Playing with framing – which do you like best?

When it comes to framing, I’m usually on the side of keeping it simple!

I prefer a simple white mount, and usually opt for a neutral oak frame. I like this because it feels quite fresh, modern and helps focus the viewers’ eyes on the painting.

This is how I usually exhibit my work too. Here’s how a recent exhibition wall looked featuring three different standard sizes of frames:

An exhibition wall of simple frames and mounts

Recently, however, I decided to experiment with a few alternatives. My original thinking was to have the option of photographing some of the works that I put up for sale on my website in different frames, just to show people some alternative options.

What I wasn’t quite prepared for was how much difference a frame can make!

To keep it a level playing field, I thought it would be helpful to select just one painting and show it in different frames.

This is a recent painting that I’m fond of that I’ve taken from an A5 sketchbook. This view is of my local park:

Park study from an A5 sketchbook

Here’s what it looks like mounted and framed in one of my ‘usual’ plain oak frames. In all of the following examples, I’ve removed the glass from the frames to avoid any reflections.

Nice and simple

Next up is something a little more ornate:

A little bit fancy!

And finally, ornate and with a fabric inlay, which is a style of framing that has a proper name, but I can’t recall what it is!

Full on fancy!

I think what’s surprised my most is that I thought that the plain and simple frames that I usually use would suit my paintings much better than anything gilt or ornate.

In fact, I’m surprised by how much I like to see this painting in these more traditional frames. I don’t think that they detract from the painting, and I don’t think that my painting looks somehow ‘dated’ in them.

I’d love to hear what others think and whether anyone has any strong preferences for either the plain and simple, a little bit fancy, or the full on fancy frame?

A new investment…

In a timely coincidence for this post, my latest investment arrived over the weekend.

I’ve always cut my own mounts and, to date have always used a Logan Compact mount cutter. This has always served me well, as it can produce straight and bevel edge cuts and is simple to use.

The main drawback is that the sheets of mount board that I buy, are too large to be cut down to size using the this cutter. This means that I have to do a lot of manual measuring and cutting using a steel rule and Stanley knife, and every cut introduces a greater element of risk. This is especially the case if a cut isn’t exactly square as it will affect the subsequent bevel cut – often ruining a mount.

It can often feel like a thankless task, not least because I’m usually doing it on my hands and knees due to the size of the mountboards.

Well, no more!

I decided to take the leap and invest in a new mount cutter (I say new, but it’s probably around 30 years old) capable of doing everything that I’m likely to need!

Allow me to introduce you to my Keencut Laser 1200!

My Keencut Laser 1200

It doesn’t look much but this is quite a beast! Firstly it’s massive (so yet another thing to find a place for in a small flat!). I spent the weekend taking it apart, cleaning it up and generally trying to make friends with it! I was able to find a PDF of an old instruction manual online and have been trying, in vain so far, to calibrate all of the settings.

If I am ever successful in doing this, it will revolutionise my mount cutting experiences! It should be able to cope with every size of board that I’m likely to use and, as I often cut mounts of similar sizes, once it’s currently set up, it should make multiple mount cutting a doddle.

Although as I’m writing this, I can detect a lot of shoulds, mights and maybes creeping in so I hope I’m not getting ahead of myself.

I’ve just taken delivery of some new cutting blades and a new supply of mount board and backing sheets so hopefully, I’ll be able to report back soon on this!

Thoughts on Playing with framing – which do you like best?

10 thoughts on “Playing with framing – which do you like best?”

