Using Frames To Sell Artwork



What does your frame say about you?

In the world of selling and marketing your art, there are obvious tactics and subtle tactics. Obvious are things like marketing plans, and all the tricks and techniques I talk about in my Art Marketing Boot Camp series. But there are also many subtle things that we rarely think of as important in selling art. One such subtlety is the impact a frame has on the sale.

You’ve probably heard the story of a gallery owner who told me of a painting that had hung for a year with no buyers. The gallery owner believed it was a spectacular painting, and it was priced at $2,500, but it simply was not selling. But before returning it to the artist, the gallery owner decided to try reframing it. So he sent it off to his top framer and invested in a very expensive, ultra-high-quality frame that cost as much as the painting itself. He then changed the painting’s price to $14,999. The painting sold the first week it reappeared.

Two things happened here. High prices often attract high-end buyers who believe that if the price is too low, the work can’t be that good. We won’t talk about pricing strategy today, but we will talk about framing strategy, which goes hand-in-hand with pricing: High-priced paintings need to reflect that with good frames.

I think frames are like automobiles. Any basic, inexpensive car will get someone from Point A to Point B. So why do affluent people spend money on high-priced vehicles? Because they look good in them. Cars are like picture frames for people. If the car is expensive and looks it, the driver must be a successful person. The right cars send a signal of success. Quality frames send a signal of success, too. If the frame is that good, it must be surrounding a good painting.

Imagine an environment for a moment. A 20,000-square-foot home on the ocean filled with priceless antiques, the highest-quality furnishings, a 12-foot Steinway grand — and walls full of paintings in cheap frames. Though you can’t imagine paying $20,000 for a couch, that’s not at all unusual in the homes of highly affluent people. You cannot expect them to respond to a cheap frame. It’s like putting a Maserati engine in a Pinto. It’s not just about the engine, it’s about the full experience, the full appearance.

A Dramatic Turnaround

I once visited an artist friend’s home to pick up a painting. He confided in me that he was not selling as well as he wanted, yet I knew his work was undervalued and would become very desirable. I told him that the problem was the cheap-looking frames he was putting on his work, which were keeping his prices down and his sales low. I suggested that if he improved the quality of the frames, he’d see a disproportionate rise in the sales of his paintings — and could therefore increase his prices. He told me he couldn’t afford to frame a whole show in expensive frames. My response was that it’s a cost of doing business and that if he was serious about being in business, he needed to get serious about his frames.

To his credit, the artist listened. He experimented with one big painting by having a very high-quality frame made. It sold immediately at a high price and funded upgrades for all his frames. The end result, as predicted, was higher sales and higher prices. Today his prices are soaring, and his paintings are in high demand. Though he is doing well today because of the quality of his paintings, he had been being ignored because most people will pass by paintings in cheap, unattractive frames.

I know many a gallery owner who reframes paintings to make them sell. The most successful galleries always use high-quality frames.

What about you? Are your frames preventing sales or holding your prices down? One thing most highly successful artists have in common is that they know the importance of investing in really high-quality frames.

Price does not always equate to quality. There are many wonderful frames that look good at a reasonable price. Yet even then, a discerning collector will see the difference between a $100 frame and a $2,500 frame. I know artists and galleries that spend hundreds, sometimes thousands on frames, and even a couple who spend tens of thousands on frames. They know they will get their price with the right frame. A person buying a $10 million painting probably wants a million-dollar frame (yes, they do exist).

I recently purchased a painting online by a very well-known and accomplished artist but was very disappointed when it arrived. My immediate reaction was that the painting did not look very good in person — until I realized the problem was the frame. I simply was not willing to hang that frame in my home because it stuck out like a sore thumb.

I encourage you to experiment and see the difference. It isn’t easy, takes a big leap of faith, and depends very much on the customer profile and where they are viewing your work. It’s important to think of a painting as a whole package. Quality paintings and quality frames go together.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Subtle clues send deep messages to buyers. People who want the best won’t consider you the best unless your subtle clues are the clues that indicate quality, which includes the quality of your work, the frame quality, and even the back of the painting — which won’t impact the initial sale of the work but will impact the buyer’s perceptions once the painting is in their hands ready to hang. Many artists I know make their own frames in order to control quality and match the painting perfectly, which is great if you can take the time.

