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.