Creative framing?


PFG, Picture Framing God
Founding Member
Aug 12, 2000
San Diego, CA
On another thread a well known Grumbler claimed that black frames and wide white mats are uncreative. I have to disagree with his statement. Some pictures and environments demand such framing. Creative has it's place, but lets not forget our mission, frame the picture.

If a customer (this is hypothetical) gave you a one million dollar budget to frame every picture in his home, a three thousand foot condo, and said he will be in Europe for the next six months. He tells you when he gets back, he will be having a large party, with a lot of VIPs in attendance. He also tells you to knock their socks off with your well known creative framing.

You do the job, and of course, use the entire budget. He has his party and his guests are amazed at the framing, it's all they can talk about. The local paper society page is also agog over it, and gives your framing a lot of ink.

Here is my question, is the framing done properly?

I have to disagree as well. I have seen/designed some lovely works using white mats/ black frames.
Some art just demands that look.
On the other hand. I had a customer bring me a lovely little watercolor landscape, with beautiful lavanders. The customer asked for white top mat black bottom mat, black frame, because that is what the artist recommended--it was yuk!! We ended up doing it with colored mats to complement the colors in the art, we still went with a black frame!
I have a running fued with my sister over some art she has hanging on her wall, a pretty little print of trees all in fall colors--yep white mat!! I hate that thing!

No John it wasn't. To do the job properly would have gone a cool mill-two. That is why nobody mentioned the two Picasso grey silver point sketches in the Master bathroom.... because they were done in 1/2" OT Blk and pebble white mats without weighting.

But did you see how everyone raved about the Ansel Adams "Half Dome in Moonlite" that was framed in the 21/2" with Stinky Metal copper frame with rough grind and weld, with the beaten 12oz leather mat and black oxide leafed bevel. What an eye popper!

For sure, I thought that they of all people would have a web page...

Stinky Metal Works
3185 E Main St
Ashland, OR 97520-9097
(541) 488-7889
On another thread a well known Grumbler claimed that black frames and wide white mats are uncreative. I have to disagree with his statement.
I'll name names. I agree with Baer.

Some pictures and environments demand such framing. Creative has it's place, but lets not forget our mission, frame the picture.
If all we need to do is frame the picture, why do we bother having 2,000+ moulding samples and every color and texture known to man from Bainbridge and Crescent?

There's a reason a little black frame and a white mat is often known as a "gallery style." Because that's how museums and galleries generally present the art. But they have a very different agenda. They want to present the artwork in as neutral an environment as possible so that people will look solely at the art. On a pragmatic side, I'm sure it lowers their cost since they can by the little black moulding by the box and mat by the pallete. Aside from that, imagine the visual chaos in a museum with hundreds of pieces of art all hung together, each with different color mats and different style frames. Yikes.

How many of our customers live in art galleries or museums? The reality is that we usually have to fit the framing to fit an environment, and it's usually not a museum.

Artists help perpetuate this whole thing, but that another rambling post.
I've always thought the term "creative framing" was unfortunate and it's one we've all used at some time or another.

What's the alternative? Destructive framing?

Anyway, I am a big fan of minimalist framing in many situations. Does that make me lazy? Maybe. Unimaginative? Probably.

But I made a living (sort of) for 28 years by knowing what my customers like and at least 3-4 of them agree with me.
Didn't Decor Magazine have an article last year about a gallery exhibit of black & white photos. I think they all were framed with white mats and black frames.
Hey, Just use whatever frames and mats you want.

This is like arguing over whether or not chocolate is better than vanilla.

It's silly. Everyone knows that vanilla is the best.
Originally posted by elsa:
I have to disagree as well. I have seen/designed some lovely works using white mats/ black frames.
Some art just demands that look.
I agree with you; Black & white pictures come to mind.

Just an hour ago, a customer came with 5 black & whites and wanted black bottom mat, white top mat, wide black frame!
Being creative with the Black and White might include an 8 ply mat or more mats. There are many shades of white and several styles of simple black frames. Show more than one possibily.

Frame the work properly, but make sure the customer will be happy.

