What are we responsible for?


SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Jun 11, 2004
Edwardsburg, MI
Another thread brought to mind an issue I'd like some opinions on...

Is it our duty to inform and educate a customer to the proper framing techniques to preserve their work?

If yes, then...

Is it not our duty to make a customer who brings in an oil or acrylic painting aware of the need for varnishing said work? Even if we do not provide that service is it not a disservice to our customers to not inform them of this form of preservation (especially for oil paintings)?

I've read several comments that fellow framers have made concerning framing anything for a customer the way they want it. Whether or not they get a disclaimer is another story.

Pardon my comparison, but do those of you who feel it's OK to improperly frame something of potential value believe in doctor assisted suicide too?

Framers, as professionals, have a duty to continue our education, educate our clients and form or adhere to some code of ethics.

Dave Makielski
I think it within our realm of responsibility to offer information to help the client make and educated decision. Something like "Informed Consent" when undergoing medical or surgical treatment. It is then their decision as to which path to take.
We have many gray areas in preserving artwork that are dependent upon circumstances beyond our control. I feel compelled to offer that combination of technique that best suits the art and the environment it will inhabit. Quite often I will have to make modifications to that offering to make it conform to economic considerations.
I think the answer to your question will vary with the target market for the individual shop, and will also vary within the context of each individual frame job. Little Bobby's 3rd grade drawing may well deserve full preservation framing if he turns out to be the next Motherwell, and using archival mats on the latest flash in the pan artist might be a waste of money once the 15 second of fame has passed, and the art is relegated to the closet. Can you imagine (somewhere in the distant future) if you were to possess the only pristine copy of a Brittney Spears poster? You would not only have to thank the framer that used preservation technology to frame it, but all the other framers who chose not to, thereby effectively ruining the rest.

My answer then is yes, it is my responsibility to attempt to educate my clientèle. How they act on that information is their choice.
My primary concern as a businessman is to make them happy while I relieve them of some of their money.
There are instances where being a card carrying member of the preservation police is in conflict with the last sentence.

There's something that bugs me about your analogy. It seems that the metaphor is suffering greatly from too much hyperbole.
Originally posted by Dave:
...Pardon my comparison, but do those of you who feel it's OK to improperly frame something of potential value believe in doctor assisted suicide too?...
That's an interesting analogy, Dave. I hadn't thought about framing in life-or-death terms. It seems a bit extreme. :eek:

I'm a big advocate of educating customers. Customers of the cheaper-is-better mindset suffer from a lack of understanding about the value of framing. Indeed, they often undervalue their own possessions, as indicated by comments such as, "It's important to me, but it isn't worth anything". When we educate customers, we have opportunities to become their preservation consultants, which is better than being thought of as tinkering neighborhood shopkeepers.

Framers who think protective features are unimportant, or that customers don't care about preservation, are missing golden opportunities. I guess it's no surprise that I advocate education for framers, too.

You asked, "What are we responsible for?" Some of us are responsible for everything, and some of us are responsible for nothing. Most of us are somewhere in between.

Good thread.
I agree my analogy was somewhat extreme and I thought about editing it out. I certainly don't mean to offend anyone. It sometimes works to get emotions involved to elicit a response.

Even when I frame a poster or the like, I do explain to the customer the danger of having the image against the glass. Sometimes, even though I don't see the value in an object, it is quite valuable to them for whatever reason and customers take me up on a preservation method. If nothing else, they appreciate the education and I do take on the roll of a framing consultant instead of just a nail pounder...very effective way of differentiating yourself from your competition.

Dave Makielski
I think you're right on here. I will always make suggestions to my clients regarding conservation work that I think should be done to their art. I leave it up to them to decide if the costs are on par with what they want out of their art. All we can do is make suggestions. To follow your annalogy, a doctor can only suggest treatment and can't, usualy force it upon their patient.
Re varnish on oil or acrylic, I think that is more in the realm of the artist. That is, it is the artist's decision to varnish or not to varnish, not the framer's or conservator's. And I certainly don't think framers should offer varnishing services, as varnishing can change the appearance and value of an artwork, just as fixing a pastel or charcoal can.

But I think you would be doing a service to the customer - or is it client? ;) - to mention the vulnerability of such pieces to dirt etc., and the difficulty of cleaning unvarnished paintings, and then offer them the option of glazing.

Do you feel that not varnishing is always the right thing or are there times when varnishing can be necesary to help the art?
a doctor can only suggest treatment and can't, usualy force it upon their patient.
. . . and when the patient walks out of the hospital, their file gets a big red "A.M.A." which stands for "against medical advise".

This puts the situation in a different status when it comes to insurance and legal issues.

How about a big "A.F.A." on the back?
I always understood that there is absolutely no effective way to clean a painting unless it has been varnished...the cleaning process being removing the old varnish and revarnishing. Once impurities have imbedded themselves in the paint there is no way to remove them. A light surface wash will remove soil sitting on the surface but not imbedded dirt.

Correct me if I am wrong on this. Possibly there are extreme and expensive methods I am unaware of.

