For works that must be framed under glazing, the cost of the frame can be much higher especially
when it is large work that pushes beyond standard materials sizes (32×40). Acid free (cotton or
alpha cellulose) mats and conservation glazing (UV protective) add to the price but are vital for
original work.

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Maggie Smith November 6, 2013 at 9:58 am

I love working with paper. However, matting, framing and selecting the glass or other…where is the profit? I find I don’t sell paper for as much as oil. Guess what I am doing more of?

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Fred Chuang October 31, 2013 at 1:06 pm

My unusual painting technique requires framing to be shown at all. I use a standard Nielsen metal frame on all my work. It’s very inexpensive and the nice thing is that it can be slipped into a fancy wooden frame without any problem, metal frame and all! I just sold a 48″ x 48″ painting: frame cost me $50–the painting sold for $5,500. They loved the simple, neutral, all-black metal frame, too.

When I set up a festival booth, all my work is unified by the framing, too.

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RonaLynn October 31, 2013 at 1:14 pm

To frame or not to frame….such a dilemma.
If the frame is selected as a decoration to the painting, it seems more likely that the chances of it not “fitting” with a decor is more probable.

As an artist, I want to consider a frame that reflects my style/vision and becomes part of the painting rather than just an enhancement. They go together and are not separate. When one looks at a painting, they are looking at the whole creation not just what is inside the frame.

My approach towards framing is the same as materials. I use the best possible. Then I add the cost of the frame (x2 for gallery resale) and calculate the total retail cost of the painting.

The biggest problem with framing for me, is shipping glass and costs. Even as an artist, I am always surprised by how a mat and frame can change a pastel, drawing, print or watercolor, so I am certain an untrained eye might have some difficulty looking at “unfinished” pieces.

Regarding gallery wrapped canvases. Some styles seem to suit the unframed look more than others. Sometimes it is nice to see paintings contained and sometimes it is lovely to see them float. The bottom line is, making the choice for the right reasons is sometimes tricky.

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Jason Horejs November 1, 2013 at 8:31 am

Good point RonaLynn – framing and glass can definitely increase shipping costs. This also needs to be taken into consideration when pricing. You can use the same shipping techniques I shared in a previous post (http://www.reddotblog.com/wordpress/index.php/how-to-ship-paintings-a-step-by-step-guide-for-artists-and-galleries/), but in addition to the other packaging and preparation, use masking tape to tape over the glass to help prevent damage to the art in the case of breakage.

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Chris A Paschke, CPF GCF October 31, 2013 at 1:35 pm

As a professional custom picture framer, educator, author, columnist in the framing industry and artist I can indeed comment on this topic.

It is true that framing is generally an afterthought for most artists surrounding the display and sale of their art. Framing is designed to “enhance and protect” the art. It should work well with the image and medium–via color, texture, weight, shape, period, finish, etc–while providing the safest and most reversible environment to protect it for years. If the selected framing truly enhances the art itself–rather than being selected by price or simply because it is the one on-hand that fits–it will work with the art to create an entire package. These are the framed pieces that will fit into any room and are loved by all collectors.

As far as pricing goes, the frame is a part of the completed package. The artist cost price should be doubled and that added tot he art. As you mentioned in option 2 above that way the commission is 50% and the framing is covered. Framing can make or break a sale…it’s up to all artists to take care of their art with the correct home that enhances and protects it.

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David maxwell October 31, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Most reputable art programs will teach how present and build a beautiful frame. And I encourage my students so build or use three inch deep gallery wrapped canvases to avoid this problem all together. A look at any museums contemporary collection will show a majority of work unframed due to the substantial edge giving it a polished complete look.

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Ann Ford October 31, 2013 at 1:52 pm

My paintings sell better when framed. I do offer the client the option to switch frames or I simply adjust the price and let the client get their own frame. Ninenty percent of my clients buy my art becaust they like my framing.
When I began to show and sell many years ago, I just framed in whatever frame that I could find cheap. I soon learned that the better frames produced more sales. The right frame for art might not always be expensive, but must lok expensive. Often I have switched out a frame from another painting just because the client wants it. I have an edge over other artist in that I onced owned a frame shop and still retained my wholesale framing source for supplies and frames. This is very convenient when I make a sale and I can re-frame while the client waits. Not the best to give them cooling off time by having to return at a later date for the finished package, for they may have changed their mind. Today’s frames have a dreyys look without being too fancy. That is the best to select.
I advoid the gallery wrap canvas due to it being too trendy and contemporary. Sooner or later the client will opt for a frame, thus limiting the frames available .
Also, I ship my pastels and haul them about to galleries and competitions. Glass is not allowed in most shows. I agree. So at the initional framing I request plexi for safety. I have it understood that when the art is sold, I will switch to glass if desired.

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Jason Horejs November 1, 2013 at 8:34 am

Great input Ann – and while not every artist can get into the framing business, there are some framers that offer a discount price if the artist has a resale tax license.

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linda billet October 31, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Just like everything else from web site to artist statement, framing should reflect the artist. I understand that what I am doing would not be right for anybody else but I am going to tell you about it because it illustrates that one can make any problem into an opportunity. I work in mosaic so my work is heavy, causing a problem in framing securely. Last year I decided to have all my frames hand made so that they would be sturdy AND exactly how I want them. I thought a frame that is rather urban, less refined would fit my style better. My frames all come to me raw, with all the ply in the wood (sometimes nicks and dents or screws) intentionally showing. I finish them myself to not only fit my style but to also be part of the finished piece. For example, a frame might have dripped paint on it after staining, woodburning, a sneaker print, whatever. These details are super subtle and most people don’t see them. The ones that do seem to really appreciate it. Before this framing venture, I had never had comments on my framing. Now, when someone compliments my frames, I am actually happy because it is still MY work they are loving on.

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Donia October 31, 2013 at 2:31 pm

I am a pastelist and mixed-media painter who LOVES working on paper (much to the dismay of my practical/business-side) and I actually learned custom framing and worked a couple of days a week at a high quality frame shop for 7 or 8 years, starting in college and through the first years of my career as an artist so I could not only get a discount on the supplies, but also not have to pay someone else to do the work.

That said, what Dean Russell Thompson mentioned above is absolutely true: 7% on a piece that needs archival matting and glazing (and glazing means some type of glass or plexi-glass for those who aren’t up on the trade lingo :-P) is *completely* unrealistic – even 15% is optimistic unless you’re selling at very high prices (and sadly, works on paper, despite their added cost of framing, generally do not go for as much as a work on canvas for whatever strange bias the art world has). Also, trust me, you do not want to waste your money on non-acid-free mattes trying to cut down costs — if you don’t sell your work quickly you will notice the yellowing from the lignans, and even if you do, your clients will notice it and might be wary to buy from you again since you use sub-standard materials)

So Jason – for artists who work on canvas or board, your advice seems sound – especially since you can easily swap frames, etc. But for the people who really suffer at the hands of framing — those who need to put glazing over their work — it doesn’t fully apply. I’d be curious to know what your opinion is of works on “paper” (here I mean anything that needs glazing over it) in general and in relation to the framing issue.

