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As all artists have learnt, framing your art is an expensive exercise. The cost of having a single, average-sized painting framed can be several times the cost of the materials used to create the piece. And most artists feel kind of peeved by that.

The undeniable fact that a good frame, carefully selected, can and should enhance the piece, is at times annoying. How can a piece of wood- or even plastic - make my amazing art look better? By the time your framer is done and you roll up to collect your painting and you’re handed a rather weighty invoice, it is understandable that many artists leave the framer’s premises grumbling things like “rip-off” and “daylight robbery”.

Lets examine why this conception exists and what lies behind the wallet-taxing bill.

Firstly, a good framer is a not only a highly skilled artisan but the best of them are also very creative

people, often artists or ex-artists themselves. You have to pay for that. Sure, you can take your work to

Nigel Nextdoor who makes frames from scrap pine he gets free from the lumber yard, doesn’t know the

difference between raw umber and raw sirloin and has difficulty understanding the necessity of a spirit-level horizon line or that it’s not a good idea for your signature to be half under the frame.

The process of framing is not simply banging four bits of frame together and sticking a bit of glass over it


It begins with your consultation with the framer, deciding what frame and matboard (or mountboard)

you think works best with the piece. I have seen framers consulting for more than an hour, going through

dozens of sample frames before finally settling on the first one they considered. Time is money... a plumber will charge you a “call-out” fee of often hundreds of rands before even lifting a wrench in anger. A

doctor’s consulting fee is hundreds of rands for five minutes of prodding, saying “mmmmm” and scribbling

something illegible on a piece of paper. Why should a framer’s time be any different?

After having spent valuable time in consultation with you, the framer begins the task of making the frame. This has to be done very carefully and requires exact measurements, and precision cutting and joining. Even a small error can cost in excess of a hundred rand in lost framing material, a cost which must be borne by the framer. The same applies to the mountboard surrounding the painting - another costly product, and imported from the USA at steep exchange rates. Should the artwork require glass, it also has to be cut precisely. Then comes the backing board and the brown-paper finish and the stringing.

Lastly, time must be spent to make out the dreaded weighty invoice!

All the while your precious piece is handled with the grea

test of care so as to not damage it in

any way. Imagine your framer going "I’m sorry Mrs. Ponsenby, I had a plumber around and he accidently dropped a wrench through your Picasso... I can do you a lovely print of the same thing at a reasonable price, though".

In addition to all this there is also the cost of the equipment required to produce a high-quality product. A frame cutter, a mount cutter and an under-pinner (used to join the frame’s pieces at the corners) can cost in excess of R50,000.

So, perhaps we shouldn’t grumble when we pick up our beautifully framed piece

which will last for many, many years. Perhaps we should rather reserve some of our disgruntled mumblings of “rip-offs” for Dr. Sawbones or Joe Bloggs, the wealthy wrench wielder. And understand that framing is actually not that expensive.

Johan Brink © July 2021

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