Any painting made to be displayed needs to be mounted on some kind of framework to keep it rigid. It also allows people to mount other hardware to the painting to enhance the display like lights, glass etc. Ideally a frame needs to have some kind of hardware to protect the painting from damage and a method to hang it to a wall or display it upright on a horizontal surface. A properly made and fitted frame enhances the beauty of the painting, thereby increasing its value.
A frame can be made from a number of materials, both natural and artificial. The material used mainly depends on the painting itself, where it is being displayed and the cost of the material. The various common materials used are:
- Wood. It is the traditional material for furniture the world over. Treated well, a wooden frame lasts for quite a long time. It has become quite costly however, as good quality is becoming rarer.
- Metal. It is not too traditional as metals have become cheaper quite recently in history and they have other uses besides these. Many modern designs are now incorporating more metal in their construction than before.
- Blended Material. This mostly refers to plywood. It is the cheaper option compared to solid wood and is mostly just as good. Most frames today are made with plywood.
- Plastic. The modern material for construction, this is the cheapest option available. Depending on actual composition, plastic frames can be substantially stronger and lighter compared to other options.
There are many more options available for frame construction but they do not have widespread appeal, either due to niche applications like ceramics or stone are very expensive like carbon fiber.
The traditional method of hanging paintings to a wall involves fitting the painting into a wooden frame and hanging it by a nail hammered into the wall. Wood has remained the traditional material for building everything because it was plentiful and easy to work with. However, good quality wood was not cheap and neither were the paintings, as a lot of time and effort went into them. This was why only rich people could afford paintings.
Good quality wood is still not cheap but we have found other sources. Nowadays the frames are made from a variety of woods like bamboo, teak, mahogany, oak etc, all available worldwide. Yes it is expensive but availability is no longer a problem, so frame makers can afford to be creative in making innovative designs.
Metal as a construction material became prevalent only with the industrial revolution. Traditionally metal was used in wooden frames for reinforcement, joining pieces together or as accents. All metal construction is a relatively modern idea, with traditional designs either copied from wooden designs or whole new designs made. Being modern, these designs can be really radical in thought and presentation.
Plywood is used basically as a cheaper substitute for wood. Plywood is generally easier to work with, comes with a variety of finishes and is lighter than wood, which explains why most of the frames made today are made using plywood. The designs do not deviate much from traditional frames as these are made to substitute wood for plywood, making traditional designs cheaper.
You can easily find such frames in the market as the material makes designs easy to mass produce. Wooden and metal frames are more costly and thus are generally made to order.
These are cheapest options available to everyone. However, good quality plastic frames tend to not be cheap, depending on the actual plastic used. The cheaper options available are mostly on the lower end of the market, with corresponding quality. These are usually not good for paintings, mainly used as photo frames. The better ones tend to have a better finish and are usually large enough to support bigger paintings.
There are lots of artists who experiment with plastic materials, as they can give spectacular results if done well. Do not be afraid of plastics frames as they tend to be lighter and stronger than all the other options.
There are other materials that can used to build frames for paintings. Clay is a common example. It is easily possible to use clay to make a frame. Once fired at the right temperature, clay can last a long time. However it is porous to water if not glazed. There have been examples of enamelled porcelain in frames for quite some time.
Stone is also a possible building material for frames. It can either take the form of a fitted mosaic design or carved into eye-pleasing shapes. They are not used much since they tend to be heavy.
Another option to look for is fiber. Both natural and artificial fibers can be used for making frames by tying them to anchor points. It is also possible to stiffen them using resin to form rigid structures.
A frame ideally consists of a rigid framework which provides structure, some sort of mounting mechanism for the painting and a way to protect the painting from the elements.
The traditional design marries these elements by using sidings and a backplate on which the painting is mounted. The sidings protect the sides of the painting and the backplate protects the back, in addition to attaching some sort of mounting hardware. There usually some sort of water repellent padding material to keep the painting safe from humidity and glass to protect it from dust and touches from curious onlookers.
The modern design may look very different but the principles are still the same.