How to choose a frame for your painting

Framing your painting!

How to frame your new painting.

Choosing the right frame for your new painting can be as much of a process as the creation of the painting itself. A good quality frame is the perfect way to finish off your new work of art, helping to enhance the subject, without the frame overpowering it. Would you buy a diamond to make a ring and then tie it to your finger with rope? Framing your painting can be an excellent way to finish off your new addition.

Whenever I have completed an airbrushed painting, I automatically recommend a skilled local framer, Jonathan Pallet, of Access Picture Framing. Working with a professional framer can be a rewarding experience, the finished frame complementing the painting perfectly. An experienced framer will walk you through framing your painting, by helping with material selection, glass types, hanging fixtures, borders, mats etc. There are so many options that it is as much of an art as the painting itself!

As Jonathan himself puts it;

“I like to tell people that the first rule of choosing a frame is that there are no rules! However, having said that, there are a number of important guidelines to consider as outlined in your article. Understanding the basic design and structural guidelines is important in order to protect the physical and artistic integrity of a piece of art. Having that understanding allows you the flexibility of bending or ignoring certain rules at certain times in the interests of creativity and innovation while still protecting the artwork and enhancing the finished presentation.

The end goal is to complement and enhance the artwork visually, while offering maximum protection and longevity. Light, heat, airborne pollutants, mold and insects are all enemies of Art, but all can be countered by proper framing and hanging in an appropriate environment. The use of high quality materials and knowledgeable framing techniques will ensure that your artwork provides you with enjoyment and satisfaction for the longest time possible. “

In following Jonathan’s advice, some of the points to consider in order to frame your artworks are the style of the painting, colour scheme, canvas depth, canvas shape, paint finish, where it will be displayed, size, and so on. Below are some questions and points to consider in relation to a frame for your painting. Some of the elements have a crossover to another, so it is worth considering both points when framing the painting.

1. Style and subject of the Art

Mona lisa
The Mona Lisa, imagine this with a stark silver, modern frame!

If you have a modern image or maybe a portrait of a person from a modern era, a simplistic frame would provide a great match. If you were to select an ornate frame, a disconnect between the image and the frame would be present. In contrast, a classical image with a sharp modern, shiny metallic border would also create a disconnect between the image and frame. Choosing a style of frame and finish that compliments the subject of the painting creates a wonderful harmony, very pleasing to the eye. Imagine how the ‘Mona Lisa’ would look with a stark silver, metal frame, or an Andy Warhol with a large, ornately carved polished oak frame.
Match the frame to the subject era and style of the painting.

2. Colour Scheme

What can work beautifully well is in a subtle match of the frame colour to a colour in the painting. Matching a dark grey or black frame to a delicate greyscale portrait would look far better than a red, blue or pink frame. It is also good to note where the final framed painting will be hung. The environment it will be in can be a factor in the colour of the frame.
There are occasions when a subtle clash can produce a strong pleasing aesthetic, as outlined below.

3. Canvas Depth

Is the canvas a deep bar, gallery wrap or a back stapled shallow bar? The depth of the frame can alter the characteristics or how the painting is viewed. Would a deep overhang on a shallow bar canvas create a shadow that could enhance or detract from the painting. Would a shallow frame on a deep canvas create a dramatic contrast to the paintings display or add a pleasing subtle change from painting to room. Would a frame look best when flush with the paintings surface? Is an overhang needed in order to add glass to the frame?

4. Canvas Shape

The most common way to frame a rectangular painting is to use a rectangular frame. It is true that it creates an appealing balance of space around the painting. Now, consider the painting subject again, would a square frame add an interesting enhancement to the image? How wold the image look with a wider rectangle, adding more width or height around the painting?

5. Paint finish

The finish of the painting can be a deciding factor in whether to cover the piece with protective glass. Some paints may do better with a UV resistant glass covering, a non-reflective coated glass. Perhaps the painting has a very tactile look with lots of texture and views best with no barrier between you and the painting. Is the painting likely to attract dust or requires prevention from touch, heat, light or environmental elements?

6. Display Area/Environment

Where is the painting going to be hung and does the frame fit with its intended location? Will it be an internal display? Will it be hung in direct sunlight or in a shaded location? Will there be a picture light above?
If you have a particular colour scheme in its intended location, then an aesthetically pleasing transition would be to use a frame in the same palette. In contrast, if you wish the painting to be the focus as you enter the location, a loud colour frame could be what you need. The striking use of colour to draw the attention would need to be balanced against the subject of the painting, as the focus could remain more on the frame than the painting itself.
Direct sunlight can change to way a painting is viewed in a number of ways. Colours can be more vivid or washed out. Strong direct light can also eventually cause the colours and paints to fade or discolour. The use of UV coated and non-reflective glass can be a great addition in such circumstances.

7. Size

What is the scale of the piece you wish to frame? Would an oversize mat border add a touch of drama to the framing? How would an oversized frame look on a large painting? Will the painting intended final hanging location allow for a wide frame or narrow border?
An experienced, professional framer will be able to guide you through the multitude of choices, helping you to get to the perfect solution for your new painting. Some, like Jonathan, even have the ability to create digital mock-up of the frame options for you to see how the final frame will complement the artwork. Have fun with the process and see how the frame can bring even more life to your new art addition!


Jonathan Pallett – Access Picture Framing –
American Frame, great resource for framing tips –
Christina Yeotas – How to choose the right type of frame.


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