A plein air painting by Jeanne Mackenzie in a gold metal leaf finish frame

We recently asked veterans of plein air events what advice they have on frames. The answer is simple. Or rather, the answer is: Think simple.

Some artists value a wide selection of frames when they arrive at a plein air competition. Some keep it simple so they can concentrate on painting while at the event. Regardless of one’s predilection, contemplating a few questions can make packing for and participating in a plein air event easier and more efficient.

First, do your homework. In what type of venue will your artwork hang? A museum, a utilitarian facility, and an outdoor event will all suggest different approaches to framing. How many of your pieces will be on view? “You might be invited to paint as many paintings as you like, but they will only hang three,” observes Jeanne Mackenzie, a plein air artist and an associate with High Plains Frames. “They may have room to store others in the back so you can replace ones that are sold — then you would need more. And at an outdoor show. you may be able to hang as many as you like.”

Jason Sacran generally opts for a dark frame to accompany his popular nocturne paintings, such as this black with gold lip frame from Omega Moulding Company.

But even at an outdoor show, space may be limited. If the square-footage assignment is available, that can help an artist determine whether to paint several large paintings, several small, or some mixture of the two.

One soon starts to see the value of keeping it simple. Having many choices is perhaps ideal, but the last thing an artist wants is to run out of a certain size or style of frame with a painting still lacking one. Having an abundance of one or two sizes and styles helps avoid that situation. Mackenzie reminds readers that they may need an extra frame or two for Quick Draw events.

Mackenzie also recommends that participants in a plein air event bring boxes in which to store and ship frames and finished paintings, and hardware to hang paintings at the show. This means screws, wires, and offset clips — inquire regarding how the show will be hung and make sure to bring the appropriate hardware and tools.

Some events have framers on hand for artists, but this costs money and takes time. Brenda Boylan is one artist who tries to spend as little time as possible on framing once she is at a competition. She even makes the determination on how many verticals or horizontals she will paint before she leaves her home to go to the event. But then, she is a pastelist. Oil and acrylic painters only have to worry about a frame, but pastelists, watercolorists, and draftsmen need to protect their work behind some sort of glazing.

Brenda Boylan prepares frames in advance, down to pre-drilled holes for the hanging wire, because framing pastels is too complicated to tackle at a busy plein air event.

The fragility and weight of glass discourage Boylan, so she uses a special type of Plexiglas-like acrylic called Tru Vue. It’s expensive, but it does not have the static electricity other formulations of acrylic glazing do. The artist does not use mats, as she finds that her pastel pieces can shift too much in the frame as the artwork is moved around (which happens relatively often in events), and she doesn’t like the distracting dust or other small objects that mats seem to attract. Before leaving home, Boylan builds out her frames with spacers and Tru Vue acrylic, cuts the backings, and even drills the holes for the wires that will hang the frames — thus the need to determine the orientation of the pieces. “It’s very hard to compete when you have to take care of all those things,” she says. Boylan prefers to “paint to the frame” so she can focus on painting rather than all the work a pastelist must do in framing a piece. 

In addition to the medium, one’s choice in subject matter can dictate what frames to take to a plein air competition. For example, Jason Sacran is known for his nocturnes. This requires slightly specialized thinking. “Very rarely will I go with a light frame on a nocturne,” he says. “I usually use a dark frame with a gold or silver lip. An espresso wood frame can look good, but not a gold or silver frame.” He pauses for a moment, then says, “Actually, I put a nocturne in a silver frame recently and it really worked.” But when packing frames for a plein air event, an artist might best be served by focusing less on the exceptions and more on the general rule. And that rule is, in most cases, simplify.

Read the entire article and see additional images here. Also, see this message from PleinAir magazine publisher and art marketing expert Eric Rhoads on using frames to sell artwork.



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