Why Black?

Jay H

PFG, Picture Framing God
Dec 8, 2003
I have noticed a phenomenon that I can’t explain. RED is the international color for STOP. Yellow serves as a warning. Blue signifies royalty. I can’t explain why this is any more than I can explain why customers think black frames are mysteriously cheaper or assemble faster than any other frame on the wall.

If the customer has a tight budget they say, “Well I just want a cheap little BLACK frame.” When I reach for a more appropriate cheaper frame than black they automatically frown on it and reach instead for a more expensive inappropriate thin BLACK frame.

If the customer wants it in a hurry they say, “I need this in a hurry. I don’t care if it’s just in a BLACK frame.”

What is it about black? Has anybody else noticed this?
Think about this. Now, I certainly don't want to offend anyone by making my observation public, but.....

Do you recall that from about 1990 - 2003 the main staple in wardrobes was the color BLACK & WHITE (actually, they are not considered colors). Oh sure, the blue jeans remained, but everything else was black and white! Even the shirt with the blue jeans was white!

I remember this all very well because I figured that this became a trend because people didn't have to think about what would go with BLACK OR WHITE! I really got sick of seeing people wear black/white...young kids, teens, adults....yikes! I yearned for folks to start pushing the envelope.

Fortunately, in the last year or two people are thinking REAL color, but that is harder to do with 'decorating' - maybe that's why BLACK frames - they are EASY, you don't have to think COLOR!

That's just my theory.......but I'm sticking to it!

Hope you are winding down by now!!
Back in the day, before chop services & distbutors became widespread, framers bought molding from manufacturers reps who peddled from cases of 3" samples. Everybody had simple blacks in common so that is what a framer would price first to gauge the affordability of the line. The manufacturers often priced their simple blacks as a loss leader - hoping we would buy 200' of bargain blacks and 800' of regular line items.

For a long time little black moldings were often cheaper than other moldings plus, before the big boxes, inexpensive certificate frames were usually black moldings. Over the years I think a general perception of black = cheap developed.

My cheapest moldings today are still simple blacks which I buy in bulk and sell a bunch of. That has been true for the last twenty years.

Peter Bowe
Saline Picture Frame Co.
I remember the old days when 1/2" OT Blk was the basis of many shops. Now it's hard to find 1/2" OT anything [trust me, I'm NOT complaining].

It's funny how this was a topic of discussion just last Saturday. I sold two frames of "the cheapest black you have".

After the guy had left, we sat there thinking. [it's scarey when we do this] At the same time we both asked the other "when was the last time you sold a cheap blk frame?"

It had to be last year.

We don't remember which started the habit, but we start by pointing out that there is NO true black in even a B&W photo. Once they start to see how true that is, we will throw down a dead black frame along side a ebonized walnut . . . and the stark difference is amazing to the customer.

By doing this we have shifted the shiftable to an up-sell; and the cheapies to either metal [which isn't cheap] or a colorplak which is no labor.

BTW: I have just enough "cheap black" for the guys frames and then we won't be stocking it anymore. More room for the nice little classic cherry frame. About 100' aught to do it. :D
I'm gonna play (black) devil's advocate here.

Sherry and the others who harked back to the days when little black metal frames equated with 'cheap' have most likely got the correct explanation for customers' insistance on them.

But I LOVE black frames. All ten of my top ten selling frames are black. The next ten are probably silver.

Black frames are dramatic; they have presence; they make a big, bold statement. Take that chunky largest Goya frame, stick in a silver enhancer and you've got a frame that says "Hey, look at this art".

Okay, so maybe the $800 price tag isn't what your customer had in mind when he said he wanted a black frame. We could down-grade to Nielsen's iron frame from the Elements line. Still a very nice look, especially when it's stacked inside a deep Soho.

People want black frames? Send them to me.


PS I do keep some samples of brown wood, but not out where anyone can see them.
"Basic black" is a concept that goes beyond frames.

The Model T came in black, and colors had to be custom done at extra expense. Telephones used to be black, and colors cost extra. Black poster board used to be cheaper, because it was easier to make, and showed fewer flaws. Black shoes are still less expensive for the same reason.

