The Art of Framing

Clive Hicks-Jenkins photographed at his home

Clive Hicks-Jenkins sits below a framed copy of The Exchange


Expert framers Les Prince and Dave Harrison suggest the essential elements to consider when choosing a frame for prints and pictures

An expertly framed picture will work in any setting and have a timeless appeal, but what does ‘well framed’ actually mean?  For Les Prince, there is one golden rule. “The picture should speak louder than the frame,” he says. After 15 years with the Tate Gallery in London, and a spell running a successful framing business in Pickering, Yorkshire, Les has years of experience. “You are showing off the art work. People should not be commenting on the frame, so my advice is to go as simple as possible,” he advises. According to Dave Harrison, owner of a bespoke picture framing business and gallery in Ripon: “Consult a framer and take their advice. I will always consider two things: what looks best for the picture, and where it will hang.”  

Choosing the material for the frame is a key decision. “Wood is superior. It is so versatile. One mould can be coloured in about different 70 ways,” explains Les Prince. “Aluminium has improved, and it can be colourful too. A cheaper option is MDF blended with plastic, but I would not recommend this because it contains acid and it could result in damage to the picture. Framing is about conserving the art work as well as displaying it.”

As a rule, the wider the frame, the more expensive it will be. Antique and vintage frames can work well, although they are not necessarily a cheaper option unless you strike lucky with a find. “At the Tate Gallery, frames were reused all the time,” explains Les. “It is worth looking through sale catalogues in local auction houses and seeing what comes up. Some old frames will be ornate, but others are plain and simple. A picture framer can cut glass and a mount to fit a recycled frame.”

A mount both protects and enhances the look of a picture. “I work with only three colours: white, off white and cream, as these will not date,” says Les Prince. There are different types of mount to consider. A float mount creates the impression that a picture is suspended, hovering on top of the matting, rather than recessed, as if it were inside a window. A double mount consists of two pieces of mountboard, with one cut slightly larger than the other to create a lip. “Avoid the double mount,” says Les. “The framer is making a lot more money for something that you don’t see.”  A skilled framer will advise on the correct thickness of the mount in relation to the size of the frame, and if the work has been printed or painted on handmade paper with a deckled edge, this will usually be kept visible as an intrinsic part of the piece.

When it comes to glazing, both Les and Dave recommend using specialist anti-reflective glass to reduce the glare produced by direct sunlight. “I glaze all pictures, apart from oil paintings which have been varnished. I use art glass, which almost makes it look as if the image is not glazed,” explains Dave. Both suggest buying the best you can afford, as cheaper varieties may have a mottled, sandblasted appearance which could distort the image. Perspex is widely available, but a top quality one can work out more expensive than glass. “Avoid cheap Perspex, which is very thin, and it tends to bend when it goes into a frame, which will affect the image.”

Taking on board expert advice and then making a considered decision should result in a picture frame that is, as Len Prince says: “the icing on the cake.”