As much as my business side would love to just switch media/grounds (my life would be SO much simpler if I’d just paint on standard sized canvas/boards), my artistic side demands otherwise. Because ultimately I am making art because I *need* to make art, not because I need to make money — I’m not an “art factory” that can switch gears based on market demands as I’ve noticed some people do — and I’m just trying to find a way to make money with what I’m doing by tweaking/altering the things I can (e.g. marketing efforts, website, etc)

Thanks again for an interesting blog post!
http://DoniaLilly.com

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Jason Horejs November 1, 2013 at 8:43 am

Donia – you bring up a great point and a real challenge for artists who are working on paper – the costs can be greater and it can be more difficult to raise prices. That said, there are pastelists, watercolorists and other artists who work primarily on paper who are charging high prices for their work, so it’s not impossible.

I just want to be sure that everyone is being realistic about the finances of their art business. If you are spending 30% of the retail cost on the frame and then selling in a gallery, you need to realize that 60% of your net is going to framing after you take out the gallery commission. Add to that transportation and and overhead and it’s going to be incredibly difficult to eek out a profit. For artists who are trying to make a living at their art, something will have to give. Prices will have to go up, or costs come down.

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Maggie Smith November 6, 2013 at 10:13 am

You have a beautiful web site Donia, and I enjoyed looking at your art. I too like working with paper and agree with Jason, that while not impossible, it is more difficult to get a decent profit. Some of the works I have sold in the past are becoming prints, and I’m now seeking ways of inexpensive, but classy, frames. Getting the print ready made with a border might work instead of a mat. Perhaps an inexpensive – but nice – fits all frame. Scratching with plexi? Breaking with glass? Oh what to do, paper artists?

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Jim October 31, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I’m a print maker and have gone digital in the past couple of years.

I started out and will only use museum standard black or silver aluminum frames for my prints. If the buyer has a hate of the frame they are more then welcome to switch it out. But at there cost. The piece is priced as is with the frame. No discount for taking it out of the frame and switching it or making it frameless.

Might sound harsh but My pricing is per the AGA guild guides of price of materials x 10.
A small 4×12 aluminum print is @ $21.00 to print and $25 to frame. $46.00 and with my time and effort because I frame it, mark up to $50 x 10 = $500.

I sell over the net. If I had to put it through a Gallary it would be $666.00, I still get my $500. (if its a 30% gallery commission…)

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Karen October 31, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Like Donia I work almost exclusively on paper. After many years of resisting framing but having to do it and ending up with less than ideal frames, (people do not respond to generic frames generally) I have bit the bullet and set up an entire framing workshop in my studio along with an account with a moulding and framing supplier. In markets where people are not spending a lot of money there is appeal to purchase an already framed piece of art. So I get paid for the framing along with the art.

I try to pick frames that really set off the piece of art with appropriate conservation mats and uv non-glare plexi glazing. If the piece looks fabulous I can ask more for the whole package than I might get for the unframed work. People often lack the imagination to see how it fabulous it will look in a frame when it is unframed. The value of the framing is often from 30 to 50% of what I am selling the piece for. If they want the frame replaced I might offer them an upgrade fee if I can reuse the existing frame, but if it is an inexpensive piece reframing is up to them. I would encourage them to buy another similar unframed piece.

When my customers purchase a piece of unframed art, I can offer to frame it for them. They like the one stop shop effect of not having to find a framer and figure it all out.

And I agree again with Donia, it is really not fair that art on paper is perceived as less valuable, when in fact the skill level can be much higher.

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Karen October 31, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I forgot to mention that on more expensive pieces the framing can be down to around 10% of the cost of the art.

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Jason Horejs November 1, 2013 at 8:47 am

Karen – there are certainly a number of artists who have taken this approach – opening their own frame shop. For most artist, however, the time that framing takes away from production isn’t worth the tradeoff, not to mention the capital investment required to get the tools and materials to get started.

If you are doing a high enough volume of sales, however, and if you have someone that can help with the framing, a friend, partner or spouse, it’s certainly an option that should be explored.

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Maggie Smith November 6, 2013 at 10:21 am

Yes Jason, I am now looking at the barter system to get framing work done. Maybe someday I’ll have all the tools myself and set up shop. In the meantime: Art in trade for miter box skills. I can buy molding to fit, paint, it, etc. and for larger pieces, this can save a lot. Anyone in Tucson, AZ interested – need art?

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Maria Poroy October 31, 2013 at 3:52 pm

This is really helpful. I find a high quality frame does make a huge difference. I have tended towards standard sizes in the last year so I can re-use frames. I will sell a painting at an unframed prices, but without the frame the painting may not have been noticed. I am also a collector and I finally had a floater frame made for a very special large painting after living with it for a couple of years. It was really the only option with a gallery wrap piece. That experience of seeing an important painting really presented well made me stop using deep stretcher bars almost entirely. I watch for a molding I like to get discounted by a favorite online store and then have several made.

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Jason Horejs November 1, 2013 at 8:49 am

Maria – I’m glad you brought up the concept of standardized sizes. This is really important, and may be something that an artist beginning in the business might not think about. If you can limit your production to a number of standard sizes, everything about production becomes easier – from buying the canvas or paper, to framing. Pricing is also easier.

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Deborah Kommalan October 31, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I have always felt that the client usually wants to choose a frame, perhaps I am wrong. If I have used a narrow stretcher canvas, I usually put a simple painted lattice strip frame to give the canvas a finish. It can be easily changed out to a frame the client would prefer.

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Jason Horejs November 1, 2013 at 8:52 am

Deborah – I know that there are a lot of artists who feel this way, but in my experience, this is not typically the case. Most clients would rather make a purchase and not have the extra work of finding a frame. Yes, there are some clients who will end up reframing a piece, but they are in the minority in my experience. There are many buyers who will pass over a work of art if it’s not well framed or well presented.

I know artists hate to hear this. We all want it to be about the art, not the frame, but the reality is that the client sees it as a whole package.

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K. Henderson October 31, 2013 at 4:08 pm

My biggest problem with framing is the lack of care at the gallery or show. How many times have I spent lots of money on a frame and the painting is return with a damaged frame , NOT damaged during shipping but because of improper handling at the show or gallery?

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Jason Horejs November 1, 2013 at 8:54 am

K – this is another issue altogether. I agree completely – it’s deplorable the care some galleries and shows give to the art. I would suggest that a contract with a gallery include a clause about responsibility for frames. Make it clear that you expect them to care for the art and the frame, and then give them guidance on how to handle the frames.

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Deborah Colotti October 31, 2013 at 4:22 pm

I am a sculptor, with a “framing phobia”, yet sometimes I find the need to frame my wall-hung artworks. In the past I would look through my collection of recycled and found frames, maybe alter them a bit, and use those. One of my friends with lots of high-end framing experience has really taken me to task on this subject. Years of discussion with her has resulted in my noticing and appreciating good framing, but I was able to continue creating 3-D without needing to frame much of anything.

But, recently I have been creating delicate works sewing human hair onto handkerchiefs. I have just completed framing my second artwork from this series. The first one has a shadow box with fabric-wrapped sides & backing, museum glass, and finished corners. Beautiful, but horribly expensive. The second one has a deep custom-made bent-plexi box with a finished corner frame. Totally lovely, but even more horribly expensive. The frames will end up costing about 25-30% of the retail price. I will present the third artwork without framing but with a hanging apparatus to hold it away from the wall about 3/4″. While not ideal, this third format of presentation will allow a direct visceral experience with the art, and allow someone to frame it as they see fit.

