One’s choice of artwork is highly personal and defies simple explanation. It’s like trying to describe why you like chocolate or vanilla or butter pecan ice cream. You just know you like it. And although choosing the subject of your artwork is based on feelings, the choice of what type of artwork can be based upon intellect. And as the heading says, this post is about photography.
For the majority of photographic history, film negatives have been used to print images on paper. With the advent of digital cameras and inkjet printers over the last several decades, now there is no limit to what you can print a photo on. There’s canvas, metal (up to 48”x96”), paper, plastic and even digital frames that all rival older technology. But how to decide?
Selecting an image. As I said, it is a personal decision. But I’ve found through my experience that certain images resonate with certain people. I’ve had various collections of photos in front of groups and it never fails that one person says “I love it” and another person says “it’s just ok” to the same image. Of course images such as portraits of our family or pets are easy to like. But more abstract images might remind us of places traveled or could just put us in a great mood. And the beauty of photographic art is that it can be rotated or changed if you decide for something new.
Frame or no Frame? Today, with ready-to-hang canvas wraps and aluminum panels you can skip the framing process. But for traditional paper prints, frames are great to not only protect but to focus attention on the image. As a general rule, most photographs do well with simple thin black, white or metal frames. But if you want to try something a bit different, go with one of the new frameless options.
Mat or no mat? When you frame a paper print, the mat does two things well: it protects the image by separating it from the glass and it enhances the look of the print. A great majority of mats tend to be white, but matching the color to the wall paint or a particular color in the image can yield interesting results. The proportion of frame, mat and photo are all personal choices, but experienced framers can give great guidance. Splurge for archival or museum quality if you hope to keep your artwork looking good for years to come. To keep focus on the image, skip textured, double or filleted mats.
Glass? If you’re going to frame paper prints you’ll need to specify glass. Regular glass is inexpensive but highly reflective and interferes with viewing. Anti-reflective glass is more expensive but is particularly needed in rooms with natural light from windows and eye level lamps. It is a splurge but the benefits are always worth the extra cost. In areas where glass breakage could be a concern, use acrylic or laminated glass.
Size? My suggestion to clients is always go larger than you first think. If you have one image on a wall, the finished image width should be greater than 30% of the width of the wall’s empty space. If you’re putting an image over a sofa, target 80-90% of the sofa’s width. When you have multiple images on a given wall, keep the same percentage of covered space, but equally divide it among the individual images.
Individual, Paneled, Cluster or Grid? One large image always impresses. But you can take a single image and break it into several vertical or horizontal panels for dramatic effect. Or you can take several different images and hang them in a cluster (random placement around a central point) or grid (2 by 3 or 2 by 2 etc.). Clusters work well with a variety of frames and sizes whereas grids benefit from the same size and style of frame for all images.
Series or Random? When using clusters, I tend to mix subjects, perhaps using a variety of family and friends. But for grids, I tend to use similar subjects such as flowers or architectural elements. If I use family members in a grid, they’re usually all portraits with similar look and feel.
Among all the types of artwork you can hang on your wall, photographs are perhaps the most flexible and adaptive to any location. The cost of framing with quality glass and mats can seem a bit high in relation to the print itself. However, well framed photographs are not only protected but can greatly enhance contemporary or traditional interiors. And if you’re a bit more adventurous, try canvas or aluminum as an interesting alternative.