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Putting creativity in the frame

Métiers d’art are ancient... and protected in France

The art of framing is, to a certain extent, the art of going unnoticed. Whether framing a painting, photograph, document or object, the framer must find materials that draw the eye inwards, away from their own work and towards the subject.

For such a self-effacing craft, there is considerable scope for creativity.

The framer must decide what materials to use for the frame: wood, metal, resin or plastic, or indeed whether to use a frame at all. There might also be a choice of mount and of covering (glass, Perspex, or nothing at all).

The colours and dimensions of each element can be varied depending on the desired effect. And all of this must be negotiated with the client, who may have their own ideas.

A framer needs, therefore, to be creative, practical and precise; to have a good sense of colour, a strong awareness of the history of art, and a love of working with customers.

Frequently their workshop will also be their shop front, so they need to be willing to interrupt their work to speak to people about their projects.

Sometimes framers work in conjunction with other craftsmen, such as gilders, wood sculptors, paper restorers, photographers, and painters, and in such cases they need to be able to integrate the ideas of their collaborators with their own vision.

The skill of a good framer lies not just in finding the right aesthetic to suit the item to be framed, but also in having the technical ability to preserve the integrity of their subject.

Amateurs often resort to gluing each subject within its frame, but a qualified artisan’s work is fully reversible: even if the frame were changed on a daily basis, the subject would remain undamaged.

Many framers start out as amateurs, perhaps doing an initiation course or work experience in the workshop of an established framer.

To trade professionally, however, formal training is indispensable to set you apart.

For this, there is a two-year Certificat d’Aptitude Profes­sionnelle (CAP), which incorporates six months of work experience.

Organisations offering diplomas include the Ecole d’Ameublement La Bonne Graine in Paris, which offers a two-year CAP in framing to people aged between 16 and 25.

For those that do not fall within the age range, also in Paris the Atelier sur Cours offers an Encadrement d’art classique et contemporain formation professionnelle, which takes 735 hours over seven to eight months.

The CAP is also available in Yvelines towns Chatou and Elan­court (Ile-de-France); Scorbé-Clairvaux, Vienne; Nîmes, Gard; Grièges, Ain; Louviers, Eure, and Laventie Pas-de-Calais.

Numerous other short courses are available across the country, and a good place to start your research is the directory of the Institute des Métiers d’Art.

Some people will spend two hours picking out their frame

Claire Huas began framing for the twin reasons of passion and practicality. She first set up her workshop in St-Cyr-au-Mont-d’Or in Lyon, Rhône-Alpes, in 2007, but her love affair with framing began much earlier, in the 1990s, when she first took lessons with a friend.

At the time, she was working in advertising and had started a family, which is where practicality came into the equation.

“I got one too many calls from the crèche during my working day,” she sighs, “so I resigned, but I’m the sort of person who has to work, and so I looked for something that I would love, but which enabled me to combine family with my job”.

After studying for a CAP diploma with a framer in Tarare, near Lyon, Claire sat her exams as an independent candidate. She still has the resulting frames hanging in her workshop: a mixture of minutely-
prescribed tasks and a single subject to be framed “in any way I liked”, all against the clock. The training was time-consuming, and involved six months of work experience, “but I loved it”.

Her Atelier des Greffières is a riot of colour, with samples of frames lining every spare centimetre of wall space, and projects on every work table. Originally a tumble-down barn in the garden of the Huas family home, Claire converted it into a workshop after years of to-ing and fro-ing with the mairie and local banks.

Now it is a haven of tranquillity, though as Claire points out, this can be a disadvantage for a small business offering a service that people need only infrequently.

“There’s no passing trade, and this means that I have to work doubly hard to become known”.

Claire loves to be around people. When her children were young, it was great to have the bustle of family life in the same place as her business.

Now they have left home, she enjoys the contact with clients. “Some of them will stay for up to two hours deciding on a frame. Sometimes they arrive with a very clear idea of what they want, and we have a discussion. I take their ideas as a guide but give my own opinions, too”.

Setting up as a framer required a great deal of patience. “It’s not as if I set up the workshop one day and had a queue out of the door the next.”

Initially she was concerned about generating enough income to cover her costs, so she took pottery lessons in her limited spare time, and now sells her pots alongside her framing.

“I’d always wanted to try my hand at pottery, so it worked out well.”

Now that she has made a name for herself, though, she has a reliable stream of customers bringing their subjects to her for framing.

Does she have any advice for anyone wanting to set out as a framer?

“It’s a wonderful craft. You produce beautiful things, and you meet plenty of people. However, you need to be determined when you first get established.

“Most of all, you should think carefully about where you put your workshop.

“Ideally, you need somewhere with plenty of passing trade. If I have one regret, it’s being so far off the beaten track.” 

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