I am hoping that if I show three different presentation options that buyers can chose the style they prefer. (This would alleviate my fear that they might discard the expensive custom frames)

Years ago, I read about the concept of deducting the cost of framing from the sales price before splitting the commission, but as you say, Jason, this is not a common arrangement with galleries, unfortunately for me, as I think it would a more fair solution for such issues.

I recall years ago as another friend and I were jurying the art for the county fair that she was adamant about eliminating all the artwork with less-than-decent framing, and it didn’t matter if the artwork was good or not. I suspect many art buyers would have the same reaction, even if they were not conscious of it.

Another point I have begun noticing is the colored-mat syndrome. My friends all say “NO NO NO!”

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Lori Woodward October 31, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I glue my watercolors to a panel and varnish them with UV protective varnish. Some that I varnished and sold years ago are still vibrant and can be wiped off with a damp cloth. Another watercolorist, Robert McFarland varnishes his watercolors with KMAR spray. I frame the paper on panel with an oil type frame. This saves on framing costs and also lessons confusion for viewers because sometimes they wonder if matted glazed watercolors are possibly giclee prints.

For common sized works, I use gallery frames from Omega Moulding, and for custom sized works, I visit a local framer who gives discounts to artists.

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Jason Horejs November 1, 2013 at 8:56 am

Thanks Lori – I seem many artists innovating on presentation as you suggest, to avoid the difficulties and expenses of framing. Ultimately it comes down to aesthetics, but if you find that your work looks good without a frame (and some work actually looks better without a frame), it makes a lot of sense to pursue the frame-less presentation.

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RJ October 31, 2013 at 5:36 pm

I work rather large (36X36 on up) on canvas and panels, and frame just about everything. I encourage my patrons to replace my framing with their own choices; something they like, that goes with their room decor. Let me explain: all my frames are of thin mahogany strips – ranch stop, or mull casing – available at most lumber and home improvement stores in 7 and 8 ft. lengths. With nicely mitred corners, this solution is an inexpensive and effective finish to my work.
I appreciate a good frame enough to know that I don’t want to waste a lot of my resources on it. There are those who are truly gifted framers who would do a much better job than I. I also think my clients like the option of some hands-on design of their finished presentation.

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Julie Thompson October 31, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Hi Jason! I can sooo relate to this. I paint feathers, an art form I have done for 23 years now, currently with a worldwide market. But when I first delved into shows, I had not at that point framed my work. I checked with several framing shops, but nobody wanted to touch them for fear of damaging them in the framing process. Fortunately there is a company here in the Pacific Northwest where you can order moulding and cut mats and glass and they’ll teach you to frame. I took full advantage of that and learned through trial the best way to present these feathers.

Not long after that I sought employment at one of the very shops who refused to frame my work. Eventually I became lead framer, and then became the one in our district they deployed to catch up the other shops who fell behind in their queue. During this course of employment I had the priceless opportunity to learn so much about framing so many different things. This knowledge became invaluable as I learned the best and most archival techniques, as well as color trends and customer preference.

Since leaving the industry to pursue my own self employment in art and commissioned work, what I learned has helped me so much. I still cut my own mats, but currently hire a gallery to cut moulding and glass. There is a LOT to be saved in framing one’s own work, and in addition you have total control over the archival quality of the framing process. Having the experience in a frame shop and exposure to customers’ wants and needs educates you in what people are looking for. I haven’t had to reframe anything yet to meet a customer’s preferences. *knock on wood*, but at least no substandard techniques are ever used in my work, you would be aghast at what I have discovered upon opening a piece for reframing things when I worked at a frame shop!

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Ronald Bartanen November 1, 2013 at 4:30 am

I’m one among many who do not depend upon our art for a living to avoid being “starving artists.” I’m happy if my 16x20s can sell for $125 framed. I can’t spend even that for a frame. My solution is either extra-good-deals at a local frame shop or frequenting re-sale shops and garage sales in well-to-do neighborhoods. Then I try to paint pictures that would look well in those particular frames. I’ve found really great buys in frames this way. I admit it’s humbling, but at least I can break even at the end of he year, or occasionally even make a small profit.

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Rani Garner November 1, 2013 at 5:35 am

One of my galleries likes wide plein-air style frames; another prefers minimal floater frames, and this is my biggest framing dilemma. I ship to galleries frequently and if there is ever damage, it’s always to the frame–usually a broken corner. Some frames styles are more prone to damage so it’s good to keep this in mind when selecting. I see it as my job to provide the best quality frame for the lowest price, so I usually buy wholesale ready-mades. Here in the Southeast, more and more customers are buying my work that is framed in a wide silver plein-air style as opposed to gold. If I’m painting a series that can be hung together on one large wall, I often use unframed gallery-wrapped canvasses.

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Jason Horejs November 1, 2013 at 9:00 am

Rani – as mentioned above – standardized sizing is going to be critical so that you can easily swap out frames. As far as damage, I think it’s interesting that originally, frames were built as protection, more than decoration. The idea being that it is better to have the frame damaged than the art. As frames have become more ornate and elaborate (and more expensive) it’s now almost the opposite. I know many artists who would prefer to have the art damaged than the frame because the frames are so costly! Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, no one wants to see their art damaged, but you get the point.

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Stan Bowman November 1, 2013 at 5:35 am

Fred above spoke of getting a 48″x48″ frame for $50. That is hard to believe. A simple floater frame from online frame supply houses will run you $150 and a simple wood or metal frame that size $100. And if you go to a local frames shop, be prepared for sticker shock.

Artists really have three choices, use an expensive quality frame, use a relatively inexpensive frame, or like many artists do sell the work unframed. The downside of unframed is that it may take longer to sell than framed. But then how do you even know if the work will sell better if framed? It has also been my observation that if you are dealing with a gallery they would prefer it framed to speed the likelihood of a sale so there you are with the framing dilemma. But selling out of your studio or at art fairs I wonder if the work needs to be framed. The buyer can provide this.

Even more vexing is the issue which many artists face today who have taken up making quality giclee prints of their artwork is whether to frame it as well as the original. The issue and cost of frames is still the same as with framing the more expensive original work whereas the sale price of a giclee is much less. In pursuit of an alternative to framing and as someone who makes all my own giclee prints of my work and prints for other artists I have invented a method of framing (or I should say the look of a frame) when I make a giclee print. I print on canvas and actually print a frame just outside the printed image of the artwork so that when stretched it looks just like a framed print. I am calling this a “faux frame”. I have had people come into my studio and look at these prints on the wall and believe they are framed works and then discover they are printed on frames. Moreover I have been using this technique for making giclee prints for clients lately, much to their delight and approval.

Now this will not work with original works if quality framing is desired but when an artist moves into making giclee prints of their works this is an easy and quick way to get a quality framed looking print for augmenting sales and at very little cost.