To quote a customer, "the 70's frames just do not go with my 90's furniture".
I think that most anytime you notice the frame first the work was not properly framed. The objective of good framing is to draw the viewer into the work.

Now, that said, there are exceptions...

A personal project I'm working on is to frame a copy of a blueprint (blue background, white line drawing) of a building my grandfather built of fieldstone and brick with a slate tile roof on the shore of a small Michigan inland lake.

I plan on taking these conceptual drawings and creating a frame made up of the elements used in construction...small field stones, chips of brick, chips of slatetile, etc. I may experiment with matting it with the border echoing the shoreline of the lake.

Obviously the frame on the above project will be quite pronounced and integral to the entire piece and will not fade into the background.

Hope I can pull it off well.

Exceptions to every rule...

Dave Makielski
There's a difference between a 1" wide satin black with Bainbridge 8559 and a 1" wide solid mahogany flat & hollow stained ebony and a white silk mat wrapped on 8 ply. Both of them fall under the heading of Black frame/White mat. polish.

Ultimately it all comes down to what the customer wants. I have a client who ALWAYS gets a plain maple frame (LJ225NAT) and a grey mat. I find the combination quite unappealing, but I can't let that prevent me from being the one who collects $85 each time he takes a photograph he likes.
I can't think of any reason a person would "ebonize" $7.50/bft mahogany as appossed to the much prettier and traditional $4.25/bft gum walnut, but you to start in on my point.

Some would think that ebonized walnut is black, but in fact is deep dark browns and purples; which more closely approximate the true color of black and white photos.

When a customer asks for a blk frame on their B&W photo, I go ahead and show them a nice black lacquered frame..... and then after a 5 count beat lay down the natural linen with an ebonized walnut frame. But I don't say a word.

I let the customer notice that the "Black" kills the picture, and the softer fabric and softer "Ebony" enhance the picture and give it life.

But then there is the "Goth Girl" who does up her friends as if they are embalmed and takes their picture in her coffin... and then she frames them the same way 1" flat black cap, red TML fillet that I dye just for her, and a blk mat with red core. I guess it's not really your white mat type is it.... but she just won't listen when I want to "liven up" the picture... :D
Okay, John, I'll bite.

Yes, I think Mr. Friendsinhighplaces' framing was done properly. It was done within budget and had the desired effect. If it was all decorative stuff, who cares if was 'overframed?' And if it was fine art, then surely it was done so that is could be totally reversed.

And perhaps the reason the framing attracted so much attention is because of the exquisite way it enhanced the art! haha.

edie the iloveblackframesandwhitemats goddess
"He has his party and his guests are amazed at the framing, it's all they can talk about. The local paper society page is also agog over it, and gives your framing a lot of ink."

If the client is happy, then yes, the framing was done properly.

I would take all the ink that was written about this particular project, turn it into a press release and mail it out to my client list and PR contacts. would also display the articles in a nice frame (of course showcasing creativity!) and place it on the design counter. In short, milk it for all it is worth.
Thanks for asking!
I always thought that framing/art should be like a good tuxedo. It should be obviously inconspicuous. Art shouldn’t make the home. It should compliment it without screaming “LOOK AT ME I’M A FRAME BABY!” Great art should help you appreciate the beauty of a home like a good tuxedo helps you appreciate the beauty of the woman. For what its worth, John, I would say that the framer that got all the attention was a bit too proud of their work and didn’t meet the challenge.
Please forgive me John

What's the answer!
I think I want to let this run a while longer before I render my opinion. There is a legitimate reason for this, I think we are all learning something here.

Here's my opinion on the black and white mat thing....
For something that is very colorful:
Black frame + White mat = no creativity... maybe even boring.

For something black and white:
Black frame + White mat = matches well but not necessarily creative.

For something else black and white:
Black frame + White mat + embossing.... probably= matches well and creative.

....a lot of it just boils down to what the customer lets you use.
I think Jay's Tuxedo analogy is perfect. Sure every once in a while we go through a "Let's get crazy with the Tux" period with light blue & ribbon on the lapels, or maroon crushed velvet. It always swings back, though. My cousin had a 20 year old tux altered that had originally belonged to his dad and it looks perfect and timeless.

