Should You Frame Your Painting? 3 Questions to Help You Decide

Example of a stretched canvas painting in a frame

To frame or not to frame a painting? That is your question, and the right answer for you depends on answering a few more questions...

Question #1 - Is My Painting Loose?

If the answer is No, skip on down to Question #2. Loose paintings are unbound... like a blanket or tapestry. You have three great options with hanging loose paintings:

Hang it like a Tapestry

Here are my three favorite methods for hanging a loose painting like a tapestry...

Tapestry - Pin or Nail Method
At the most basic level, I’ve seen people use push pins or nails to hang loose canvas on a wall. As pedestrian as it may sound, it's a method that can look really nice. Of course, the cases I know of were done with walls that were sheetrock. Pins and nails would work for wood walls too, given that the wood is soft enough. However, push pins and nails alone will fail to penetrate any hard type of wall like plaster, stone, brick or concrete. For hard walls, the String It Up method is an option. Read on to learn about this method.

Loose canvas painting hung from a wall using push pins

Tapestry - String It Up Method
A second idea is to string the canvas up using string/rope and large bulldog metal clips, as seen in the picture below. This method will work for most wall surfaces, but especially for hard walls - plaster, brick, stone or concrete. Focus on the red and yellow arrows in the photo below. First, you'll see that the loose canvas is attached to the string/rope using bulldog metal clips, and second, that the string/rope is then attached to the wall. In the example below, the string is attached to a brick wall. Therefore, a special drill bit was used to bore into the brick wall to place an anchor into the wall, followed by a screw. From there, the string/rope is hung from or wrapped around the screw. Easy, peasy!

Loose canvas painting hung from a wall using string it up method

Tapestry - Rod Casing Method
A third, and probably the most sophisticated way to hang a loose canvas, is to get a rod casing sewn to the back of the canvas and hang the canvas like you would a curtain - slipping the curtain rod through the canvas' casing and then placing the rod into the rod's mounts on the wall.

Tapestry being hung using wall rod casing

For more ideas on how to hang a loose canvas painting like a tapestry, here are two helpful articles:

Frame it like a Document...

Another way to display a loose canvas is to display it in a frame, just like you would a document - either using a regular frame, or using a floating frame.

Using a Regular Frame
You can use a regular frame with a glass sheet to protect the painting and prevent it from shifting. This could become a costly option...since you would have to pay for the frame, and it’s a good idea to also spring for “anti-glare” glass. Normal glass will obscure the painting and torture your eyes.

Artist Rachael Harbert with loose canvas painting entitled Chocolate within a frame
Rachael with loose canvas painting Chocolate in a frame

Using a Floating Frame
A floating frame is a classy way to hang a loose canvas by suspending the canvas between two large panels of glass as seen in the picture below. Any frame with glass will make the painting heavy, so keep this in mind when hanging it as you'll likely need to use anchors with screws or special fasteners.

Loose canvas painting suspended in a clear floating frame

Get the Canvas Stretched

Stretched paintings are taut and bound to wooden bars – the canvas is “stretched” over these wooden bars. Usually, stretched paintings are ready to hang. If you decide to get your loose canvas painting stretched, you’ll need to think about how “deep” you’ll want your painting to be.

The edges of the painting will be wrapped and attached to wooden beams, so you’ll lose a part of the size of the painting to this wrapping method. If the painting is painted all the way to the edges, you'll also lose a bit of the painting's content.

The cost associated with getting loose canvas stretched depends upon how large the painting is. For example, I had a loose canvas stretched by a gallery to a size of 16”x20” (pretty small), and it cost me $80. On another occasion, I had a handyman/artist stretch a really large painting, 10’x6’, and it cost me $250.

Artist stretches loose canvas on bars with tools

Question #2 - Is My Painting Stretched and Deep?

What do I mean by "Deep"? My definition of a deep stretched canvas is 1-3/8" and above. The depth of a painting is indicated by the red arrows in the picture below - the measurement from the painting's front surface toward the point where it rests on the wall.

Blank canvas showing a deep depth

No Frame is Needed

If your answer is "Yes" to Stretched and "Yes" to Deep, you likely do not need to invest in a frame. Since stretched canvases are made of natural materials, changes in temperature and humidity may cause them to shift or adjust over time. However, deep stretched canvas tends not to warp like shallow canvas.

An additional advantage of deep stretched canvas that is not framed is that you get to see the sides of the painting as it rests against the wall. If those sides are nicely painted, why hide them?

If your stretched canvas is shallow, it is much more likely to warp, even after a short period of time. Framing a shallow stretched canvas will prevent warping, and it can also fix paintings that are already warped. Of course, you can have warped paintings re-stretched if you want to forego a frame. Just bear in mind that if the painting is shallow, it may warp again at some point.

Question #3 - Am I a Frame Person?

If you simply like and are willing to invest in a frame, then it really doesn’t matter whether or not the canvas is loose, or how deep a painting may be. You’re a frame person, and you have two major options on frames - a custom frame from an art gallery, or an affordable frame from a hobby store such as Hobby Lobby.

I once had a client who purchased a small but deep stretched painting from me, and she was a "frame person". All her paintings were framed with ornate white frames. So, while I wouldn’t have recommended her to frame the painting, she had an established theme in her home that she wanted to maintain.

The painting that I am showcasing at the beginning of this article is entitled Against a Window. It's a shallow painting – only 7/8" deep – so I decided to get it framed. Aside from it being shallow, the content of the painting dictates that it should be framed. The painting is of a naked woman against a window.

Likely you notice the painting includes inner grilles but lacks the window frame. Therefore, the frame around this painting also serves as content– the painting's window frame.

Interested in the painting shown in this article?
Learn more about the painting by clicking on the photo.
Abstract expressionistic painting Against a Window

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