I just tell the customer something like, "Oh, you aren't stuck with black, I got some good deals on colors!"
Just finished framing a color photo of the Rolling Stones, signed by all the Stones. Looked great in a colorful double mat and framed in LJ 2" Metro black with record-album-like groovy ridges.
Sometimes black is good. Often, though, I'd rather use something with some color or texture, like a translucent stain of black or charcoal gray, or the dark LJ Ferrosa.
:cool: Rick
FOR SURE! Black has it's place! It's very classy. My point is that SOME folks can't think BEYOND black...ever!

Kit, I see you are in MN. I wonder how regional this is. I sell little black.......just around black/whites usually. Matter of fact, I just finished "Jacqueline & John Kennedy", on their car riding in Dallas - b/w...a few brown tones, but this lovely deep gray mat with the black frame looks SO classy. JFK would be proud!

Happy Holidays......I'm going to go enjoy my Christmas tree now - full of WHITE bulbs!!!
Baer, Ansel Adams would probably disagree with you about there not being a true black. Of course, some photographers think his zone system is overrated! However, probably a few physicists out there wo would take exception, too.

Black and white mat have always been preferred for photo exhibits.
Kit, I see you are in MN. I wonder how regional this is.
If this were a regional thing, Kit would be selling nothing but oak and ash.

I sell a lot of black frames, including flat black metal, but I can never get enough "near-black" - charcoal, black-with-wood-grain, black burl and any other variation I can get my hands on.
Occasionally I do get customers who want oak frames; usually I can talk them out of it.

Sherry brings up an interestion question of regionalism. How many of our design decisions are influenced by our location?

This could be a hard one to answer. It's a can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees kind of thing. I'm sure that I'm so used to what I see around me that it doesn't even register anymore. I'd like to hear from framers who have worked in different parts of the country/world.

For instance, my LJ rep told me that he expects their 'Pearls' line to do well in the Southwest. I thought they were so unattractive that I never took the samples out of the box.

Framerguy, you wanna chime in here? Compare design differences between Florida and that state that starts with the letter 'I'?

Most of my customers "ain't from around here..." so our sales are all over the board. We seem to go more with "color" trends such as when all offices were done in walnut, or mahogany or cherry. That gave us a starting point, but then the styles were all different.

For the local folks, either wood with grain showing (oak or not) or antique style seems to be the biggest sellers.

That's the reason we have so many corner samples.

Laurie Bluestone taught an excellent class at the Atlanta ArtExpo wherein she noted the "Pottery Barn look".

As I remember it, she said that some of the BB stores display framed art in black frames, and shoppers are used to seeing that look in their catalogs as well.
I sell a lot of the Federalist style frames like the LJ Academie. Most of the homes around here (New England) are older (for the States) homes and they tend to decorate as "colonials." So, the "mid-1800s" style frame appeals to many of my customers. I suspect that isn't so true elsewhere.

Also, Studio has a line of VERY Glossy woods that I couldn't pawn off on anyone, but my rep said was selling very well in the cities like NY and Chicago. A more modern look?
Peter, Baer,

I think it goes back even farther. Remember Henry Ford? Get your Model T in any color, as long as its black!

Happy Holidays!

People want cheap. Maybe they equate black with frame primer. No gloss, no sweat, just base coat! Like every frame color starts out black, then it gets painted and gessoed on top of that?

Getting into dangerous land trying to put myself into the customers' head. Anyone else dare go there?
Without getting too specific, I had the oaks selling like crazy up North along with many of the colored mouldings. Down here it is quite different. I had to get in new lines of moulding that I didn't carry in my old gallery. As an example, beach scenes are demanding in what finish of moulding they will look good in and I have found a few limited lines of moulding that make a beach portrait or seascape really pop. Oaks are nearly dead on the water down here. (I sold one today but that was the first stained oak framing that I sold in many months.)

In both areas, though, black was and is a basic staple of my line of samples. I carry all that I can find that aren't near duplicates of something I already have displayed. There are those customers that have the "cheap" approach to buying blacks but I have found that black frames really are easy to upsell and they work quite well with certain types of images and in conjunction with certain combinations of mats. I can sell a black frame for $5.00/ft. or $35.00/ft. depending on the finished look that the customer expects.

I can't think of the name of it but Larson has a semi-shiny metallic looking black and pewter moulding that I put on beach scenes. I wouldn't normally do that except I did one that had a submarine in the background. We were playing of the metal of the ship. But the look was amazing. So now I go to it when I have a beach scene or underwater scenes.