We have often been asked, “What is the best way to display artwork in a gallery? Should I frame my paintings, or should I show them gallery wrapped?” Well, at Agora Gallery, we are proud to display artwork in a wide range of forms and presentation. In our decades in NYC, we’ve shown many pieces both framed and gallery wrapped, and while one isn’t necessarily better than the other, there are several pitfalls to avoid in both display methods that can make a painting look unprofessional and messy during an exhibition.
First, let’s quickly define each. A frame is not only the four pieces of wood (or other materials) that surround the border of a piece, but also the backing that provides structure and support to your artwork. Gallery wrapping is when the artwork is stretched and affixed onto stretcher bars.
You can (and many artists often do) frame a gallery-wrapped piece.
It may seem like deciding whether to gallery wrap or frame your work will be the final decision in your creative process. However, this is really a decision you should make before you begin your piece. In fact, you should know when you are purchasing your materials, as your display method will directly influence what materials you need to create your piece.
When to Gallery Wrap, When to Frame
The question of when you should gallery wrap as opposed to frame has many variables. For one, it is often cheaper to gallery wrap than it is to frame, but gallery wrapping isn’t always an option. So to start: what base materials can be gallery wrapped?
Cannot be gallery wrapped:
Can be gallery wrapped:
*Board can be put on a wooden support and painted on the side, which can have the same effect as gallery wrapping.
If you are planning on working on a base material that cannot be stretched for gallery wrapping, then you can display the works by mounting them or framing them (or both).
What are the benefits of gallery wrapping?
The first answer is often the most commonly cited: it is the cheaper option. Framing your artwork means purchasing a frame, and most art appreciators can tell when you’ve settled for a cheap frame. A cheap frame will make your work look cheap.
It can often save you money and time when shipping. If you don’t need to worry about a frame, it is very easy to unstretch, roll, and ship your artwork in a tube. Many galleries will assist you in re-stretching the work upon arrival.
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Gallery wrapping creates a three-dimensionality to your artwork. It emphasizes the piece as an art object, and not just an image. Your painting itself will wrap around the edges, so that your artwork is visible from all angles.
What are the benefits of framing?
Framing can often be a signature of style. By using the same frame style to a collection of paintings that may differ in size and style, you are creating a uniformity that separates your work from other artists’.
While it may cost more, framing also adds value to the artwork. A nice, elegant frame will add a world of sophistication to the works that will raise their inherent value to the potential buyers.
Finally, frames can be a very useful way to protect the artwork from damage. Though the edges of a frame may often be more delicate than the edges of a canvas, the frame is more replaceable than the artwork. Additionally, a frame with glass or plexiglass will keep people from touching the works, and will add a longer life to your artwork beneath.
Is a buyer more likely to buy a work that is framed or gallery wrapped?
It’s almost impossible to predict whether a collector would prefer a work gallery wrapped or framed. On the one hand, a frame can often clash with the established decor of a room: especially ornate, intricate frames. Gallery-wrapped artworks can be framed later, so it allows the collector to apply their personal style if they are going to frame the works.
On the other hand, if a collector is looking to buy a framed work, then you are making your work more attractive to them by framing it. The frame does occasionally add a sense of elegance and sophistication to an artwork, and this may occasionally a boost to your chances of sales.
The first and foremost way to make your work buyable is to make it well. A serious collector will not turn away a piece because it is framed, nor will they purchase a work only because it is gallery wrapped. The difference is actually fairly negligible, especially when the frame is simple and neutral, so don’t worry about this too much. Pick what works best for your artwork, and nothing else.
How to Gallery Wrap a Canvas
A poorly stretched painting will either sag and dent, or the bars will warp. Both are very noticeable and will draw attention away from your artwork and towards the hanging of the work itself. If you have decided that gallery wrapping is the way you want to go, you have three options:
1. Buy your canvas pre-stretched
You can paint your work directly onto the stretched canvas on an easel. However, if you are planning on doing this, you must make sure that the staples on your stretched canvas are on the back. If they are visible from the side, then you will not be able to hang them in a gallery or museum. The sides of a gallery wrapped artwork should be painted, so that when viewers look at the work from various angles, the painting does not appear to end.