The framing that is flashy and relies heavily on current color trends will be in the attic with the crushed velvet tux in a few years.

If the art itself is trendy, that's a horse of a different color.
I suppose black frame on a black mat on a black picture can be the best framing for the job - if that's what the customer wants (even after you showing some professional alternatives if you have indications the customer wants you to show your professional opinion!).

We all have different stores & different customers but if we think we can dictate what is creative & what is the best - I think we are sadly mistaken. The customer knows what is the best - because its theirs and it their moola. Having said that, we are usually expected to give our professional advice. If someone said to me , here is a thousand bucks - blow me a way with your framing - I'd ask him if he wants to show off the art or nice frames. If he said he didn't care - I want nice stuff on my walls - he'd get nice frames - even if it was a bit much for the art. Although there are exceptions, we usually frame for the art.

As for me, I usually determine if the customer has placed a high importance in the art, then I show them what looks the best for it. I don't care how expensive it is. If it's too expensive for them, we back up. Often I'll say, this is a bit expensive but look how great it looks, and if they don't ask - "how expensive", then price is probably not a huge concern. I don't look at their car & say - whew, they will never spend more than a hundred bucks. I've seen a guy limp in here out of a car whose door wouldn't close, (a car I wouldn't want in front of my shop too long), and pay well over a thousand bucks for a huge gold frame on a delicate needlework. (that's what he wanted - so he got it.)(I've also had a sharply dressed lawyer come in and want his certificates down in a cheap metal frame with no matts - I had to send him to Walmart). If the customer says, I just want a thin black frame & a white matte, I'll show it to them - but if they are looking for a bit of advice - I'll blow them away with something else - unless the thin black frame with a white matte is seems to be the best (as it certainly can be!)
How about "White mats and black frames, like diamonds and bluejeans, go with anything".

I don't think any design elements that are as tried and true as Black and White necessarily place limits on creativity. It's not so much what you use, as how you use them that matters. Sure, using B&W on a B&W photo can be a cop-out, but it can also be very daring. Having parameters when designing really forces the cream to the top.
There's much more to design than picking colors. Relying on design elements within the art, and historical references are a step in the right direction. Being creative requires a sensibility to what we are framing, and the appropriate use of any design element can never be seen as a lack of creativity.

I am currently framing a collection of art for the city's "Art in Public Spaces" program. It consists of a collection of fine art photographs by well known local and regional artists. They are not all black and white, but we (The Cultural Council Board & me) chose to use black and white design elements exclusively.
The main reason we decided on this approach is that the collection's disparate images needed to have a commonality in their presentation, and any single additional design element would have been in conflict somewhere in the collection.

This all brings me back to Baer's thread on Patron Saints of the framing profession; The Patron Saint of Design, St. Less Ismore.
John, in answer to your question:

If the framing was done in MY shop, you bet it was done right! I don't skimp on quality, just to make a sale. I would make sure that every picture in the whole place is treated as an individual. The framing would be the same quality that I alwasy offer.

Now, the real question is, would I use the old stand-by of black and white. Well, if they decorated in black and white, and asked for black and white, they would get black and white. but you can bet that there would be some WONDERFULL fillets involved. Perhaps some nice linin mats, or ink lines.

I have seen a black frame, and white mat, KILL a picture, and I have seen the same combo bring a picture to life. It is up to us, as the framer, to be creative enough to understand when to tell the customer when they are wrong, and smart enough to know when they are right.
"Great art should help you appreciate the beauty of a home like a good tuxedo helps you appreciate the beauty of the woman."
Is the woman wearing the tuxedo?
Just curious,
Julia ;)
Whoa, Julia.. great minds and all that... I've been reading the whole post to make just that same comment or question.

But as the question settled in and around what is left [or right] of my brain... I realize that a little slip gives great insite...

When I'm dressed in my Joseph Abode tux, I look around the party adn appreciate the beauty of the women. It also means that my wife is dressed up too.

Whoa...brain flash... black tux, white shirt, black tie, cumberbun and studs.

