Artists need to know what is expected at exhibition: frames must be clean, in a perfect state and, ideally and rather obviously, appropriate to the work within them. You do want your work to be given the exposure it deserves but, in several cases, artists have put their treasured works into frames that are so inappropriate or in poor condition that their work actually suffers - in some cases very badly indeed. A frame is an integral part of a painting and, when suitable, really makes a world of difference and can even enhance (and sell!) indifferent paintings. It is not merely a hanging device for a picture.
Eyes should be drawn towards and into a painting, not pulled to the sides by a jarring surround causing a bit of a visual ‘barrier’. Examples of these are over-elaborate (Victorian?! only rarely appropriate) or heavy dark frames, or having a far too narrow mount round a glazed work. For glazed works, you can even give your painting an extra boost by using a double mount which can make a considerable difference and stops work looking flat. Avoid coloured mounts unless you really are keen to hang on to the 1970s days of orange furnishings and avocado bathrooms! Only use in very exceptional cases.
To see what is appropriate to your work, it is essential (and so very pleasurable) to look at exhibitions and smart galleries. This can be done so easily on line and a good starting point can be the various societies that are under the umbrella of the Federation of British Artists at the Mall Galleries - the RBA, RSMA, ROI, RI, NEAC, RP, SWLA and also, for example, the SWA. All have their own websites where you might find photos of their exhibitions, such as of their private views where works on the wall are in the background.
The great news is that places organising smart exhibitions and many galleries have wanted artists to frame their work in what actually costs quite a bit less than frames of a ‘fussier’ style: simple and fairly plain so that the artwork is the star and customers don’t decide not to buy because they would have to fork out for a replacement frame. Some galleries will insist on an artist reframing if it is not suitable as a simpler style means works can be hung much more easily with others. Over elaborate or dark or heavy frames affect works hanging along side them. This simpler preference has actually been around for quite a number of years now.
A point to remember is that, if you don’t know what frame your painting needs, your framer might not be the best person for advice. Your framer is probably very busy 6 days a week and might not get out to visit places in order to see what the trends are - a good framer should be looking around, or at least researching on the internet, but so many sadly do not.
Selling your painting to the Lesser Grey-Haired Customer: modern living is full of clean lines and light walls, glass, steel and contemporary furniture, wonderful lighting etc. This is the buying sector and they won’t be looking for frames conveniently found in Great Aunt Flo’s attic which she kept and left to you in her will, dust and spiders included - bless her.
Some useful links to see frames in exhibitions are these two societies but any of the Mall Galleries' Federation of British Artists group of societies will have their own websites with up to date photos of their exhibitions:
http://www.rsma-web.co.uk/exhibition.html - scroll down for photos.
Below are very typical frames for oils, acrylics or unglazed media etc. Cheap to make: get them made in plain wood and then paint up with 3 layers of a Farrow & Ball, for example, then add liquid wax and buff up. This sort of framing is so much easier to repair too! Why Farrow & Ball? Well, I find they are best for their chalky matt look and very subtle ranges of colours - expensive paints but a little goes a very long way and the small tester pots are ideal to balance frames on while painting them! Mix tester pots together and make your own colour. To change a colour or repair a frame, use a wax remover liquid and repaint and re-wax. Easy peasy!
Do you see how the eye is not distracted? It appreciates the whole look and the frame is pulling your eye into the masterpiece which is off set to the best advantage. This wall definitely draws attention to itself…….and look at the red dots!
A variety of oil paintings showing how more ‘gentle’ framing enables works of different sizes, subjects and artists can be hung together.
This photo shows one painting with a coloured mount. I wonder whether that colour would suit many buyers’ decor! Might the painting look more stunning in a paler (and wider) mount?
Above is a photo of watercolours at the Bankside Gallery, London. Pale is popular!
No narrow mounts here!
More red dots!
Double mounts here.
Not only but also: Remember that unframed canvases must be painted to the edges and continued round the sides, or the sides neatly painted in one colour as they are visible to the viewer.
