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To frame your original painting or not to frame it: that is the question.

I have recently sold a few paintings and the questions of framing my work came up.

  • As a buyer, how do you decide whether or not to frame a piece that you have purchased?

  • What if you purchase a piece that is already framed but the artist's choice of frame doesn't match anything in your house? How hard is it to put a different frame on the work? Would it be in poor taste since the new frame isn't what the artist originally selected?

  • If the piece you want to buy isn't already framed, but it looks "finished" to you, would it be wrong to hang it up without a frame? What if the artist doesn't want the painting framed. How can you even tell?

All good questions! To be honest, I'm still learning about best framing practices myself since I'm much more interested as an artist in creating the work, than I am in displaying it. But I will be glad to share with you what I have learned about the topic so far: For artworks that come fully framed -- Typically, the only reason an artist adds a frame to a work is to make an artwork appear more finished and to save the buyer the time of having to frame it themselves. Most artists that I know would not be upset if you swapped the frame an artwork came in out for another one. Artists who do sell framed work often use a cheap frame to sell the work with the expectation that you will put a new one on it after you buy it anyhow. That said, there are some occasions where a frame is an integral piece of an artwork. In these instances, you can usually tell by references to the unique frames in the artist's statement or by observing that the painting itself continues off a canvas and onto a frame, for example. For works on paper -- i.e. a line drawing or watercolor on paper -- it's very important to frame the piece behind glass to protect it from water damage if you plan to display it. Also, framing a work on paper makes it possible to hang on the wall, since really your only other choice is to use sticky tack -- and if you're buying original artwork, you don't want to hang it up like a poster in a college dorm! Most artists selling prints, drawings on paper etc. will sell the piece to you without a full metal or wooden frame, but in a plain white matboard with backing. If the piece is in a differently colored matboard and you don't like that color, simply open up the mat frame, peel off the removable artist's tape and swap in a new matboard and backing in color of your choosing. Then add a frame of your choosing. Here is a good blog post showing the process of adding board and backing For works on board -- Some acrylic and oil painters paint on wooden boards, or boards that have been wrapped in canvas. Like works on paper, works on board generally cannot be hung upon a wall without a frame. If the work is small enough, it can be propped in a little stand and then set on a shelf like this: see image at

If the work on board has not yet been framed, you have several options. If the wooden panel is thin enough, you can remove the glass from a standard photo frame and insert the panel into the space reserved for the glass. You can also take it to a professional framer who help you frame it in a standard painting frame by using framing points (like flat or glazing nails) to hold the board in place. Professional framers will also add acid free frame backing paper and attach a professional hanging wire to the frame. If the wooden panel is thicker, or if the panel is larger in overall size, it may be better to use a floating frame. See a good DIY explanation here: Special note about works on board: I used to affix saw tooth hangers to heavy wooden board pieces (see example: I no longer do this as saw tooth hangers have been shown to fail fairly easily and may cause art to fall to the floor and become damaged. For works on canvas -- "Yes," I can hear you saying now, "but what if I've bought one of your fabulous acrylic canvas paintings on stretcherbars?" Excellent point! For paintings on canvas and stretcherbars, the waters become a little muddier. Technically, you can pop a nail in the wall and balance a painting on it and it will usually stay there. I don't recommend this though since this arrangement can be precarious and if the painting falls, it may be damaged. I often say my paintings are "wired for hanging." Wires for hanging a painting can be attached to the strecherbars or to the picture frame. Because I generally sell my pieces unframed, I attach wires to the stretcherbars. See example image at from This gives you the option of adding a frame if you want to, or of adding some picture hooks to your wall and hanging the piece up without framing it. Now, how do you decide between popping it up on the wall to enjoy immediately or framing it first? Here are some helpful guidelines: Are the sides of the canvas messy and unfinished or have they been fully painted in either a black stripe or a wrap around style? If they are painted around or a dark color, then a frame is unnecessary and possibly even not what the artist intended for the work. It's always okay to just ask the artist if you aren't sure, but in the end, when you own the piece, it is your decision. Here is an example of a wrap around style which I usually do not do: Are there visible staples on the edge of the canvas? Generally cheaper frames (which I used a lot of in my older work to save money) have staples on the sides of the canvas instead of on the back. If you can see the staples, it generally looks better to have a frame. But again, this is up to you! (image from In general, I leave my sides unfinished or paint a black stripe around the edge. I encourage you to frame or not frame my work as you wish. Don't hide it away just because you aren't sure how to display it. The most important thing is that you put your art up where you can see and enjoy it.

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