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Reader Q: Framing Art

I get a lot of emails from readers asking me various things and I always reply.  But one lovely reader asked that I create a post to answer her query and I thought, “silly blogger, why don’t I ever do this?” 

This reader asked for some tips for choosing frames for artwork.  I’m no expert, but I’m passionate about this topic because Hubby & I both come from families peppered with artists.  We each grew up surrounded by art and continue to make art a priority in our home.

Whenever I have something professionally framed I take it to a smaller, local shop – as opposed to a big box retailer that does framing.  In my experience, the service is better and the materials (frames and matting) are typically more modern.  I always pay less at a local place, even compared to a certain retailer’s 50-60% off coupon. 

As a rule, I don’t believe in rules, but there are a few things to think about that might help to pick a frame that will complement your artwork.  A professional can help guide you to the best decision, drawing on years of expertise and professional training.  But if you’re looking for something simple and inexpensive and are standing in an isle of ready-made frames feeling overwhelmed, here are a few tips: 

General Tips & Tricks

In general, choose a frame that suits your piece.  Whatever conversation your art starts, let the frame finish it.  Don’t pick a frame that competes with your art, unless a funky, irreverent look is what you’re after (like framing a child’s doodle in a gold, ornate frame).  Try your piece in a few frames and see which one complements your artwork best.  What frame makes your artwork standout or look good, without drawing attention only to the frame?  Importantly: what frame makes you love your artwork even more?

DIY frame makeover; plastolux

Also consider your decor: is it modern? Traditional? Eclectic?  The right frame should complement your artwork first and foremost, but also connect the artwork to the rest of your space.

Style at Home

Black Frames:

Black frames can lend a graphic or dramatic feel to artwork and can look good with many pieces of art, from black and white prints to rich and moody oil paintings.  However, if the contrast between the artwork and dark frame is too high (like pairing a thick black frame with an airy, pastel watercolour), a black frame can detract from the artwork.  To play it safe, choose a black frame if your art has black, or another darker element, in it.  Or if your walls are painted a deep, rich hue. 

Here are some examples where I think a black frame really works:

Photos (clockwise from top left): Sketch 42; Desire to Inspire; From Scandinavia With Love; Style at Home (photo by Rachel)

Like I mentioned, sometimes a black frame can drown a piece of art, like the black frames I chose to frame two small and subtle watercolours.  The white frames let the watercolours “breathe” and you notice them, not the frame (but this is highly subjective):

If you’re after a graphic look, a black frame can work with light walls and a lighter piece of art.  I think the artwork just needs enough “punch” to hold its own when competing with the frame:

Anthony Burrill

White Frames:

Personally, I love white frames because white frames a little easier to use.  Paired with white matting, a white frame can create a nice, neutral backdrop and let your artwork shine, whether your art is a whisper of a painting or a bold photograph.  Generally, white frames look very crisp and modern – sometimes even if the style is more ornate.

Here are some good examples:

Photos (clockwise from top left): A Little Sussy; Style at Home; More Than Words; Parlour  

If you have dark walls, a white frame will really stand out more, drawing attention just like a black frame against light walls.  But, in the case below, it works because it draws attention to the artwork, which might otherwise be lost:

Little Brown Pen via Little Bits of Lovely

Wood Frames: 

Wood frames offer good flexibility because they can easily be stained and refinished to suit your decor as it changes.  Simple wood frames can look very modern but still add warmth to a space.  Some very simple wood frames seem to have a mid-century feel to them (see top right).  Avoid wood if you have a lot of wood furniture or wood accents – it can be overwhelming.

Photos (clockwise from top left): Jute Home; My Home Ideas; My Photo (of our DIY desk); A Cup of Joe

One thing to note: wood frames can look rustic and cabin-inspired.  Unless you’re looking for a bit of tension in your decor scheme, avoid a weathered frame if your decor is modern or traditional because it will draw too much attention to the frame. 

Etsy seller Dandrus; Anthropologie

Metal Frames:

I opted for a silver frame when choosing a frame for a watercolour we bought from a street artist in Paris.  Clean-lined, metal frames are chameleons, blending well into crisp, modern decor or glamorous spaces.  Add a bit of ornamentation and the look becomes more traditional (unless you pair it with something quirky, like a painting of some scribbled poetry).  A metal frames adds a welcome dose of sparkle to a space and is perfect for when you don’t know if you want a really dark or really light frame – it’s a good compromise.

Photos (clockwise from top left): Houzz; Style at Home (photo by Christine); Adore Home via La Dolce Vita; Desire to Inspire

Colourful Frames:

I’m not a huge fan of a frame matching a colour found in the artwork, so it’s hard for me to make suggestions.  That was a huge trend in the 80s and 90s when the matting was also layered so one layer matched the frame, matching the art, so it has the danger of looking a bit dated.  I do think that colourful frames can look fun and quirky, like my framed bakelite pins.  And if the colour is really dominant in the artwork, a coloured frame might be just the things to make the artwork standout.  A frame with a very modern style in an updated colour could look really fresh.  So, in small doses, give it a whirl.

Art Hung En Masse:

The trendy gallery-style wall (whether jumbled collage-style, or hung in a neat row) can successfully incorporate art framed in similar frames, or a mix of frames.  Similar frames creates a more orderly look while a mix of frames creates a more casual vibe.  If you mix frames, make sure to have some repetition (a few white frames, a few black frames, a few metal frames) to keep the look from appearing too thoughtless and thrown-together.

Here are some examples of gallery style walls with a mix of frames or similar frames that each result in an interesting but cohesive assembly:

Photos (clockwise from top left): Apartment Therapy; Desire to Inspire; Pure Style Home; Southern Living;

Take Away Tips:

  • Take my advice with a grain of salt (these are just my personal thoughts)
  • Try a few different frames before committing
  • Narrow in on which frame(s) lets your artwork shine
  • Consider your decor
  • Pick what you like, “rules” be damned!