I hope this helps.
Framing can be so much less complicated, leaving your brain free to create.
Is this a headache? Here are some suggestions. Fairly universal rules of thumb can be employed and, inevitably, there are variants.
Ways to price your work
1 - The bits and pieces approach. Work out an hourly rate for your work and keep a note. Cost of the materials used, including framing. If sending to an exhibition, the submission cost and travel.
NB: the slower you work the higher the price, until your speed improves so factor that in.
2 - The square inch approach. Take the measurements of your average-sized piece (unframed) and find its total square inches. Divide the price by the number of square inches. So, perhaps you usually sell a 16”x12” for £275. That’s 275 divided by 192 sq ins, making £1.43 per sq in. So a painting 18 x 20 would be priced at £514.
3 - The power of the internet. The best way to get an idea of prices is to use the internet. You will need to decide where is your main selling point: local society, larger exhibition, mainstream open exhibitions, galleries etc. If it is through local societies, search for similar societies around your county and adjacent counties and have a look at prices. A society/club site may not show prices but there will be artists with similar work and/or standard to you listed who have their own websites where you may find prices, or links to other places where they exhibit. So drop their name into a search engine such as Google; I tend to add the words ‘artist painter’ as that cuts out dubious artistes and decorators! Set your search engine to Search UK Sites Only (or for whatever your country is) * - don’t waste time on irrelevant foreign listings. It’s a slow business but, believe me, it is the best and on the way you will enjoy so much art and learn a colossal amount.
4 - Galleries. Visit galleries and takes notes of similar works and prices, then go and look up those artists on the internet.
* In Google, enter your search words. Go Tools on the right. On the left under All, Any Country will drop down underneath, click on Any Country and enter yours and that will narrow down where Google is searching. A very handy menu for all sorts of searches.
Try to remove your emotions towards your beloved piece of work or you won’t be able to work out your prices.
Where Are You Trying to Sell?
This is important. Don’t rely on submitting only to your local exhibition of the SPLATS (Social Painters of Little-Addlepates-on-The-Test Society) and hoping faintly that someone falls in love with your work. Whether you pitch yourself at that level or higher, open studios or a gallery you must market yourself and the event. Never rely on the organisers. Ensure that people know you’re exhibiting. Print off leaflets, get over your inhibitions and shove a card into as many hands as possible. Give close friends flyers and some stamped addressed envelopes and ask them to push them out to suitable acquaintances. Stretch yourself and aim higher than a basic show.
What to do in a recession
Remember, if you lower your prices, your overheads certainly aren’t going to be lower so take care - in fact, overheads will always continue to rise! A number of exhibitions are still selling well although many have quietened over the last few years; smaller galleries all over the place have closed. A customer’s money earns virtually nil on deposit but an art purchase gives a joyful return for years. So tricky times and marketing will be key.
Selling through a gallery
Take the advice of the gallery. It will put up your prices if you sell well. Galleries really do earn their large commissions and are great sources of advice.
Don’t be put off if one gallery isn’t interested: they all have different preferences.
Think about approaching your local bookshop/library/restaurant to have work for sale there - you may not sell but your profile will be raised. Once you’ve managed to make a few sales, invite past purchasers to future events. Consider putting up your prices for the next year by 10-15%. Eventually you will work out your ceiling and worth.
Your best friend - The internet
I can’t stress strongly enough how useful the internet is for all aspects of being an artist - look at others’ works, find answers to all sorts of arty questions/problems, seek out open exhibitions, think of having a website.
An amusing PS!
If you price appropriately but find people query your prices and want to beat you down, suggest that they might apply The Beer Test (pints are pretty expensive): “How many pints would there be in the price of that picture over there? After drinking those pints, what do you have left? Nothing: it's all been flushed down the drain, but with a painting you have something to enjoy for a long time to come…..and can always sell it if you become tired of it”.
If you have any questions or comments, please do feel free to Email me From time to time I update articles.