2. Buy stretcher bars to gallery wrap the work after you’ve finished your painting
Stretcher bars are the skeleton of a painting. If your work is a standard size, you can typically find stretcher bar frames in art supply stores. This method is especially ideal if you want to have the image of your painting continue around the edges (as opposed to painting a solid color around the edges, which is more easily done once the canvas is already stretched.)
3. Build your own stretcher bars
If your work is an unconventional size, you may have a lot of trouble finding the stretcher bars/frames. It is tough to build your own frame, and will require some wood-working skills. But, if you’re up for the task, it’ll open up a lot of options for you in terms of size, and even shape, of your works.
FAQ: I bought a canvas that is stretched, but the staples are on the side. Can I still gallery wrap this canvas?
A: Yes. However, you’ll need to purchase or create a smaller stretcher bar frame in order to do so, as the material will not reach the back of the bars without tearing.
Whether you are building your own stretcher frame or buying one already built, keep in mind that the size of the canvas you are working on is not the same size as the stretcher you need. Your canvas should be approximately four inches longer on all sides, so that there is room to cover all sides of the stretcher bars. Of course, if your stretcher bars are wider, the piece of canvas should correspond.
Do not use wood thinner than one inch for your stretcher bars. Narrow wood is liable to warp or snap. Some artworks have arrived at Agora Gallery damaged because the wood was too thin, no matter how carefully the artists wrapped it.
How to Frame an Artwork
There are many things to consider when framing an artwork. Many artists have a relationship with a local framer, who will have the tools and knowledge to build custom and consistent frames for the artwork. There are many video tutorials online to building your own frames, but we recommend that you work with a professional framer whenever possible.
If you are framing a stretched canvas, the frame must be wider than the stretcher bars. Just like the stretcher bars, the face of the frame must be wider than one inch. Thin wood will often warp or will more easily break in transit.
For some works, it can be difficult to decide whether you should put the framed works behind glass or not. Again, it comes down to the base materials and the mediums.
Oil paintings need to breathe, which is why we recommend that you do not place them behind glass. You may infrequently see some oil paintings with a protective glass layer in front in museums, but this is typically to keep very old, delicate works free of dust (or guests’ fingers). These museums are often using very special glass, or the glass is placed especially far from the face of the painting.
However, we do often recommend that works on paper are placed behind a layer of glass or plexiglass to ensure that the work doesn’t get damaged. This includes watercolors, prints, photographs, and others. Paper has an incredibly delicate nature, and when it is damaged, it can be impossible to fix. For this reason, we also recommend that your paper works are matted when you frame them.
If you are using a glass glaze, or pane, to protect your artwork, then be very careful when packing your works for shipping. Simply labeling your work “Fragile” will not always protect it, and if the glass shatters, that means it will cut directly into your artwork beneath. Plexiglass, or acrylic, is far less likely to break than glass.
Remember that a frame is meant to complement and enhance the artwork, giving the work a sense of completeness. It should not distract the viewer. When selecting your frame and mat materials, be sure to choose colors and styles that will not distract from the artwork but seamlessly blend with it. The viewer should appreciate the frame without thinking about it too much.
Whether you are framing or gallery wrapping your artwork, you’re likely going to eventually ship it for exhibitions, or to collectors. Luckily, we’ve got these two simple guides to help you out:
In this video, art handler and installer, Peter, walks us through how to safely pack a painting that has been framed or gallery wrapped and is still stretched. These will typically be shipped in a box or a crate, so it’s important to learn how to carefully pad and protect them from any potential damage.
Or, if you’re able to unstretch your artwork, you can end up saving a lot of money by shipping the works in a tube. Of course, you have to be careful to roll the works in a way that will not damage them. The key? Carefully placed archive paper and plenty of padding! Our tutorial shows you how.