What makes the “right” frame?

Several years ago I went to an unusual event. Models were hired by a local photography studio, and all those who had a digital SLR camera could take pictures for a price.

Ten or so of us stood in line for our turn at five minutes with the model. This meant directing her while using the props and strobe lights that were available in the space.


This young woman stood out with her pink dreadlocks/shaved head hair style, heavy makeup and cartoon tattoos . I sensed that under all the distractions there was a whole other girl, so that’s the girl that I painted.


For a long time this was the frame on the painting. When I took it out the other day it was clear this was not a good choice. Why?

These are the things I look at now when choosing a frame;

-What is the dominant temperature? Warm, which the gold frame is . . however

-What is the largest area of color (or dominant color), medium size color, accent color? Dark brown, orange and gold, some blues (in order). This is the problem

By putting a gold frame on this, it is adding way more gold to the overall image, making gold no longer an accent in the piece, and throwing the balance in the painting off.

Also the bright gold next to the dark background makes it hard to see the subtle darks, the eye just can’t get past the jarring move from light gold frame to dark background.


My husband John made this frame for her that is so much better. This ebonized Red Oak, dark wood frame enhances the colors in the background, while the nail head trim matches the edginess of the subject.

The next time you choose a frame, ask yourself if it continues with the balance you’ve developed, being a supporting cast member, or is it screaming for attention over your subject.



First Day Robert Lemler Workshop

Monday was the first day of a workshop I signed up for with renowned artist Robert Lemler.

Why Robert Lemler? I’ve long admired the way he distills a complex subject down to a beautiful, simple design.

The day was started with a demonstration to illustrate how to see only the light and shadow pattern, than how to work within these divisions to add interest with color changes not value changes.

Painting by Robert Lemar
Painting by Robert Lemler

The painting above (sorry for the¬†glare), is one of three paintings Robert brought to the class. A very difficult subject because her skin is basically one dark value, it’s the way the reflected lights are placed on her face that describe the form.

Painting by Robert Lemlar
Painting by Robert Lemler

This one is a fantastic example of how light falls on a form, just look at the stair steps of light that hit his face under his lips, how getting just the right value perfectly explains what is happening there.

Painting by Robert Lemlar
Painting by Robert Lemler

Another painting with basically one large dark shape in cool light. The dimension he is able to suggest with just the right bits of light in the right places!

We did small oil studies for the rest of the day, some under warm light, some under cool, so that we could not only decider the shapes of light and shadow but how the temperature of the light changed the colors.