Updated: Jul 29, 2021
In these articles, I'll explore what frames are for; what the choices are; how to make good choices around framing art.
[Credit and disclosure: photos in this post are either from Nations Photo Lab, who do a lot of my printing, or are from my own shops.]
Why do you need a frame for wall art?
"A frame is a way of constructing a little world around something."
- Brian Eno, "A Year With Swollen Appendices"
Put a piece of art onto your wall, and you've brought in a piece of another world into yours.
A picture acts like a little window (with a frame): it is an opening into that other place, and we need boundaries around windows and doors to distinguish the "inside" from the "outside".
And the picture may need a boundary, just to tidy up its unfinished edges, and to make it clear where it ends (if it's a "field" painting or a pattern). Long, wide art can readily be perceived as a landscape, even if abstract.
But what kind of frame is best to "introduce" the art to your world?
Is That All a Frame Does?
Like your window and door frames, you need to make some choices about your art frames:
Does the frame help the picture (by showing you where it is; by guarding its space)
- or does it take over and distract? Is it giving the art enough room (or is it cramping its style)?
Does the frame's texture, colour, tone and width suit the walls (and the picture)?
Does the frame style contradict the art, other decorations, and the room, or enhance them (e.g. by creating a pleasing pattern)?
Is it worth the expense? - Good quality frames can cost a bit. And you might prefer a casual approach to art. (One of my customers used a design as one of a string of pictures, hung up like flags, over her new-born's crib.)
Can You Frame Art Without a Frame?
"No frame! Freedom!" (says the picture). "The paper is my boundary!" "No framing costs!" (says you). You could just blu-tak, staple, pin, tack, glue or paste, paper-printed art onto the wall. But beyond these cheap-looking methods, you can also consider:-
Use a Single Hard Backing Sheet
This is quite inexpensive, and allows you to fix the picture to the wall without it distorting or necessarily needing the support of hangers.
Foam-core is very light so it can be made quite thick. It can be made in black, white and some colours.
Gatorboard or "matboard" is thin but harder to dent. The choices are usually single- or double-weight.
Block Paper Mounting wraps a paper print around an in-built wooden frame (rather like how canvas is framed):
Metal printing This has been very popular recently. They make the print into something more solid, with vibrant colours. They're made by infusing an image onto raw aluminum, and applying a coating. Mounting can be Float mount:
a stand-off mount:
or just leaned against a wall, or an easel.
Canvas with internal frame: no apparent frame
If it's the lack of a visible frame that appeals, then (like the paper wrapped frame above), canvas prints can be mounted around an internal frame.
Now we are getting into actual framing. Before we do that, let's summarize:
Think about how you want the art to "talk to" the wall and the room, and choose whether/what framing will suit both
You can make wall art paper prints sit well, without too much cost, using various backings.
In the next article I'll talk about:
Styles of Frames (traditional; modern; minimal; expressive)
Materials: (wood, PVC, metal)
Techniques (standard frames; floating frames, etc)
Mattes and other considerations