Also being in the framing and art supply business all my life, I would estimate that only 10% of artists know and/or care about varnishing their paintings. They sell them at fairs, etc. and do not inform the customer that they need to wait six-12 months for an oil painting to become dry enough to varnish. I can't tell you the number of beautiful paintings that people have brought to me for cleaning that have never been varnished and can only marginally be improved. I think it is both the artist's duty and our duty to educate out customers (after we first educate ourselves).

There was a thread about varnishing oils some time ago and I was quite daunted to hear what some framers were using as varnishes and some of the cleaning methods applied.

Dave Makielski
Hi Brian -

I think that if the artist made a considered decision not to varnish for aesthetic reasons, then it should not be varnished. Even the most matte varnish will change the appearance to some degree.

If the artist was just forgetful (or lazy or boneheaded - OMG did I really say that?
) then sure there is a case for varnishing.

But varnishing itself is not always as easy as just spraying with a can of Krylon. Reversibility issues need to be considered as well as aesthetic. Can an acrylic varnish be removed from an acrylic painting? Or, for that matter from an oil painting. There are lots of variable in paints. When should one use a natural resin, and which one, and what solvent? How heavily or lightly to apply it? Sometimes it needs to be applied more heavily in some areas than others.

In my opinion these are questions can be best answered by those with technical and curatorial knowledge.

(And that isn't me - I'm a paper person! ;) )

Dave - I don't know your knowledge base - you may well be very experienced with paintings and varnishes and are the right person to be making these decisions and carrying out the work. But I think most framers are not educated in this area, and could be letting themselves in for a lot of grief if they did start varnishing and fixing.

I know that there are lots of thoughts and debates on varnishes in the paintings conservation world, and that the subject is not straight forward.

I don't think it is up to us as framers to varnish anything.....that would be altering the art. That has to be the artists responsibility. I would not be willing to take on that liability. Just like I won't spray pastels..... I'd be surprised if the percentage of framers out there did offer varnishing, really surprised. That is a good example of what I am not responsible for.

Everything that walks through our door presents special circumstances. All we can do is inform our customers and let them make an informed decision. Certain things I won't bend on, certain things I will.
“Is it our duty to inform and educate a customer to the proper framing techniques to preserve their work?”

What does framing and preservation have to do with one another. I’m sure we can all agree that the absolute best way to preserve something is to keep it out of a frame and certainly not no display.

Framing is a compromise. You’re compromising the integrity of the piece so that you can view it. Once you start down that slope, everything is fair game and should be up to the customer 100% to decide how far they want to go.

The burden of safety ultimately rests on the owner of the art. If you’re gonna put that burden and liability on yourself you need to not only request but insist that they cover the art in and find a environmentally controlled vault to store them. You can never again frame something in good conscience.

Instead we just lay out the options and let the customer pick a card. After all it’s their art, their wallet, and their life.

Nona had a good story about this in Décor (I think it was). What I got from the article was about how art doesn’t belong to us. Instead we are stewards of art and have the responsibility to protect it so that it can be passed down. I agree except to say that the steward is the one picking out mat colors and not the one cutting that mat.

And they say that doctors have the “God” complex. Often framers have this complex so badly it teeters on the edge of arrogance.

PS I too think that evoked emotions make for the best discussions.
I wouldn't varnish the art myself of course. Being located in San Francisco provides me to access of many fine art conservators. We have in our files here numbers for conservators for anything from objects, textiles, canvas, paper and photography. Each one with their own specialty. I leave it up to them to make the suggestions to my clients. I just make the suggestion that they should get a professional opinion.
I feel that it is important to let thecustomer know their options and why they are good or bad.
I will in general do what a customer wants me to do to their art. However there are exceptions.

I'm not playing god, I just don't want the liability.
My knowledge base is just from growing up in the business working with and watching and asking questions of my grandfather and a framer/restorer we had on board for 40 years who retired recently. After his retirement we no longer offered repair work, fire restoration, relining of canvas and other conservation services. I am constantly reading and studying and consulting with a painting conservator when I face something I am not comfortable working with and usually contract the work out to her unless I'm totally confident it is within my abilities.

I do have an extensive background in the art material industry.

I have no formal training or certification as a restorer.

I'll clean an oil if it is structurally sound and revarnish with a brush-on removable acrylic varnish and two light coats of varnish sprayed with an airbrush. If in my or my customers opinion, or if appraised so high I am not comfortable working on a piece, I refer it to a conservator with the customer usually requesting me to handle working with the conservator. I do not mark up the subcontracted work and provide it as a service to my framing customers.

Just as in the picture framing industry, there is always improved products and materials in the conservation field and debate over what is the best method or substances to use.

Cleaning and varnishing a painting structurally sound with good adhesion is not rocket science. It is a time consuming meticulous task but not difficult. I always give the customer the option of cleaning their painting and revarnishing themselves along with an explanation of the process. Some choose to do it themselves, but more often than not they don't.

Cleaning a painting that has been varnished is a labor of love in that you become quite intimate with the painting. Every brush stroke, every hint of color, every glaze used reveals itself as it may take several hours of close work to clean a 16X20 canvas. You really know a painting and understand a little more about the artist when you clean an oil.

I never attempt anything outside of my knowledge base or comfort zone on customers work.

Dave Makielski