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Jane Wilcoxson November 1, 2013 at 6:34 am

I’ve been going through a framing dilemma recently. Usually my paintings are framed using a wide matt and a conservative Metal Nelson frame. Then I went to an educational framing event at my local frame company. I look some of my art and the italian designer from Fotiou : a high quality Italian frame company, asked me why I framed my work so conservatively when my work is so playful. So I put a Fotiou frame on one of my pieces and it looks fantastic and very contemporary. But then the frame costs twice as much as my conservative frame. So now I’m wondering if I can sell work that costs more. I guess I have to find a gallery that can sell my work at that price point.
Sincerely, Jane Wilcoxson, http://www.JaneWilcoxson.com

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Tim Packer November 1, 2013 at 8:48 am

Hello Jason,

I agree that the proper frame can really add to the impact of a painting… but when looked at as a purely financial decision, the idea of an artist paying for framing and then sending it to a gallery makes no business sense. In your example of the artist doubling the framing costs and passing that on to the gallery it would seem at first glance that this has a net zero effect on the artist’s potential earnings. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the artist would earn the same profit on the sale of the work… what has not been taken into account is what the cost is to the artist to replace that piece.

For example: I sell my 18″ by 18″ oils on canvas un-framed for $1100.00 retail at my galleries. My cost for canvas and paint is probably around $50.00. After considering my materials cost I will net a $500.00 profit per painting. It will then cost me another $50.00 in materials to replace the sold painting leaving me $450.00 to pay for the other costs of maintaining a home and studio. In other words it only takes 10% of my profits to replace each sold painting.

If I were to frame that painting using the formula of 15% of retail… lets say $150.00 I would have to raise my retail by $300.00 to $1400.00 to recoup my framing costs and maintain the same profit. But now it would cost me $200.00 to replace that painting after paying for another frame. In this scenario after replacing the sold painting I would only have $300.00 left to pay for my cost of living. In effect, by framing my work and only recouping the cost I would be reducing my cash flow to pay for the essentials of living by 33%.

In a world where most full time artists are struggling to keep their heads above water this can make the difference between earning a living and having to pack it in and get a “real” job. Most artists don’t like to deal with the “business” side of things but the reality is that if you are a working artist you are a small business owner operator. Just like any other business if you want to succeed financially you need to maximize your profits and minimize your capital costs. You can only do this if you have a true understanding of how each dollar spent actually affects your bottom line.

For those must frame their work due to the medium they work in you have my condolences… but for those that have the option of framing or not framing I would suggest that you think long and hard about the actual costs of framing your work before sending out there.

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Jason Horejs November 1, 2013 at 9:43 am

Tim, I appreciate the comment and you are exactly right about this being a business. Every business has to look very carefully at costs and profits. I know a lot of artists who simply create and hope that the numbers will work themselves out in the end. Far better to know the realities and start working with them, than to fly on a wing and a prayer.

I do need to point out an error in the accounting of your illustration though. In your example, you are counting the cost of goods sold twice. You are right that you have to draw funds from cash flow in order to replace a piece of art, but that charge only counts against your profit once.

Using your example, the framed piece sold at $1,400, results a net of $700 to you after the gallery commission. You are correct that your profit would only be $500, because you spent $50 for materials and $150 for the frame, but you paid those when you produced the piece, you don’t have to pay them again now. You do have to replace the art that sold. This will cost you $200, but that comes out of the $700, leaving you net cash flow of $500 for ongoing overhead.

Assuming you borrowed the $200 to produce the first painting, you would have to pay this back, so after the first sale you would be left with only $300 (exactly as you suggested in your illustration), but you would only have to pay back that initial investment one time. All future sales would then result in $500 cash flow, taking into account the $200 cost of producing a replacement piece.

The same applies to your unframed work – you only have to charge the materials once per piece, and net $500 for each sale.

The frame is a wash, and if it helps you sell more paintings (though, of course, there is no guarantee of this) you may be able to increase your cash flow.

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Susan Pepler November 2, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Yikes! Hi Tim (we met in Ottawa a few years back) and Jason
My right brain can’t even process your numbers .. so I am somewhere between making the wisest decisions I can, with the advice of successful friends and mentors, with a splash of some very basic number crunching … that’s it. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of artists out there in the same boat. My solution to the number confusion is to gather smart business people around me as advisors, take marketing courses and go for it!

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Judy Dunn January 11, 2014 at 2:21 pm

I agree with your assessment, BUT, there is one flaw in the logic. It assumes that every painting made is sold in order for the math to work out so nicely. Granted, some frames on older work can be switched out over time, but there is still a very large investment required on the front end in a business that some investment in time is required before sales begin to occur. I guess I would rather spend my money on materials to make more paintings (which is expensive enough!) than on framing. I do agree with an earlier statement about the trend in contemporary art. My visits to local museums provides me with a little more comfort with the choice to forgo a frame….for now! I am always open to the possibility that time will reveal a different choice.

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Katherine November 1, 2013 at 8:51 am

Some of my work requires framing, and I love how one of my galleries handles it. They add the cost of the frame onto the standard retail price for a work of that size, and then re-imburse me for the frame when the work sells. This way I can frame it in the best way possible and not worry too much about the cost. This gallery is not a framer by the way, although they have a good relationship with a local frame shop that gives me a great price for the frame. It seems like a win-win to me–the painting looks great in the gallery and has the best chance of selling, I don’t lose part of my commission on the frame, and the client doesn’t pay extra for the frame. I love putting a great frame on my work–I don’t love losing a big chunk of my commission on an expensive frame. This way gives me incentive to invest in a high quality frame, which makes me and my gallery both look good! By the way, I communicate closely with the gallery regarding framing choices so we are both happy with the result.

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Char November 1, 2013 at 10:18 am

Jason,

Different take on the same issue…Based on some of the past blogs, I frame in all black frames to “cheat” my brand until my pastel work is widely known. All of my work is being framed with the best frames I can afford and the highest quality mat and glazing available. I debated long and hard on whether or not to use simple conservation UV glass or Museum quality glass. The cost difference is high, but feel it might make the difference in my work being sold. Many watercolors being sold in the same gallery are simple conservation UV glass, but the artist is widely known…so all is yet to be seen.

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Maggie Smith November 6, 2013 at 10:38 am

Yes, to plexi or glass. Do you want your work ultimately in museums? I do. To ship to juried shows, plexi is almost always required. Standard sizes and a nice supply of all types of materials – yikes, my studio is now a storage area… Different requirements for different exhibiting. Comments?

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Kay Stratman February 28, 2014 at 5:03 pm

I work in contemporary watercolors on a surface called a “shikishi” board. As watercolors, they usually do require matting and framing, and I have been framing all of them consistently for years, as I can get a discount when I purchase from my trusted framer in quantities. It is best for me to have frames immediately available in my studio so I can frame a piece once it is finished. (I purchase the mats and frames and do the assembly myself.) I feel that the standard metal frames are not as elegant or professional presentation as a (simple) gold or silver frame. I have chosen a frame that is not so smooth or pristine that it cannot handle a small scratch or ding as happens in the business. I have also begun using a Krylon UV coating (2 coats of matte and 2 coats of Gloss) and mount the painting on TOP of a flat frame. That presents a more contemporary look, and adds a little sheen but not too much – sort of dresses up the finished product. That said, I think glazing looks best and most professional. When I exhibit in my local gallery I have switched to Museum Glass to cut down on glare (over regular conservation glass.) But recently have tried (I know there are critics) non-glare acrylic to cut down on glare PLUS prevent breakage when shipping to distant galleries. I am going to let my gallery owner tell me which he prefers, but the shipping is so much easier and cheaper with the non-glare acrylic. I think it looks great, perhaps in the “old days” it wasn’t as good as it is now. ? The key is to get the image as close to the glazing as possible, as the farther away it is, the more “diffused” the image can be, I am told. Any comments?