  1. Hello John,
    Belle recherche que voilà. Comment mettre en valeur une œuvre sans que le regard ne soit distrait par l’encadrement. Cela dépend du caractère, des tonalités et de l’ambiance de chaque œuvres. Nous pouvons jouer avec des passe-partout blancs ou de couleurs différentes ou même comme ici, avec l’ajout d’une Marie-Louise. C’est le nom que tu cherchais, Marie-Louise, pour la partie de tissu ! Dans ta proposition John, j’ai personnellement une préférence pour la troisième, avec Marie-Louise.
    Bien cordialement Serge

  2. Patricia Robinson

    A bit fancy, so my choice is definitely the middle one. I was amazed how it lifted your painting, and it’s made me think hard, having always been a fan of plain frames. The more fancy one is all about a pushy frame and mount, I thought… I wonder how you’ll go?! All the best, Pat

    1. Hi Pat and thanks so much for this! I love that even in the few comments on this so far, there’s a complete range of opinions and personal preferences! I think I’ll always go for the plain and simple approach for displaying my work in exhibitions. I think I’ll keep the ornate frames and use them photograph paintings in to show people the differences a frame can make in case it helps inform a decision. I do like the ornate frames when they’re against a strongly coloured (preferably dark!) background wall. I suppose going forwards, this exercise is just going to make me much more open minded about the possibilities of framing and I’m going to try to be much more flexible in my opinions as its obvious that what’s right for one person, isn’t necessarily right for every person! Thanks so much Pat

  3. Hi John, I think I am as shocked as you as to what difference in feel that a frame can make. Wow! your painting is your usual fabulous, but these different frames are astounding. The painting almost looks completely different in those different frames. What is my favorite? Well, that just depends upon the setting, in my opinion. For a show, I love your concept of less is more. Keeping things more simple and plain really works. Whether that’s a plain oak frame, black metal, etc. is purely personal taste.

    However, for my living room, the ornate frames really add some WOW factor. This is just my opinion, but I would pay considerably more for the same painting in the more ornate frames than in the more plain one. Why? They just seem to add more finish and a richer aura to the painting. I mean, hey, this is original art – high-end stuff. Especially thst last frame really makes your painting look like it’s from a famous artist, and that it came from a really high-end gallery. I think you are definitely on to something here.

    When I used to have my outdoor products manufacturing company, my top salesperson always told me – “sell the sizzle.” That referred to the classic food ad – where you can almost smell that steak. Those fancy frames give your painting more sizzle.

    1. Thanks so much for this Tim, really nice to get your reaction on these. Even from the few comments that I’ve received so far it’s obvious that this is very much down to personal taste! As you say, for any exhibitions where I’m showing multiple paintings, I think I’m always going to go for the plain and simple approach. Aside from making the display look a little more coherent, it’s also much easier to organise the hang when the dimensions of the frames are consistent.

      I to get the sell the sizzle approach, and I definitely think that a lot of people would pay more for the more ornate frames. Where I think these do come into their own is when you’re hanging on a strong coloured wall. We’ve got a dark blue wall at home and the gold frames against the blue do look a little bit special! Thanks so much Tim!

  4. Like you, I like simple frames. I usually go for a wide mat to frame the watercolor and then a black frame. The matting around the painting can be white to off-white. I don’t like lighter frames because they are often interesting to look at, especially if wood, so I prefer matte black in a frame, no more than about half an inch wide. However, your last one, with the mat, then fabric, and finally rococo gilt frame works. The transition from painting, to white mat, to fabric, to frame allows the eye to move. A mat and then the gilt frame is not pleasant to my eye.

    1. Thanks so much for this, really interesting to get your reactions and understand your thinking on this. I’ve always shied away from a black frame, I thought that it might be too harsh and too strong a contrast for my paintings to be able to cope with, but maybe I should give it a try one day! I’m with you on the white of the mount. I spent a lot of time a few years ago with a whole test pack of different shades/intensities of white mounts and eventually went for one called ‘snow white’ which is all I use now. Of the more ornate frames, I also prefer the one with the fabric inlay. Both of the ornate frames were bought second hand and I don’t really want to have to spend my time sourcing second hand frames all of the time, but hopefully it might be nice to demonstrate to people the differences the frame can make.

    1. Hi Edo and thanks so much for this. Good to know that Nice and Simple approach works for you! It’s still the way that I’m likely to frame most of my paintings for exhibition or sale – but I’ve enjoyed seeing the options and even from the few responses I’ve had so far, it’s down to each individuals personal preferences! As for the Matt cutter, if I ever manage to get it set up properly, maybe I’ll try to do a little video of it in action!

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about this

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