Monday, March 16, 2009


The annual spring art competition and exhibition at the Surrey Arts Center is coming up. For the most part it is fun to look forward to, aside from the one thing I dread most about it: the framing.

Right off the bat I should say that I appreciate what framers do. It is for sure a certain craft that requires care, attention and skill. With that said - and this is entirely from my standpoint - I find having to get my work framed a detestable burden.

It is not because I am picky. It is rather the opposite: typically the first one that the framer shows me makes me want to say, "Yes. That one. Please do not show me any more options."

Really, granted that the frame is not some grotesquely ornate or garish thing, I really couldn't give a hoot about what frame it is. And they proceed to bring out endless possibilities.

There's something else. I don't like bringing my work into the framing store. It feels like I'm bringing a lump of coal into a jeweler's shop and asking him to set it in fancy gold. I'm not trying to look humble here; the feeling is like that, and that's the way it is.

I also don't like the high quality of the frames. That may sound strange. They're too slick, too manufactured, even when they try to look rustic. Even when the frame technically suits my painting, I don't like the way the painting looks with the frame.

Which lands me back to the fact that I may be picky after all. But how can one be picky when none of the options really satisfy? I want to go frameless. I've seen it many times before in past exhibitions. The artist simply paints the sides of the canvas that wrap around its wooden frame; a nice red ochre or something. And they attach the hanging wire to the wood frame already there.

It could be interpreted as being a little too minimalist, or falsely modest - or simply being cheap (with artists surely that is understandable), but I don't mind it.

But the other thing that attracts me even more is making one's own frames. I've come to the conclusion actually that an artist should try and make his own frame; one that is made specifically for a specific painting. (Both painting and carving could go into the frame.) This should be no more a stretch than that the artists of old had to make their own paints from raw material, had to stretch their own canvases - by Lord, even had to make their own brushes for all I know. Indeed, that was half of what the student being apprenticed by a master was all about: you learned how to do everything.

So, one must be vigilant and combative when entering both the framing and the art supply store. Do not let mere availability of supply cripple you.

And yes, I know what Chesterton said:

"Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame."

The frame, that is to say, that is the four-square and inherent frame already there by virtue of the painting being, by its very nature, limited to the canvas - as something set apart from the infringing complexities of the world; set apart from them, yet distilling them, so that something is found, discovered, inducing epiphany. In this sense, the frame, by which we mean the wooden or metal thing we adorn a painting with, is just that: decoration of the frame already there.


Jim Janknegt said...

I agree completely. I almost always make my own frames and I make them as cheap as possible. I usually buy 1x2 MDF that is already primed and spray it black. I miter the corners, glue it together and nail the frame to the painting. Sometimes if the painting warrants it I buy fake gold leaf and attach that to the MDF. It is at framing time that I wish I had a lackey who I could give all my paintings to and say "frame these". That and canvas stretching.

Paul Stilwell said...

That is inspiring to hear! This thought of making my own frames is now becoming more concrete. What is MDF?

Couldn't agree more about having a lackey.

Jim Janknegt said...

Medium Density Fiber board:

It comes in many shapes and is already primed and is very smooth- good for painting. It makes a very plain simple frame and is cheap!