Choosing the right frame for fine art

Choosing the right frame for fine art

Have you just bought a new artwork or are you considering buying a new piece and do you wonder what frame fits with it best? How to make sure the artwork fits the space or even more important how to make sure the frame fits with the image? There are several ways to complement or neutralise the space or to draw the viewer's eye to the image. There are also some key elements to make sure the frame complements the artwork. By the end of this article, you will know how to separate a fine artwork from the background and how to enhance your art experience. Additionally, if you want to do everything yourself we will elaborate on how to put it together to make a perfect frame.

Artwork on wall above by Thomas van Schaik

Complement or neutralise the space 

When picking a frame for the artwork you can choose to complement the space it is in. This allows the frame to fit in the space and not stand out too much. This can be broken down into the following three elements that need to be taken into account: Wall, mood and light. Make sure to look into all three of these elements when picking a frame as it can significantly affect your final perception of the artwork. 


1. Wall 

When picking a frame, make sure to take the patterns and colours on that wall into account. You can choose to separate the artwork from the wall by selecting a simple frame that breaks the pattern and neutralises it. This will make sure the artwork stands out. You could also choose a frame that fits the patterns on the wall and use a matt to separate the wall from the artwork. The same applies to the colour of the wall, the frame colour can be similar to the wall to not stand out much. A matt can then be used as a separator if desired. In general, the rule is to make sure the frame and/or matt function as a separator to neutralise the viewer before your eyes blend the design of the wall with the artwork. When a neutral frame is combined with a matt the viewer will be able to clearly separate the wall from the artwork, making sure the artwork can be enjoyed optimally.


2. Mood 

Every room has a certain ambience, which is the result of a combination of furniture, lights, colours and textures used in the room. Art should add value to the ambience of the room, in most cases, this is best done by using a complementary frame or a neutral frame, however in some cases, one could use a frame that opposes the general ambience of the space. 

Fine art, complement art, frame

When an artwork opposes the mood of the room the statement made by the artwork will stand out more, but can often be perceived as too overwhelming over time. Trying to trigger an opposing mood with an artwork plus frame is often more complex than just selecting a frame design that fits the mood of the artwork. As the frame can easily overshadow the artwork itself.  Read the next chapter to understand how to make sure your frame complements the artwork nicely. 

A neutral room with a very detailed yet bold art statement can be perceived as beautiful and this can be achieved by using a neutral frame. 

There are too many possibilities to highlight all options. The key takeaway here should be that the mood of a room can significantly be affected by the combination of the frame and artwork if not done well. This is why it is often best to not affect the mood of the room with the frame and allow the art piece to speak for itself. Therefore we recommend to be better save than sorry when choosing a frame and to go for neutral or complementary to the room.


3. Light

Every room has specific lighting, which needs to be taken into account when picking colours for frames. As some rooms don’t have any natural light coming in through a window, the perceived colours might be different than they actually are, as light colour and intensity affect how you perceive colour tones. This is true for the colours on the artwork yet also applies to the perception of the colour of the frame. If you hang artwork in a shadowy part of the house bright colours will look darker on both the frame and the artwork. While harsh sunlight can make darks look grey. When complementing or neutralising a space with the frame you want to be sure to pick the right colour. When possible take a sample home and test it in the space you will hang the artwork before committing.


Complement the Fine artwork 

The other way to choose a frame is to complement the fine artwork. In this case, you do not base the design of the frame on the space it is in, but on the artwork itself. Complementing the fine artwork is harder to achieve than complementing the space, but can be very satisfactory when done right.

Complement the fine artwork , fine art, how to

Artwork on wall by Michael Cai


1. Colour

The colours in the artwork were specifically chosen by the artist, we can assume that creating this fine artwork has taken many years of training. The message that is being portrayed can be empowered by the frame and deserves the same amount of attention. When using a frame of the wrong colour the perception of the art piece can be significantly affected. When aiming to complement the art piece it requires you to neglect the space it is in. A complementary colour in many cases also results in a selection of neutral colours that are already visible in the art piece itself. It gets trickier when the art piece is quite bold, as one will have to use a bolder colour for the frame then as well. Often the frame ends up overshadowing the artwork or looking out of place.  We highly recommend testing frames aimed to complement an artwork before actually framing it or consulting an expert before choosing the complementary frame colour. 

Frame dimensions, Fine artwork, how to frame art

2. Frame dimensions

The smaller the size of the artwork the more visible the frame will be next to it, making it easier to distract the viewer from the art with the frame. The larger the artwork the heavier the piece will be. Heavier pieces require a thicker frame for support. This is especially true when the frame includes glass. 

There are numerous extravagant fine art pieces out there, sometimes these artworks go hand in hand with extravagant frames. There is nothing wrong with an extravagant frame. The only tricky element of an extravagant frame is that it might distract from the artwork itself. It might overpower the artwork, while the purpose of a frame should be to bring attention to the artwork. As mentioned above, frames in bold colours are more likely to overshadow the artwork, therefore we recommend using a thinner frame when working with bold colours. 