Speaking of art, I’m working on a fun DIY art project and I hope to have it ready for tomorrow, so check back to take a peek. 



    1. EJ @ Not A House, But A Home
      February 28, 2012 / 2:20 pm

      I love a thick mat in frames… and the "art en masse" look is great! I think I'm most attracted to gallery style looks when it comes to art and framing. So pretty!

    2. Nette @ This Dusty House
      February 28, 2012 / 2:36 pm

      Love this! Thanks for posting it. I keep meaning to get some artwork on our walls, which includes having some of my photographs printed and framed. I just never get to it. :/

      • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
        February 28, 2012 / 2:58 pm

        Glad you enjoyed it! I am a pretty big procrastinator, too, especially when it comes to having photos printed.

    3. Olga@Stardust-Decor&Style
      February 28, 2012 / 2:43 pm

      Great post Tanya! Always having second thoughts on frames! Love, OlgaP.S.: now following also via Bloglovin'! Hope we keep in touch!

      • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
        February 28, 2012 / 2:59 pm

        Thanks, Olga! Love your blog and I will be following along!

    4. Jae
      February 28, 2012 / 3:10 pm

      This is a great post. I love the round up and discussion. I have black frames hung en masse in my foyer. I tend to gravitate towards dark frames but I bought 4 white 12×16 frames last year that I have not yet used. I may use them in my new kitchen!

      • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
        February 28, 2012 / 9:54 pm

        Thanks! It definitely took a looong time to write, so I'm happy folks enjoyed it. Definitely use those frames! They will look lovely in your new kitchen.

    5. Lili
      February 28, 2012 / 3:13 pm

      Thank you for posting this! I agree on everything 🙂 I've been thinking about frames a little bit lately, as we have an empty white wall in the bedroom which will probably get a gallery (wall). The furniture is black, and one of the walls is dark blue with a huge wood-mounted print. So I'll choose black frames and lighten it up a bit with a frame or two in a flashy color… And maybe one in silver, too. I like mixing black or white frames with an accent frame in, say, bright red 🙂

    6. Ashley
      February 28, 2012 / 3:18 pm

      This was an incredibly informative post!

      • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
        February 28, 2012 / 9:53 pm

        Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    7. Martina
      February 28, 2012 / 4:08 pm

      Great pointers for folks who might be struggling with what frame works with what piece & what space.

    8. Dana@Mid2Mod
      February 28, 2012 / 7:18 pm

      Great tips about framing. I'm also a big fan of deep, unframed back-stapled canvas in a mid-century or contemporary setting.

      • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
        February 28, 2012 / 9:52 pm

        Me too, Dana! Sometimes I even paint the edges of my paintings (either one colour, like black, or I continue the abstract).

    9. StarletStarlet
      February 28, 2012 / 11:25 pm

      What a great and useful post, Tanya! Very insightful. That ombre frame from Plastolux is such an inspiration – especially with the ombre trend all around. I agree with you on white frames – I generally love white frame, because of its light and airy feeling. Black frame works great too though – most of the paintings in our home is black. The latest splurge that we made was getting a custom frame done – it's metal frame in a dark charcoal color. It gives it a very cool, rustic industrial feeling. Can't wait to check out your DIY project tomorrow — always brilliant!

    10. Keira
      February 28, 2012 / 11:58 pm

      Great post, Tanya! I have always used black frames but have recently moved to white for the same reason you say — it makes the art stand out and not the frame.

    11. Lets just build a house!
      February 29, 2012 / 1:57 am

      I really like this post! I suppose I don't always think about if the frame really goes with the art/photo etc, I am usually thinking if it goes in my house more. I need to get on this!

    12. Angie@Echoes of Laughter
      February 29, 2012 / 2:09 am

      Great post Tanya! I loved all the pics you chose to illustrate your info and suggestions! Hope your week is going great! Angie xo ps-did you know that your comments on blogger are set at 'no reply' so that no one can reply directly to the comments you leave on their blogger blogs unless they click thru to your profile? Just thought I might mention it in case you want to change it. I had mine set at 'no reply' too until one of my readers let me know!

    13. Fatou
      February 29, 2012 / 5:51 am

      Thanks for stopping by my blog Tanya! I'm glad I found your beautiful blog! Good luck on the Homies too :-). I'll be voting for you.Fatou

    14. Sheila @SZInteriors
      February 29, 2012 / 7:26 pm

      I have a black frame right now that is too stark for the artwork, so I want to Rub 'n Buff it… of course I can't get the R'nB I want and it has to be ordered. So in the mean time… I'm going to try my hand at DIY Rub 'n Buff with Pearl Ex Pigment and Krylon Matte Finish. Never done this before! Love your Take Away Tips! 😉

    15. Ashley@AttemptsAtDomestication
      March 1, 2012 / 1:59 am

      Great post! I really want to do 2 (I'm limiting myself lol) gallery wall/areas in my house, so I needed some more info on choosing frames for art that will stand on its own.

    16. Adding the finishing touch
      March 1, 2012 / 12:30 pm

      I love this post! I'm in the process of decorating my new house and this is a big help!Thanks for the follow. Have a great day 🙂

    17. Shannon
      March 1, 2012 / 8:32 pm

      I have a painting from the same artist in Paris!! From the art market in montparnasse! I haven't framed it since its on a rather chunky canvas/stretcher. That made my day!

      • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
        March 2, 2012 / 1:09 am

        What are the freaking odds??!?? It is definitely from that market!! Our hotel was near there and there was a different market every day in this one little area (art, food, clothes, antiques). That is just nuttiness. Get it framed and show me!!!

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