This blog post has been brought to you by an awesome artist asking me questions on Instagram. If you have questions, send them my way. I’m always looking for new blog topics.
The question was about when and how to frame your art in ways that are budget friendly. I’m sure you know, framing costs can get pretty ridiculous. Frames themselves can be overpriced, but paying someone else to cut mat board and professionally frame your work can give you a special kind of sticker shock. If you’re an artist trying to make a living or even just sell your work as a side hustle, it’s hard to stomach the cost of framing all your work.
I’m here to tell you there are cheaper options, and you can break some rules.
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Is there a “right” way to display your work?
When it comes to displaying your work, people can get pretty opinionated. I had a man tell me that every work of art needs to be framed. Even a gallery profile canvas. Art looks better in a frame (He was a framer so clearly he had a bias, and no I didn’t take his advice.)
When I’m preparing for an art show, I no longer think about the “right” way of doing things. I’m pragmatic and I just want to get my work on the wall without wasting money.
There are four things that I pay attention to when it comes to hanging my work at events and galleries:
- Is the art protected from people and the elements? (Varnish, resin, plastic packaging, glass, UV protection, etc.)
- Does the art look good while displayed?
- Does the display method fit into the surrounding environment? (Frames for galleries, plastic packaging for fairs, etc.)
- Is the art safe and secure? (Is it going to fall off a wall?)
If the way you choose to display your work answers yes to all four, then I wouldn’t stress too much about doing things the “right” way. So let’s get into the basics for displaying art on canvas and art on paper.
I love working with canvases, because I can cut out the need for frames altogether. I choose 3/4″ profile or larger, paint the sides of the canvas, and hang the work on wall. (I use these canvases from Blick.)
When you are preparing your canvases to display, there are a variety of ways you can do it:
- You can frame thin profile canvases with float frames. (Simply pop the canvas into the frame and hang the frame.)
- You can get inexpensive float frames from Blick here.
- You can hang a canvas without a frame. (My preference.)
- If your canvas is light enough, 3M Command Strips can make hanging super easy.
- I hung 3/4″ profile 11″x14″ canvases at my last month long show using two of these strips on each canvas. I’ve also hung 16″x20″ canvases the same way for a three month show. Just check the weight limit for the strips.
- You can also display canvases on an easel. I use tabletop and floor easels depending on the canvas size.
Preparing Work on Paper
It’s hard to get away from frames when working with paper and displaying at long term shows, but when you are setting up popup events or selling at a craft fair, you can cut some corners.
Here’s how I handle displaying my art on paper.
- When hanging on walls, frame your work with or without mat board. Mat board can help make your art more attractive and even give it a larger presence.
- Mount your work on wood or other sturdy surfaces. I’ve seen artists mount their paper work on wood cradle boards and apply varnish or resin as a finish.
- When displaying at pop up events, you can package your work in plastic sleeves with backing board. This is the cheapest option and makes a piece ready to sell immediately.
Now, here are a bunch of tips to help you avoid spending all your money on framing:
Tip #1: Watch for sales on frames.
Frames aren’t cheap, and paying a professional framer for every piece you create will make your bank account dry heave. When I have paper pieces to frame I watch Michael’s like a hawk to catch their frame sales. They always have sales. Sign up for the email list and just wait. If you’re okay collecting a frame at a time, you can use their 40% and 50% coupons as they become available.
You don’t have to get too fancy with frames. When I had events coming up fast and not a lot of money to prepare, I shopped for photo frames at Walmart and Home Depot. Just choose a cohesive color scheme and save money where you can. It’s also good to keep in mind that your customer might replace the frame if they buy the piece so that it matches their home decor. Just make sure the frame looks good (but if your work is priced really high, choose a higher quality frame to match the higher price).
Tip #2: Go thriftshopping and/or garage saling.
People donate art they don’t like anymore. You can find nice frames for dirt cheap if you have a little patience to hunt for them. You will probably have a lot of mismatched frames when you do this, but you could work that into your aesthetic. (You can also hit the jackpot with large canvases that you can paint over.)
Tip #3: Reuse frames.
If you are displaying at a fair or similar event, indicate that a frame costs extra (or they aren’t for sale) and remove the art (and place in a plastic sleeve) before handing it off to your buyer. You can insert a new piece of art and hang it back on your display wall.
Tip #4: Work with standard paper sizes.
If you are creating art on paper, make life easier and work with standard sizes. When you work with standard sizes (5″x7″, 8″x10″, 11″x14″ etc.) you can easily find frames in stores that come with mat board inserts already cut to these standard sizes. Custom sized work will drive costs up.
You can also get precut matboard if you don’t want to use the cheap mat board that comes with a frame.
Tip #5: Cut your own mat board.
When I first started doing art fairs in 2010, I bought a mat cutter and bulk mat board and matted all my prints and originals myself. Only do this if you are pumping out a lot of work and are good with measurements and sharp blades.
Tip #6: Remember you don’t need to frame everything.
When you plan a display for a fair or popup event, you really just need to display enough work to grab people’s attention. If you have a bunch of work on paper and not enough wall space to display everything, you can protect your work by packaging pieces in clear bags with backing board. When I do events, I will often have a basket of prints and originals next to my display wall that are all packaged nicely so customers can flip through them.
Products I use:
If you are displaying at a long term gallery, it’s good to make sure your display method matches the professionalism of the space you’re in. If you are setting up a popup event at a local business or casual craft fair, you don’t have to spend a ton to get a display put together. You can choose to forgo frames altogether and just clip your packaged art to a grid wall in these settings.
My personal rule is to spend as little money as I possibly can to put together an attractive display for events. I hope these tips will help you do the same!
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