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Patrice November 1, 2013 at 8:23 pm

I worked in a art and frame shop as well as I used to help artists with framing their art, and the experiences as well as framing my own art taught me that the time is well spent researching frame makers and investing money in to good frames that work with your art. What a difference a frame makes on your art, for sure!

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Bud Smallwood November 2, 2013 at 4:27 am

MYOF
make your own frame

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Carol Lynn November 2, 2013 at 10:04 am

I have struggled with this issue also, as I work primarily on paper. (watercolours, montype prints and acrylic) I recently purchased Opus gallery frames in black and use them to show my work. I use quality materials, archival mats and UV glass) however I sell most of my works unframed, but instead opt to include the mat plus an archival foamcore backing which is mailed or delivered in cellophane bags or slips. If the collector is close by, I offer to meet at my favorite local framing store and help them choose a frame. Sometimes they also change out the mat, as they may decide that wish to bring out another colour from the art. I just advise them that framing is typically equal to the price they paid for the painting!

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Susan Pepler November 2, 2013 at 7:03 pm

A successful businessman said to me (after I’d been spending lots of money on framing) “You’re not a framer, you’re a painter.” And from that day on I stopped framing my paintings and do you know my clients didn’t even notice! I’ve got a great framer and I tell my clients they can frame or not frame. Many of them don’t but some always did and still will. Now it’s their call and it hasn’t affected my sales in the least, if anything … sales have increased.

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Jeanne Rhea November 3, 2013 at 6:02 am

With my work, a cradled panel from Ampersand is ideal. I paint abstracts with alcohol inks and the cradled panels give a very clean, contemporary look and does not take away from the painting. They can be hung immediately with no waiting for a framer. That being said, I dislike greatly when I see an unpainted wood portion of the cradle when they have dripped paint around the edges and the painting is hanging in a gallery or show. Unless the work calls for natural wood, it takes away from the painting. The cradled panels are also very durable and easy to transport.

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Jay Kuhr November 3, 2013 at 6:38 am

To my way of thinking. a frame serves to contain the piece and keep the eye focused on the work. The frame should not draw your attention, as this distracts from the art, but rather, accent the artwork. A good frame is one that gives the art work space to exist in. It makes the art “pop” off of the wall without distracting from the artwork itself. As a black and white photographer, I prefer a simple black metal frame with enough matte space to keep the print from feeling crowded. The frame definitely gives the print a finished look. Of course, others may prefer a more ornate approach, but for the purpose of presentation to the general public, simple and clean is the most surefire approach.

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Cheral Squyres November 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Jason, Been thinking about this subject on framing forever. I keep coming back to what my mentors do and have always done. They frame. Yes they get a bigger price than me but I will too someday. It makes me real sad to see a great painting in a show in a pitiful frame. It always makes me think of a beautiful woman with perfect makeup and hair wearing a moo-moo. All the viewer sees is the frame. Ick. On the other hand if an artist gets too carried away with the frame the same thing occurs. Simple and elegant always works and what compliements the art without over – stateing. Yeah I take a hit on the framing but like I said someday it will pay off.

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Allen Smith November 3, 2013 at 4:36 pm

As Jason has consistently advised, no outside elements should stand in the way of a fine art sale. When a potential client is confronted with an unframed work of art, more than one decision must be made- “Do I like the work… How will I present it in my home… What will the frame cost… Etc.?” If it is framed and hanging on a gallery wall, there is one decision – “yes or no”. I believe that artists should train themselves to choose frames that present their work to the best advantage. Learn to make your own frames, or find a frame shop you can trust. And, if you can, stay away from that cheap-looking junk. A bad frame kills good work. Make the investment.

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Alex November 4, 2013 at 6:53 am

I know for me, cost is the biggest issue. I want the best deal I can get so that my art brings in some cash! But being a creator of art, framing can be done both creatively inexpensively. For several of my pieces, I just went to the local Lowes and assembled my own frames from long strips of wood. Cut it to size, stain it or add some finish and it will end up looking very professional. If you’ve ever done sculpture or carpentry, it should be fairly easy to learn.

I also have ordered some custom framing jobs from http://www.frameusa.com/ , they actually just launched a custom framing app called Build A Frame where you can upload your image and they’ll print it for you, add mats and size it all/assemble it. Haven’t tried it yet myself, but it looks like it could take the hassle out of spending several hundreds just for one piece!

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Mason Parker November 4, 2013 at 8:52 am

When I faced this issue with my ink/watercolor paintings, the folks at Dick Blick told me that if I had lots of paintings to display, to use the simple polished silver frames with off white mats. Those are consistent, inexpensive, and though might not be ideal for a single painting, will still work with any of them, and that customers tend to want to change frames anyway. Though I took their advice and love the convenience, and have sold a two or three paintings that I framed, I have not done very much as far as marketing or showing. So far so good, but needs much further testing and feedback.

Where to get frames? If you don’t do a large volume of framing and know someone who has a wholesale account at a framing supply, you are in the right place. You can get whatever you need at lowest prices and it helps your friend keep up their minimum order requirements. I use my landlord’s account, and the company sells frame by the foot. For a small cost, per cut, they will chop to whatever size you need. My paintings are either 22″X15″ or 22″X30″ and total cost comes out to about $35 to $45 per frame (including the glass, mat, and screw thingies). DO NOT do what I did and try cutting it yourself with a bandsaw or your corner seams will look terrible!

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Rebecca November 4, 2013 at 9:15 am

Hi Jason –

Would you please clarify this for me – as I occasionally have clients ask for a different frame or no frame. When you say, ” will talk to the artist and find out how much the current frame is worth to them,” do you mean how much the artist paid for the frame, or if it’s wholesale, would the artist “value” the frame with a markup?

Thanks – lots of good information in this article.

Rebecca

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Jason Horejs November 4, 2013 at 11:28 am

Rebecca – it’s the value with the markup. This way I know how much to deduct from the retail price to allow the client to reframe. The artist gets the frame back, and a commission on the work less the frame value.

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Kim Jones November 4, 2013 at 2:46 pm

At the risk of sounding like an advertisement for Michaels’ Arts and Crafts stores, if you stick to standard sizes, you can get black frames with glass up to 30×36 I think it is, maybe even larger. I watch for their 2 for 1 sales and buy when on sale. I order the UV mat boards pre cut from Bags Unlimited in bulk for very reasonable prices. This way I get a consistent, clean style that works for what I do. If you want a lot of different colors and styles of frames this will not be the best place. If you want a consistent black frame style and stick to standard sizes, you can frame works on paper for a reasonable price that look good.

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Dick Sanders November 6, 2013 at 3:23 pm

I was a practicing framing person for 15 years and during the last 10 I started to paint…in oil, landscapes. I still have a number of artists who rely on my experience plus some retail framing outlets as well. Like many consumers and artists, they all express the feeling that framing is expensive. I try to dispel that position by pointing out to them that if they paint on standard size canvas or boards, they can buy quantities like 11×14 or 16×20 which are stock items by art stores or some framing outlets. Also, I try to convey the position that a proper frame surrounds the image but should not dominate it. This is often contrary to a retail framing shop that makes its revenue from framing and sometimes forgets that its the artists image which should be on show and not overwhelmed by the frame.

