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Ask the Artist: All About My Custom Frames

Welcome to the latest installment of Ask the Artist , a monthly column dedicated to answering your questions about my creative process and my artwork in general. This month's question comes from Todd R. in Seattle. Todd writes:

I've noticed that some of your paintings are done on traditional "square" canvases and some on curved edge polygons. Can you talk about what influences your decision for specific canvas styles? 

I have been creating custom-shaped frames since my first painting in this style, and these frames are easily one of the most distinguishing features of my artwork. Contrary to what many people expect, I've actually moved from creating only custom-framed paintings at first to creating a mixture of both canvas and custom-shaped pieces now, not the other way around.

Christ Church Cathedral -- where this style began over a decade ago!

When I made the shift from technical architectural rendering to the fine arts in 2002, I was enamored with curved lines, and this love extended out from the paintings themselves into the frames as well. At first, I built special 5-piece wooden frames around traditional straight-edged canvases (as shown above with my Christ Church Cathedral painting). Very soon, though, I realized that I could create fully-customized frames in any shape and size. I was so excited about the endless design possibilities, I could hardly sleep for weeks! (It helped that I worked for a sign company and had access to a full wood shop at the time. As an emerging artist, my days were spent working my 'office' job at the sign shop and then designing and building all sorts of painting frames well into the evenings.)  

Agios Kendeas (2003) -- My first fully custom-shaped painting

As many of you know, all of my paintings start out as sketches. I love to draw even more than I enjoy painting, and the sketch stage not only allows me to hash out my composition beforehand but also to work out the eventual shape of my painting-- be it custom-framed or unframed on traditional "square" canvas.

I design frames around my drawings rather than try to fit a new drawing into an existing shape of frame.

By creating a sketch first, I am able to imagine ways to accentuate my subject matter with a certain frame shape. Once I am satisfied with a particular frame design, I cut and prep the custom-shaped wood and paint directly onto it. Some of my frames are 2-piece designs, with a thin wooden 'canvas' laid into a thicker and larger frame of the same shape, whereas other frames are a solid, 1-piece design, which I usually paint right around the edges.

A typical two-piece design (left) and a one-piece frame (right) painted right to the edges.

Over time, I started offering unframed canvas paintings in addition to my signature custom-framed pieces. Part of the reason why I did this was because of size-- larger paintings obviously weigh more than smaller ones, and I didn't want to create really heavy pieces of artwork when I started working on a larger scale. The first paintings I created on unframed canvas were the Wildland Sky diptychs in 2008 and were followed in 2009 by my first Glenlyon Norfolk School painting:

Wildland Sky- Green (2008), 61" x 23-3/4"

Glenlyon Norfolk School (2009), 23-1/4" x 30-3/4" 

The other reasons why I started offering canvas paintings had to do with risk mitigation and affordability issues. The custom frames can actually be chipped or damaged really easily if they are stored, handled, or moved improperly. (This unfortunately happened to me a number of times while I was exhibiting in art galleries, and the amount of time and work involved in fixing the damage was pretty extensive.) Also, due to the amount of work involved in actually making the custom frames-- designing, cutting, sanding, prepping, painting, glueing, wiring, etc.-- I am able to offer my clients much larger paintings for comparable prices when they are on unframed canvases. It is important to me that my artwork be accessible to a wide range of people, and in many cases, the difference between 'affordable' and 'out of reach' boils down to the custom frames, which alone cost $400 and up.   


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