Inspiration for a Frame Design

So, one of the things that’s been difficult in my pursuit of carving frames is finding specifics of the craft.  There are a number of shops that have YouTube video’s of their frames being carved and gilded, many examples of traditional designs that could be copied  (maybe!) but nothing that walks you through a step by step, logical sequence about creating your own designs.  Well, just like most of my furniture work and skills have developed it’s time to strike out and write my own “book” about this subject.  Much of what we all do as artists, furniture builders, etc. is self taught through trial and error isn’t it?  I’ll share my dicoveries on the blog and am always open for comments or suggestions.

Painting by Diane Eugster

Painting by Diane Eugster

Diane recently completed the painting you see here at the left.  She’s been told that nudes aren’t a style of painting that’s in high demand.  Apparently, people aren’t that comfortable having nude art displayed in their homes!  When I saw this in her studio I was immediately drawn to the flowing, graphic design of this painting.  At first glance it comes across as an appealing flow of contemporary colors and then all of a sudden you discover that it’s a nude figure, seemingly suspended in mid-air!  The color palette and the way your eye is drawn through it captivated me from the start.  That was  the inspiration for a frame, I needed to come up with a design that flowed as beautifully as the figure Diane had captured on canvas.

Bougainvillea Leaf

Bougainvillea Leaf

Many frame idea’s come from doing a search for clip art, these were all too willowy and would be very hard to carve into a frame with any consistencey.  Most could work as a single, incised line essentially chip carved into the frame but that’s not my style.  This painting needed something with more body and impact to it.  Leaves and flower borders were my next search but these left me cold as well.  Walking Brandy in our apartment complex, I noticed all of the flowers in bloom and spied some gorgeous Bougainvilleas.  A year or so ago I’d taken a leaf from a Fig Tree and used that for a frame so I thought why not a Bougainvillea leaf?  I took a stem, found a leaf that fit in the area that was to be carved, scanned it and began the design process.  I liked the natural flow of the leaf and felt it mimicked the flow of the nude.  The first attempts had the leaves all lined up the same way which didn’t give me the flow I was after.  It’s so easy to flip an image when you scan it so that’s what I did which lead to this final design.  All of this process took a number of hours to complete, many sketches, and several practice carves on the remaining pieces of scraps from the profile.  Do you get the same sense of motion in the leaves as seen in the painting?  In the left hand picture you can see the notes I made to remind me of which chisel to use so that the curves had a consistency to them on each of the eight corners.

Having the pattern be consistent is important.  It’s not like anyone will ever do a line for line comparison of the work, after all it’s the the painting that’s the star.  That being said, if the pattern is obviously inconsistent from one corner to the next it will stick out like a sore thumb!  After drawing the design I’ll glue it to a piece of plastic from those salad containers I keep talking about.  They’re stiff and easily reversible.  That takes care of the outside, for the inside I’m using transfer paper and a soft pencil.  This creates its own form of carbon paper and gives enough outline to follow with chisels.

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I choose to do all of the outside work first and then layer and model the leaves after that to establish some sort of rhythm.  There’s always concern about the direction of the grain at the miter and since I wanted to keep that crisp I held the pattern away from it.  Once all was complete I didn’t like that!  Seemed to be too much space at the corners which needed to be solved.  Here’s what I did to tie them together:

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Ready for the Gold!

Ready for the Gold!


The concern was splitting out the grain when the chisel got to the miter, fingers crossed, freshly honed tool, and slow work led to success.  Here’s the frame with a coat of burnisher/sealer on it ready to be gilded Saturday.  Although those small details don’t show up much in the corners it’ll add a shadow line once gilded.



About woodworksbyjohn

I'm a retired woodshop teacher. I build one of a kind furniture pieces and custom picture frames. You can see some of my sell and carvings through my Etsy store: Contact me about your project -- always up for the challenge of unique work.
This entry was posted in Carving, Hand Tool Woodworking, Picture Frames and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Inspiration for a Frame Design

  1. Wendy says:

    John, beautiful work! As always. And thanks so much for your meticulous notes, explanations, pictures, etc. What a resource for me. I can’t thank you enough.


  2. Thanks Wendy, I needed your encouragement after talking to a shop here in Scottsdale that only does precious gold! Glad my “teacherly” blogging is beneficial for you — that’s what it’s all about.


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