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Marshall November 6, 2013 at 4:32 pm

One tip that might save you a lot of money is to use ready made frames. The trick is find the frame and size before you make the painting so you know that it will fit or paint to standard sizes. Finding or making a custom frame to an
odd size gets expensive. Just a thought.
Mashall

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YoHana November 7, 2013 at 9:32 am

Jason, your introduction is my story.
The funny thing is that we always justify the place in which we are.
So, when framing was too much for me, from a mental point of view, I justified it, saying that the customer knows best what is a good frame for the painting he bought from me.

Things have changed when I was in contact with a gallery that wanted my paintings framed.
I truly tried to find appropriate frames, and could not find any that I really liked.
It was not even a matter of money.

So I started doing my own frames which I find exquisite.
The frame is an integral continuation of the message of my art.
I spent my last year in framing about 80% of the paintings I have.
Its an effort worth making.
The client receives a piece of art that reflects the same vibrations all together.
Here is an example:
http://www.the-heart-of-yohana.com/gallery.aspx?id=378

A painted framed painting is always less expensive than the same size carved framed painting.

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Kate November 7, 2013 at 11:09 am

Waaaaait a minute here. What is this about the “artist’s commission?? I don!’t know about everybody else but I pay the commission to the gallery. There seems to be a bit of a twist here. The gallery never owns the work…I do. Therefore they are entitled to be paid for selling it for me. When the work is on consignment, I continue to own the work and I pay a commission to the gallery when they sell it for me. Period. Framed or unframed. If I frame the work which is unlikely, then I set the price which will include the commission that I will be paying to the gallery.
This is an important point especially when doing taxes and of course when that awful event happens when the bailiff puts the lock on the gallery door as they go out of business. If the gallery is somehow under the impression or gives the impression, that they own the work in the gallery, you lose the work to the debt collectors. Or hire a lawyer etc.etc. Big hassle!
It is also important to note that when a piece sells, the gallery can hang on to their commission but they must give me my money as soon as possible. No artist should wait to receive the proceeds from their sale. This is an arrangement that every artist must tackle with their gallery. One gallery told me …did not ask, but TOLD me that I would “be paid” at the end of the month following the month of the sale. This means that the gallery gets to use the artist’s money as working capital for a month free of interest. In fact if they start using it to invest, they are using your money to bolster their investment portfolio. This is of course illegal. The relationship did not last.
The point for artist to remember is that the gallery is the sales arm of the arrangement, not the creator of the work and unless the gallery buys it outright from me, I PAY THEM THE COMMISSION to sell it, they do not pay me a “commission” on that which I already own. Keep that straight, find the right gallery and you’ll be fine. Ps. Don’t forget, you have not sold the copyright to anybody.

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Jason Horejs November 7, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Kate – you make a valid point about commission. It’s pretty common parlance in the industry to phrase it that way because the gallery takes the payment and remits the check, but you are right, it’s the gallery that’s making a sales commission. The difference is not semantic, it’s substantive. Thanks for the correction and comment.

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Lynn Morgan November 10, 2013 at 5:36 am

When I first realized that pastels were my medium of choice, I decided to learn how to do my own framing and invest in the tools and equipment. That decision has saved me so much money over the years, and I have never regretted it. I frame a lot of my paintings for shows, and I have no problem unframing older paintings to substitute newer ones. I have always offered to change the frame for a customer who may not like the frame I have used. I use basically 3 different moldings for all my paintings, which also helps with the consistency when I am showing a number of paintings together. My paintings are representational but somewhat abstract, so I usually use a simple black flat frame. Also, I “float” frame my pastels so that it’s obvious they are originals.

Very interesting discussion.

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Tom Birmingham November 20, 2013 at 7:19 am

One consideration in framing that isn’t mentioned in this post, is my observation that serious galleries generally want a whole show of work to be framed consistently. For this reason, I usually look for a simple frame of high quality materials that look good with both a body of work, as well as the aesthetics of the gallery.

I am able to get a shows worth of frames made up by my framer at a lower cost this way as well.

The other caveat for an artist presenting in gallery wrapped frames is that a frame offers protection for your work. If a frame becomes shopworn it can be replaced, however the canvas is presumably irreplaceable.

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mary bruns December 1, 2013 at 10:11 am

I agree with your position on the quality and price of The Art Depart-
ment’s frames. They are great and the service is completely
amicable. I have worked with them for over five years, been
through a dozen framers in town and found the price variance
to be in these varying companies to be frustrating and unexplanable.
The Art Department gives the artist
a fair shake and the craftsmanship is always admirable.

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Aletha January 22, 2014 at 10:18 am

I spend so much time on my pictures. Some things that I could have sold a long time ago, I hold because I know the idea is incomplete. And when the picture is finished, I want everything about the presentation to be there to match the exacting nature of that image. So framing is important. As far as I’m concerned, it is simply part of the work. Indeed, if I go to extensive trouble to find just the right frame, and then the buyer decides “that frame has got to go,” my advice for the buyer at that point might be to get some supplies and paint his own picture. I’m not saying this to display an attitude, but to make plain an important point.

Realistically the art that one finds in galleries covers a wide range of ability and intention. Not everybody who paints is setting out to create a masterpiece in the same way that not every guy with a guitar is really a great musician. Justin Bieber? He is exceedingly rich and successful, but he ain’t Mozart. In contrast, Bireli Lagrene who you’ve never heard of is a consummate musician. When I chose to pursue painting, I wanted to be — and still strive to be — a “great painter.” Whether or not I ever get reach my aspiration is up to God and Mother Nature and will depend upon the depth and commitment of my striving, but I set myself this goal, and so I am hopeful always of finding collectors who understand.

If someone is decorating their house, I think that is totally fabulous. I really do. Fun, lovely, elegant, fabulous. But I don’t paint pictures to be just ornaments. And I want the frame at last to become part of the idea, and once I put the picture into a really proper frame, I will probably discourage a potential buyer from changing it. After all I have a very limited number of works to offer, and the world is full of art. If they don’t like mine — for whatever reason — it’s not as though they don’t have myriad other choices available to them. So why would I cooperate with a buyer if they decide to begin unraveling the thing I worked to hard to create?

I have shied away from framing for most of my pictures because of cost. I simply cannot afford to frame everything, but when I do frame works — often, not always — the frame is special. Just as I don’t want them touching up the painting to suit their environment, I don’t want them messing with the frame.

Visit a world class museum and look at the frames and note the relationship between the frame and the painting. It opens the artist’s eyes to the really marvelous possibilities available for making a frame part of the whole experience of the art. I haven’t always been this keen on the idea of the frame, but these days after contemplating the question a long time, I see the frame as the “last touch” of the painting — as that element that can really make the rest become magical. Thus I think the search for the right frame can be an adventure. It’s not something I resist at all. I completely welcome it. A beautiful frame is wonderful.

