To Frame, or Not to Frame?

Always a Question.

Whether you frame your carving or not is a constant question that anyone doing relief carving faces, and like most things in life there isn’t one right answer.  As artists, our goal is always to keep the viewer looking at our carving as long as possible.  The main propose of a frame in relief carving is to help capture and retain the eye of the viewer, since the structural support of the frame is not as important as it would be to a photography or painting.

 Take a look at my carving of the Millhouse at the John C. Campbell Folk School.  If ever a carving needed a frame, this is it.  Because once you get done looking at the house, there’s nothing else to look at.  I mean, the trees are nice, but there really isn’t anything else to grab the attention of your eye and guide it back to the house.


Now look at it with the frame.  Now once your eye gets bored with the house, the frame gives something that your eye can bounce off of, back towards the center of the carving.  That’s the theory anyway.  Beyond trying to retain the viewer, the frame serves to complete the carving, making it better then it was alone.  Of course a good frame can not save a poor carving, and a poor frame will ruin a good carving.  But the right frame will make a good carving great.

Does every relief carving need a frame?

No, in fact some of my best relief carvings don’t have a frame at all.  Take a look at my American Farmhouse relief as an example.  One key here is that you can build framing elements straight into the design like I have with the trees in the foreground on each side of the carving.
 The other (and probably more important), key is that I’ve created strong interest lines in the design that lead your eye down and into the carving.  Drawing your eye to the focal point of the carving. Which is the tractor on this carving.  Once you’re looking at the focal point of the carving, your eye has to cross at least one of the major interest lines in order the escape the carving.  When that happens, the eye can tend to follow the line back into the carving instead of crossing it.  Again, that’s the theory anyway.  The irregular shape also helps retain the viewer as it gives the eye an interesting outline to trace along with the major interest lines of the composition.  It also helps give a carving the finished feel that my unframed Millhouse was missing.

Does every relief without a frame need to be an irregular shape?  No, but you’ll need a very strong the composition to offset the lack of a frame and give it that completed feel.

So to frame or not to frame?  That is a question that you’ll have to answer for yourself.  But to experience the best results, it is a question that you should answer while you’re still drawing up the design for your carving.