By |2017-10-05T15:19:27+00:00December 12th, 2013|Uncategorized|22 Comments

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  1. Krystal Allen December 12, 2013 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Well said Eric. The frame can definitely make or break a piece of art. After 17 year working in framing, the last 12 of which were spent working for a custom manufacturer, I saw so much art absolutely transformed by the choice of a quality frame. That did not always mean it was super expensive either. The appropriate frame will allow the work to take center stage

  2. D,Lee December 12, 2013 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    I would have loved to have seen some examples. I’d like to step it up but not quite sure how. Great article.

  3. Stephen Crisafulli December 12, 2013 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    Eric, you hit the nail on the head! To spend hours on your paintings and then adorn them with cheap looking frames, makes no sense. I have heard the reasoning from some artists that the customer will probably change the frame out anyway so why purchase a good frame? I feel that reasoning is backwards. The purpose of a good frame is to enhance the work, making it a harmonious and beautiful presentation thus drawing the eye of the viewer in.

  4. Paula December 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Great article. Frames are the icing on the “cake”. Do you have a list of framing suppliers that you recommend? I’m not finding quality simple wood frames for my watercolors.

  5. Carol Anderson Kanga December 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    Enjoyed the article — many words but no visuals, though. Please indulge us with some before and after images so we can see what you see. Many thanks!

  6. David P. Hettinger December 12, 2013 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    Eric, I agree with your view point here. I have been using Guido frames out of Boston for the last ten years for the very reason stated above: I respect my work, I want the collector to know that. – David Hettinger

  7. Carole Belliveau December 12, 2013 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    I have the same POV. As my paintings have gotten better I feel they deserve to be framed the best way possible so that when they are juried into shows they pop off the wall. Also I want them to pop off MY wall while waiting at home for an upcoming show- I deserve that too!
    I too would like to see some examples of a painting framed inexpensively and one with an appropriate frame. Even if it is not in my style I’m sure to learn something.
    Question- does a clients decor matter? Perhaps not for the very wealthy, but I have had people express reservations if they have a contemporary decor and I have used a traditional frame or visa versa. Sometimes I have changed out a frame to convince a client.
    Pet peeve- resin frames!!

  8. Andrea M. Holbrook December 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    A local gallery requests all pictures be hung in a gold leaf frame and they prefer all of your work be in the same frame. The only trouble I see is that some paintings look better in a silver toned frame or even one with a mat-like insert in a wood frame.

  9. c a taylor December 12, 2013 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Hi I have had excellent results when I began using a professional framer. Your article does make sense and i understand it, because my mentor always said quality framing does make a difference. He said, why spend all this time creating a beautiful piece of art, and put it in a crummy old frame that says you don’t care? its all about presentation. I use Bellport Arts & Framing in Bellport, she is very good, an artist in her own right, with a great sense of design and creativity.

  10. throne December 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    I won a regional art competition. A local gallery opted to sell the painting for me but only if I paid $$$ to have it professionally framed. Reluctantly I agreed and bought the frame. The following week, the gallery owner called me with the news that the painting had sold. After paying the gallery commission and factoring in the cost of the frame and the best of show prize money, I barely broke even. The gallery owner gave me the buyer’s name. I called her to ask how she liked the painting. She laughed. She’d already trashed the painting. All she wanted was the frame.

  11. k December 12, 2013 at 8:59 pm - Reply

    Nothing worse than putting a nice frame on a painting, sending it off to a show or gallery only to have it returned later with the frame damaged or destroyed!

  12. Lori Quarton December 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm - Reply

    I agree with some of the above–would love to see some before and afters.

  13. Rachael Lofgran December 12, 2013 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    This is great. I think this isn’t emphasized as much as it should be. One problem I do see a lot is when the frame looks way better than the main artwork it’s trying to present. The frame might become the main piece and detract from the art, so I think it’s just as important and difficult to find frames that look highly professional, but won’t distract from the artwork just as any cheap frame would.

  14. Dave Casey December 13, 2013 at 5:45 am - Reply

    I agree with the idea of using a top quality frame, but I do have to pause and wonder about a gallery that calls and asks an artist to okay a change of frame. Is the gallery suggesting a $2000 frame because they have ten sitting in back they need to get rid of? Is the buyer of the painting buying it simply to buy the frame, as one commenter already alluded to? You have to wonder about it when after the painting has sold and the artist gets hit with the bill for reframing and all they have to put in their pockets is a couple of dollars. I’m sure most galleries are quite honest and trustworthy with their stable of galleries, but if that were to happen to me I’d be pulling my artwork out of the gallery the next day.