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David Back February 19, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Being a 3 dimensional mixed media artist I don’t get into “framing” per say but I can certainly attest to the fact that framed work sells faster than unframed work from my experience in a working art studio (http://www.midwestartcenter.com). My wife and I are no longer in that “working studio” environment (it was a great place to work and had great synergy between artists) since we now have an in home studio. I have made the mistake of using “cheap” shadow boxes for my work early on and they just didn’t hold up against the travel from venue to venue. I now use high quality shadow boxes with larger frame like qualities and have had better success. Since my wife is a painting instructor at Michael’s Arts and Crafts she is able to get an employee discount on my supplies which comes in handy to keep cost down.
David Back (http://www.artbydabackdesigns.com)

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Brad Willason March 2, 2014 at 7:07 pm

The framing issue is new to me. Since I make my own frames, it is no big deal, and actually enjoyable, since my frames I consider part of my work. The expense and hazards are not for everyone though. I have two table saws, two routers, three sanders, and numerous bits, blades, stains, etc., etc. High quality frames, as well as “unusual”, seem to be an asset. Just today my wife and I entered a show in Redlands, CA and had several comments on the “really nice frames” that have came in. Hand made, weathered wood, custom fit and finish, make the difference. Hopefully they will make an impression on the juried aspect and help our work be selected for the showing. Cost, is only about $3-$8 each. Time though is more like 1-2 hours, minimum. But that is what we love to do, right? Hope someone gets inspired from this to create their own frames, verses Aaron brothers or some other retailer with limited sizes and styles. Not knocking the retailers, but sometimes we need to create, instead of follow.

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Lynnette March 4, 2014 at 9:34 am

when I was new I did not put as much thought into the framing. now I do and spend the money to make my work look nice. However, I do certain things to help bring the cost down – for example, I work in standard sizes so if I can find a a good ready made frame in that size, it beats the cost of the custom frame. I also have a friend that runs a frame shop, and I bring all my work to him that I need custom frames for, and he gives me an artist discount. Also if I have a piece that needs to be behind glass, sometimes I can find a ready made frame in a standard size, then I bring it to my friend to matte and put glass into and backing. I get a ton of comments from people now on my framing and I think it really makes the work stand out.

Another thing I do, is I also work a lot on deep cradled panels – Ampersand Aquabords for example, which allows those who work on paper to get similar effects but on a clay-coated board. So it’s good for watercolorists or any kind of water based media. I work on them, varnish it, paint the sides of the panel, and display as is. Although these boards are more expensive than plain paper, you save by not having to use frames, glass, matting etc. And they look really nice as is. I get a lot of compliments on those as well. Not to spam, but here is an example of a piece that I did on Aquabord, where you can see the sides of the panel. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-jTfDuWcdHrY/UwzPYBaQpuI/AAAAAAAAbTY/l4EjyLCcBwo/s1600/crow+008.JPG

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Patrice A Federspiel March 4, 2014 at 10:37 am

As a watercolor artist who exhibits in competitions, I have learned to use plexiglas® in my frames (lightweight and no fear of breakage). I also worked in a frame shop for a year to learn some framing techniques.

I found a reputable wood worker who mills the wood and creates my frames. I do the final assembly of putting my paintings into them securely. The result is that my paintings look unified by the same two frame styles (1″ and 1.5″ solid koa depending upon the size of the painting). Yes, it takes my time, or that of my assistant, to mount and frame my art, but the cost savings and results are worth it!

When I paint in a very large piece, I take it to a good frame shop and “bite the bullet”. Really good framers are worth the expense; after all, framing is also an art form.

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Toelle Hovan March 4, 2014 at 1:12 pm

I have a friend who sells at art shows.
She uses a standard size canvas and 3 sizes.
She puts the work in nice frames,
but she dose not include the frame in the sale.
she removes the frame at the sale.
She sales a lot and has repeat sales.
Her work is small oil still-life. very traditional.
How do you respond to this way of selling.

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Elizabeth Newman March 7, 2014 at 6:35 am

As a professional framer/gallery owner/artist for over 25 years I’ve seen it all trying to enhance and protect and educate both artist and client. But, that being said, we give artists an ample discount that is based on volume and consistent materials for a consistent look that are priced at a lower cost to begin with. (most artists are happy with this and most boost their sales because of it) it’s impressive to see a body of work that is consistent in every way.

Clients who want to switch out the frame get a credit back toward a new frame that better suits them and where ever the piece is going to hang. We give the frame back to the artist. We have made many sales out of the gallery with this offer that might not have been made. There is a slight disappointment sometimes with having to wait while the frame is being ordered, but we offer that they take it home, live with it and we’ll frame it while they wait when the frame comes in.

The trouble with unframed works is that it can look unfinished in many cases. The edges get worn and the color may be wrong or unsuited for the work… Most clients can’t envision a frame around it, it’s a hurdle and a barrier and they will walk away, knowing it’s going to be a trial of sorts to “fix” it. BUT, again if the artist is working with us, they know that we will honor the artists discount to the client and frame it in whatever they want. It usually is a great selling tool for the artist and we gain a client and a happy artist to spread the word.

Where there is a good will there is a right way.

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Cathy Kluthe March 8, 2014 at 12:52 pm

My recent series of paintings are all on deep 1.5″ wrapped canvas so I don’t frame them. I paint my images so that it continues onto the edges to make the edges part of the painting. When you look at the painting from the side it almost creates an optical illusion. To me the image on the edges finishes off the piece.

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Elizabeth Newman March 15, 2014 at 4:45 am

Hi Cathy, I agree with you, if you’re going to not frame something… that’s the best way to present a work. Floater frames that show the sides are perfect for those who want a frame, but if we do anything to finish a piece like yours, it’s to put a dust cover on the back and wire it off nicely with a hook for hanging and bumpons to keep it from resting on the wall and create a bit of air space. It just feels more professional and protects the work.

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Sandy Fisher March 17, 2014 at 11:59 am

It is important for all artists to realize that art is a luxury item. I have always felt that framing was an important part of presenting my artwork to its best potential. A beautiful framing job that complements your artwork says to the buyer that you value your artwork as something precious.

Only once have I lost a sale because of framing. The buyer asked to purchase the piece without the frame, which I was willing to do, but I think they thought that the price would come down substantially. Since, I have been working with a framer for awhile, who is very reasonable, the frame only discounted the piece buy approximately 15%.

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Anita L Gordon-Palmer March 20, 2014 at 4:19 pm

I find if I spend some money on a frame it brings out my painting. If I don’t want a fancy one I will mate the picture and put it in a simple frame, just wood grain. I have afriend who as cut frames down to fit my art work, if I find one I like and the size is wrong. A frame can make or break the sale!

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Patty Lipinski March 23, 2014 at 6:46 pm

I am a watercolorist who exhibits on a annual basis. I have found through trial and error that a contemporary black wooden frame with glass or plexiglass and white mat gives my paintings a professional look. I always have my paintings professionally framed. I believe when your presentation looks good, you as an artist look good. It shows you take pride in your work as a creative professional.

When calculating the pricing for my painting I also account for the framing fees as well. In addition, I also have found framing is not an easy task especially when the size of one’s work may not perfectly fit a frame and a custom designed frame needs purchased in turn increasing the artwork pricing.

I have found this article to be very interesting. Especially all the artists’ information shared and Jason’s responses to certain entries.

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Margaret Dent March 28, 2014 at 8:33 am

Hi Jason,

my advice? Find the right framer, someone who has the artistic sense and knows how to best frame your work, and leave the decisions to them. I’ve been saying for years that any artist’s best friend is a good framer. I am lucky to have one in my own town, a 5 min walk down the street. Joanne is an artist in her own way and I trust her implicitly to make my work look its best.

