Design in Framing and Display

A Continuing-Education Series from Chalk & Vemilion Fine Arts, Inc.


Because the majority of art galleries not only sell art but framing as well, you are often called upon by your customers to give them guidance on selecting the right frame for their artwork. Beyond that, you should offer them some help on how to hang and display that art in their home. You don’t have to pass yourself off as a decorator, but you probably have more experience than your customers in this area and can offer them some good pointers.

Selecting a Frame

Many people have never purchased a really good frame for a really good piece of art; their framing experience is limited to a boxed picture frame for their kid’s graduation photos. Helping them choose good framing that really shows off their artwork is a delicate combination of educating them on good design principles, offering them the best materials, and balancing their likes and dislikes against what you might feel is the best choice.

Some good advice from a Framing Business News article:

  • Ask a lot of questions! What colors do you have in the room, what type of wood is in the room, is it a contemporary or traditional décor, etc.

  • Start with suggestions that demonstrate good design sense; put your best foot forward, first.

  • Similarly, show your best materials first, and sell down from there; if it’s a little too expensive, then go down to the next tier. Often, they’ll be disappointed in what a less expensive frame looks like, and this will help justify the cost of the higher priced frame in their minds.

  • Explain why you have chosen what you are showing them – does the molding pick up some motif in the artwork, does this mat color pick up or complement one of the color schemes, etc. It may be second nature to you, but chances are good that Joe Consumer doesn’t have a clue and will appreciate your comments.

Even if you don’t like what the customer wants, remember the golden rule - the customer is always right! (It does have to hang in their home, after all, not yours). However, from the beginning, try to get the notion in their heads to be open to all possibilities. Somewhat relevant story: when I graduated college, my mother offered to buy me the birthstone ring I had always dreamed of: an emerald cut amethyst with diamonds on the side. We went to a well known jewelry store in New York City, and after I described what I wanted, the very kind (very experienced) salesman said “Why don’t you just take a look at all the amethyst rings we have, don’t be too fixated on what you have in your mind”. Of course, I fell in love with the most expensive one! I think it was probably 3 times what my mother thought she would pay, but we both agreed that it was “the one.” Many (ahem) years later, I still love it. Speaking from personal experience, people are often shocked at what custom framing costs, but in the end, buying the best rarely disappoints.

Displaying Artwork in the Home

As an added feature to your framing, you could offer some tips to your customers about how to display the pieces in their home. More often than not, they already know where the piece will go, but don’t know (and don’t even know that they don’t know) how to hang it to show it to it’s best advantage.

You know those before-and-after articles in magazines, where a designer just changes a few things about a room and it suddenly looks so much better? Here are a few tips from designers about how to feature art to it’s – and the room’s – best advantage:

  • Try to create a relationship between the wall and the art, so that the way the art is hung on the wall is in response to the architectural shape of the wall. In other words, follow the lines of the room – mostly vertical? Horizontal? Up a staircase?

  • Don’t hang it at all! Prop it against a wall or a mantle piece for a relaxed, contemporary feel.

  • Nothing says that a big wall needs a big piece of art. A small piece, if it is very strong, can look great on it’s own with spotlighting that extends a few feet around it – the negative space creates a larger visual “display”.

  • It’s normally better to hang a larger piece over a smaller one unless the frame of the smaller one is heavier.

  • Hang things closer together rather than farther apart. The point is not to fill up wall space but to draw the eye to the piece(s). Similarly, for a united look, art should be hung within 12 inches of a piece of furniture.

  • Avoid a symmetrical look. Combine art, architecture, and objects – as you would when putting art and objects over a mantelpiece – to create a balanced display. BUT - balanced does not have to mean symmetrical.

  • Disparate pieces can work together well if framed and displayed to create a cohesive focal point. Groupings of nine work particularly well, either in a grid pattern or five over four. It doesn’t even have to be nine framed pieces; you can create an interesting grouping by combining artwork with other pieces, such as porcelain or mirrors.

  • Generally speaking, 5 _ feet is considered to be the universal “eye level”. (Tall guys note: that’s why you are the one who gets to hold a piece against the wall while your wife says “A little to the right - no, down…”) That means that the center of a single piece or the center of a grouping should be around 5 _ feet up from the floor.

*I got a lot of the above tips from articles about framing and display from some well-known retail magazines; call me if you’d like a copy, I’ll be happy to send them

55 Old Post road #2, Greenweich, CT 06830 (800) 877-2255

backback to top