An important part of choosing dimensions that has to be taken into account is the space you want to give the artwork. Does the frame need to create space or tightness to amplify the work of art it is holding? The space the artwork needs on the wall can be significantly larger than the artwork itself and will affect the dimensions of the frame.

Tom Kluyver, fine art, frame, how to frame art

Artworks by Tom Kluyver


Now that we have narrowed down what to complement or neutralise it is time to choose a type of frame. There are several types of frames you can choose from. Typical frames for fine art are floater frames, gallery frames and shadow box frames.


1. Floater frames

A floater frame can be identified by the small gap between the image and the solid wood frame, this creates the impression of a levitating picture. The artwork is (semi-)permanently mounted on the inside of the frame without the connection being visible from the front. See more about floater frames here

Tom Kluyver fine art, floater frame, how to frame art

Artwork by Tom Kluyver


2. Gallery frames 

Gallery frames often use a mat to create a frame-in-frame effect that you’ll often see in photography exhibitions. It is very versatile as the frame neutralises the space around the image, allowing for placement in a large variety of rooms and ambiences.

Fine art by Tom kluyver, How to frame art

Artwork by Tom Kluyver


3. Shadow box frames

Shadow box frames use a thicker matt or spacer in between the glass and the image, this creates a deep frame to draw the eye inward toward the print. The deeper profile of the frame creates a slight shadow within, making the perception of the deep frame visible from afar.


Fine art Michael Cai, shadow box, how to frame art

Artwork by Michael Cai

Custom frames 

No matter the type of artwork you are getting, you might opt to have a  custom frame made to your liking. When using a custom-made frame, all points mentioned above still apply. Additionally, you should pay attention to the following items to get it just right.


1. Thickness 

When getting a custom-made frame made you should consider the thickness of the wood. If you decide not to use a matt then you will most likely have to get a thicker frame. Do not fret though, we are not talking about a 1cm thick frame vs a 10cm thick frame, the difference is more subtle than that. 

The frame itself functions as a container, a container to elevate the artwork from the wall. The thickness of the frame can make this separation more or less obvious. Depending on the colour and pattern on your wall, you might want to consider a thicker frame. This is to avoid blending of the colours and patterns of the artwork and the wall. 

Additionally, choose the right thickness to make sure it can carry the weight of the glass if you are going for a frame with glass.


2. Material & colour

There are often many options to choose from at a frame maker. They regularly offer a large number of choices. We recommend looking at “Complement or neutralise the space” and “complement the art” again before you make your final choice. 

Safe colours are always: natural wood, white or black. With natural wood, it is important to choose a type of wood that matches the wood in your interior. This will result in the most natural-looking outcome. A white frame or matt is invisible on a white wall and is preferred if the artwork deserves all your attention. Last, but not least, when choosing a black frame you should take into account that the artwork might look smaller because of it.


how to frame art, fine art

3. Depth 

Each frame has a certain depth, this depth can be used to your advantage if you want to highlight the artwork. Using a thicker frame brings attention to the artwork it contains as it creates a more visible frame for your eyes to focus on. Using this strategy can be highly effective when hanging an artwork in a spacious room, as the artwork might not stand out as much as you’d like with a normal frame. A shadow box frame by itself already has this added volume, however, a gallery frame can also be made with increased thickness and depth.


4. White space or matt 

A matt gives the artwork space and in doing so can make the artwork seem larger. It makes the frame bigger, but it gives the artwork more stature. The matt is often referred to as breathing space for the image, this breathing space allows the eye to take the image in by itself and fade off in the edges without interference. 

When using a matt, make sure to use acid-free mounts and backing to protect the artwork from damage.


5. Glass overlay 

Glass can be cut to any size, like with the mount. Glass is heavy and needs to be held in its place by the frame without deforming under its weight. The type of glass used will affect the thickness of the frame. There are no set rules that can be taken into account when deciding upon the thickness of the frame when combining it with glass. We recommend consulting with an expert to get it right.

When choosing glass the most important thing to keep in mind is that you’ll have to choose between three types: Normal glass, museum glass and perspex. This we explained here If you choose to use glass, make sure to separate the glass from the image using spacers or a matt to protect it from condensation that might form on the glass.


No matter the type of frame, protect the artwork

Depending on the type of frame you are getting the type of care you need to do to retain the artwork at the highest quality might vary as well. See this article here on how to take care of an artwork. Glass protects the artwork from dust and museum glass protects the artwork from dust and UV light that will damage the artwork However glass might not be the preferred material for the artwork as the paper can be selected for its specific texture.


Chris König art

Artwork by Chris König

In the end 

No matter the type of frame you choose, the most important is that you enjoy it. Taste differs and your neighbour might not like it, but none of that matters as long as you do. Some people always use neutral frames, just because they know they will move house again. Therefore a neutral choice is never bad and will most likely last you a lifetime. Especially when combined with beautiful fine artwork and high-quality materials.

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