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Lynette Bagley March 28, 2014 at 8:53 am

Framing is very important to me. I take all the time necessary to get it right. I work with two framers who are really great. They know their business and save me lots of time. They are wonderful to work with and my work looks terrific.

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LaMerle Deca March 28, 2014 at 9:19 am

I have always tried to match a frame to a painting, but I had never thought that framing could be part of one’s style/signature . Very helpful info. Thanks

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John Dobson March 28, 2014 at 11:08 am

Hello,
When I first started out, framing was a big concern. I found that collectors very rarely wanted to change out a framing I sellected for my work. You are correct – Collectors consider a work finished when it is ‘presentable’ – framed. Now days, if a work is priced $50k or above I frame it. I pay particular attention to details. My work is usually works painted on vinyl. I mount them on fine silk. And I keep the framing simple. Lately with smaller works, I frame them floating – all in the same type of framing, as a part of my signature. Large works, like my Christ painting that you can see on my site – http://www.fineartshare.com, in mounted on silk.
Thanks!
John

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Mary Manning March 28, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Jason,
I have had a passion for framing and put as much work and time into it as painting. From our studio in Kayenta, we have a man who makes custom metal frames, and I’ve actually had good luck with them. I also have a framer who works with me tirelessly until we come up with the perfect frame. So far, if it isn’t a gallery-wrapped canvas or linen piece, I work with either one of these framers.

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Niall O'Neill March 28, 2014 at 3:10 pm

This has been a very stimulating and informative discussion. I just add the cost of framing to the price I require for a painting before adding the gallery commission to achieve the retail price. My framing costs seem to average about 20% of the net fee, but that figure involves framing, matting and glazing – sometimes dry-mounting the support – as I work in pastel. I occasionally get to avoid matting (usually double matting) by making my own spacers that I place in the frame rebate between the pastel surface and the glass. However this makes the overall presentation of the work smaller by double the width and height respectively of the mat!

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Dora Cooper March 29, 2014 at 9:33 am

I paint in acrylic, pastel and watercolour and always have my work professionally framed. I have used the same framer for a number of years now and he knows what I like. I’ve also found that I’m consistently using the same 2-3 frame styles, depending on the work. The frames are professional looking but understated so as to enhance the work but not overpower it. I’m really enjoying the discussion and am learning from the experience of others.

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Dave March 29, 2014 at 11:31 am

Being a life long artist and owner of some antiques I find myself in both art galleries as well as antique stores. In just about every mom and pop antique store you will find many different styles and conditions of frames. In fact on every piece of art that I hang in my home is framed in a frame that I purchased at a antique store. If you pay attention and look you can find some pretty good deals on nice frames. I can feel everyone cringing… lol. Of course if you want to sell your art you can not present it in a substandard frame in poor condition. But for a artist just starting out or only showing his/her art in local events. It is a opportunity to make your art stand out and offer a quality piece at a reasonable price for your event. I’ve sold a few of my pieces in such frames. Now about the glass. I find that more and more store bought frames are using the “plexiglass” material for safety reasons. Makes sense and our pieces would travel and store a lot safer I guess.

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Maja March 29, 2014 at 12:31 pm

I work in watercolor and need matting and framing on all my pieces. I worked in a high end frame shop when I was younger, so I know what is involved. I do my own framing with materials ordered online. Paying the prices at a retail shop is just too painful. All the comments about using standard sizes sound nice but, even using the same size paper, when it comes to cropping the paintings for matting I rarely have a “standard” size.
Also, when it comes to choosing a frame, the same frame does not complement every painting and I end up with a variety of styles. How important is it for my work to be framed alike, as in a show? Should I reframe everything to look the same– is it a no-no to have more than 2 frame styles?

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Michelle Endersby March 30, 2014 at 3:22 am

I usually work on stretched canvases and haven’t needed to think about framing, but my most recent painting was a work on paper and the framing was superb making the whole piece look spectacular and lifted my work to a whole new level. And, Jason, your discussions on maximising quality are opening up a whole new world of possibilities for me.

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robert Tarzwell April 1, 2014 at 8:47 am

Some artists such as my self who live in far away places like the Bahamas need to sell locally with out the frame so it can be taken back to the USA or where ever the tourists live and they can take it on the plane . However when dealing with studios to frame my work I have not had a good experience , one painting was shipped fed ex a small 16 by 20 water color sold for 250 and the studio charged me 150 to frame what I would have spent 40 on after commissions and framing charge I got 50 dollars and it cost me 40 to ship the painting via fed ex. so I made a big 10.00 needless to say I pulled the rest of my work from that studio and had a friend pick it up . But most studios are very good working with me to arrange for frames and one was brilliant picking which frame a painting should go in it can be art into its self..

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Julie Heilman April 1, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I agree that investing in a frame is an important step. On the Monterey Peninsula I highly recommend Glen Gobel’s Frames. He & his staff have the gift of making your work look professional. They also work with you so that it is within your budget. I have won ribbons in art competitions that I know were in thanks to the framing.

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Carla April 6, 2014 at 11:59 am

Jason, I appreciate your efforts to educate us and help us improve our presentations.

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Norma Riegle April 11, 2014 at 6:46 pm

As an artist, I firmly believe that framing completes a painting and should enhance , never overwhelm, it. If the framing is noticed before the artwork, it’s not framed correctly. The artwork should be the star of the show.

During the seven years I worked in a custom frame shop, I learned a great deal. Many framers frame from a decorator’s point of view, which is not always in the best interest of the artwork. Don’t forget that framers are in business to sell framing, but a good framer will always put the client’s needs first. I often saw a customer bring in a piece of artwork and a swatch of drapery or upholstery fabric which the framing had to match. Sometime that works, but most of the time the artwork suffers. If the framing compliments the artwork, there will always be a place to hang the piece.

I am fortunate to be able to use the knowledge I accumulated, and also the professional equipment I was able to purchase at wholesale price, to do all of my own framing. I also still have access to wholesale suppliers. These savings make it easier to use better quality framing materials.

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R.BARTCZAK April 19, 2014 at 11:30 am

I have found that for my genre of art (action sailing&yacht racing) the following works best and its an easy formula.
ALL ART 24×36 and larger. are done on standard size, box stretched gallery wrapped canvas with art finished edges and no frames. If I exhibit just ONE at these larger sizes along with smaller sizes I will frame it in a float frame of teak or barn wood. (one large framed piece on exhibit looks best with all the *smaller pieces framed as well.. If I exhibit more than one of the larger sizes, all are exhibited without frames. (when I exhibit I try to exhibit a variety of sizes) .
All art *18×24 and smaller are done on standard size, stretched canvas or canvas panels and framed in a teak or barnwood float frame. I make all my own “float frames”. some box corner, some mitered..all nicely finished.
I have the price of the frames built into the price of the pieces. I make no price allowance for sans frames…ya buy ‘em like ya see ‘em. I’ve exhibited both with and with out frames…experience has shown (I hate to admit) that I sell more art and attract more attention when the art is framed. It’s a little extra effort but seems to be worth it…all I can say is try it, you’ll find out quick enough….best of luck ……ron.

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