  15. Sharon Gates December 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    I agree with Eric as well that frames should match the quality of the work, but the examples here are mostly of gallery sales. It has been my experience at plein air paint outs, which I do more of, to be asked to sell the art WITHOUT the frame, not because the frame is cheap but because it makes the painting more affordable to the buyer. That goes against my grain because I know they will take it home and stick a cheap frame on it, devaluing the painting itself. Therefore, I do not sell without the frames and in fact do a lot pieces on deep, gallery wrapped canvas in order to sell them at these events and to deter the buyer’s addition of cheap frames.

  16. Donna DeLaBriandais December 13, 2013 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Spending more money on a very expensive frame is only worthwhile if the customer is willing to pay more for the artwork than normal. My experience is that customers are not wanting to spend top dollar but looking for mid range prices. Another thought is when we give the gallery 50-60 percent of the purchase and we have spent hundreds on the frame, that does not leave much profit for the artist. My theory is to add a quality and affordable frame.

  17. Bruce Gherman December 14, 2013 at 11:18 am - Reply

    Great Article and Very True
    I am the publisher of a magazine on Picture Framing for framing retailers and also a painter
    Being in that position I am sort of obligated to get really good frames for my paintings
    In many cases the frames are equally or more expensive as the artwork I am selling
    However as Eric pointed out the quality of the frame makes all the difference in the world in making a decent painting look good and a good painting look great.
    I found a good way to work with galleries when it comes to using higher end frames on my work .
    It is the galleries objective is to move artwork and a good frame helps to do just that.
    I sell my small paintings for $950.00 unframed, I am perfectly happy to give the gallery 40% of that price
    However I want the full price of the frame back for myself, otherwise I will make little to nothing on the sale. This allows me to keep buying good frames for my work. Often a gilded frame can cost me $700 to $1000.00 for a 9 x11 painting. So if the gallery sells the artwork for $1,950.00 and they took $780.00 that would leave me with $1,170, and only making $170.00 on the painting, after paying for the $1000.00 frame. That won’t work.
    However if the gallery sells the painting for $1,950.00 ad gives me $585.00 for the painting and my money back on the frame we both win. If the buyer wants a different frame which does happen I get the frame back and the gallery gets to make money on the new frame they sell them.. I found this arrangement works very well. The gallery presents the artwork in the best possible light and will sell more artwork, and the artist gets a fair share for their efforts.
    Degas said “The Frame is the reward of the Artist.”
    Claude Monet said “A picture gains 100% in a fine frame”

  18. Anne E. Hock (Allbeury) December 16, 2013 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Hi from Anne Allbeury-Hock. I totally agree with all that Eric is writing…but as someone mentioned…what about the frame that comes back
    damaged from a show or gallery? There is little recourse…But, I did
    find at the home improvement store: Lowes…a terrific spray paint in gold that does quite a good job or respraying the frame to a consistent not too shiny gold finish.Valspar Metallic…with a gold lid…Premium Enamel..
    guick dry. If the frame is really a mess….use a apray primer first. I finish about 30 paintings a year and enter lots of local shows. My galleries do not complain about my frames which are small, plein air frames from a manufacturer on Long Island, N Y.which offers good discounts.
    Decor.I back my frame with heavy black paper if it is on a panel..affix an envelope with a copy of the invoice, my bio etc. I paint on linen, which looks very nice on stretchers from the back…Sand off printed junk from the frame co, stretchers, etc. Anne

  19. Theresa Grillo Laird December 20, 2013 at 1:45 am - Reply

    I agree that a good frame makes a big difference. I’ve tried several frame companies with frames more expensive than I can currently afford. Despite the cost, the frames still didn’t look amazing.With my carpenter husband, we finally started making them ourselves. It took a few batches of frames to find a design and finish that I’m happy with. Like other readers, I’d have liked to see some before and after pictures.

  20. Elizabeth Larson January 4, 2014 at 1:34 am - Reply

    For people, cars are status symbols. For artwork, frames make them look better. It’s just like an old car with attractive rims. It makes the whole car look good.

  21. Miami Beach auto detailer January 12, 2014 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    Just like other roofs, insulating flat roof systems need enough ventilation, sealing bypasses, and installing vapor barriers. (3) It is also useful if you have pets, would keep lights around the barn unwelcome visitors. Any harm requirements to be used care of correct away and not left.

  22. BettyKimberly May 8, 2014 at 11:55 pm - Reply

    Nothing worse than buying an expensive frame and sending it to gallery along with the painting and have it returned only with the damages.

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