John, back to the original question... No, because people noticed the art; not the new house that he designed and spent $15 million on, and was to be his show place as an architect.
How about a quote that is supposed to be from Degas:

"The frame is the reward for the artist."

In the mentioned extreme scenario the framing is not the reward for the artist, but for the framer & perhaps the client (especially if he likes to show off expensive framing), as no one made mention of the art.

I'd sure want to frame & hang that press clipping, though!

IMHO sometimes the sometimes called "important" frame job can make the art look great--and sometimes it can make it look amature. That's the challenge, making the entire package work--for the art AND for the environment (without a limited budget so the framer still gets to eat, of course).

And on the Black & White thing, I'll take black and white any day over blonde maple and white. I find that boring.

And with hundreds of black from flat to shiny to distressed to filleted to compo'ed to embossed and thin to really wide to choose from I'd say the public likes black...and ebonized & red edged & expresso. And, there is room for creativity...if the customer so desires.

IMHO a pure white mat can either look dated (to the late 80's & early 90's) or spectacular. Depends on the art AND on the environment where it will be hung.
OK, this is my opinion. The framing is NOT done properly. The guests should be raving about the pictures, not the framing. Good framing requires that the object being framed is what should stand,or "pop" out, it should be the center of attention.

A picture frame is nothing more than a border placed around a picture in order to make you look at what is inside the frame. Cartoonists have used a frame for as long as I can remember. It is a simple black line, drawn around their cartoon, so you will look at the cartoon.

You can use whatever type of framing you like, from simple black to huge, wide gold leaf monsters, as long as, when you are done, the picture is the first thing that catches your eye.

The type of framing is dictated by the picture and the environment in which the picture will be displayed. Another major concern is the budget allowed for the project.

Decorator framing is not actually framing, it is creating a pleasing object to enhance an environment, nothing more.

In the beginning..early to mid 1300s... you would be right.

The first frames were to just surround the picture so that you didn't miss the picture.. also to keep the grubby little hands of the friers off the sacred pictograph.

Later, as framing became part of the decorative arts to hold and make transportable paintings of lords or burgers or their possessions (wives & or family) the "Trophy" frame started to be dominate.

These were outgrowths of the Niche or Temple or Tabernacle framing that the "Church" had been doing for over a 100 years.

The "over the top" style was to denote the importance of the person depicted in the painting. It became a very important "front man" as it were to notify the viewer that this person is important and carries rank or title.

Some of these more notable frames even went so far as to encrust the crest or badge of the noble with in the entablicure or in a gaudy cresting with supports and foliage.

If the person was of military in later years, muskets, swords, cannons, flags, ships, helmets, pikes, and other items of maim and bloodshed may have been woven into the fabric of the frame.

For so long we have seen pictures in catalogs and text sans frame, that we have a lack of "place" and are easily swayed into a "simple black frame" around that sweet little picture of Mona.

IMHO, the more you grind your way through good museums, the more you find the B&W issue to be repulsive.

Even Ansel didn't frame in black frames. Lots were in that boring blond maple.... :D
Remember, all of this is personal opinions, based on ones taste. People come to your frame shop for many reasons, taste is one of the biggies. Your taste is shaped by your upbringing and education. Your personal preferences do not necessarily mean you are correct, or incorrect. My personal preferences, on the other hand, reflect years of experience and understanding the situation, therefore, I must be right.

Actually, when you get right down to it, the mark of the very best framer, is the ability to ferret out what the customers taste is, not the framers.

Originally posted by JRB:
...Actually, when you get right down to it, the mark of the very best framer, is the ability to ferret out what the customers taste is, not the framers.
Amen to that.
THAT'S WHAT i SAID.......isn't it????
Black and white frames/mats do indeed have their place; but, not on every piece of Gallery Art you see. The next time you are in a public building, take a long look at the hanging artwork.

Most of it will be open stock or semi-limited edition prints with many tens of colors; framed in a wide white mat and some heavy frame. There will be exceptions.

When I see those framing jobs, I honestly only see a white hole in the wall. I have to look for the artwork. Even if that specific print was one of 9,000,unnumbered and unsigned, it deserves a good framing job.

B&W has their place; but, not on colorful artwork.