Thursday, September 23, 2010

Considering The Thrift Store Frame

One of the best things about thrift store shopping is finding unique frames to facelift.  For you artists out there who are looking for unique ways to display your work, we highly recommend the sad, oft-overlooked thrift store frame.  What?  "Oft" is a word - I use it oft.  Anyway, the thrift store frame has much more potential than you think and it won't be sad once you're done with it!   In our area, this means we are regular shoppers at our local Goodwills, as well as a few locally owned one-of-a-kinders.  With THREE of us Thing With Wingers living in the same area, scavenging sometimes becomes a friendly competition, so I've actually found it best to go ALONE.... :-)  Here's what we look for when we go scouting for frames:

No Glass - no glass usually means a cheaper frame. And we're all about cheap - in the best possible meaning of the word.  Most people WANT frames with glass, which makes them more desirable and usually more expensive. Well WE'RE not most people. :-)  Choosing frames with no glass means we don't have to figure out how to dispose of it, since we're not going to use it anyway.

Why DO we use frames with no glass anyway?
-glass makes our pieces heavy and breakable - two things we try to avoid when we have to pack up items for shows.
-people love to and are encouraged to touch our work, which has dimension and texture.  That experience gets lost under glass.

*Depending on the type of artwork YOU do, you'll have to decide if glass enhances and protects your work, or if it creates more distance from your customer and more harm and hassle than good.

Unique Qualities That Make A Frame One of a Kind - like shape, patterns, grooves, and dimension. Something that catches our eye and will stand out once painted and stained. 

 Sometimes we're looking for surfaces on which we can paint borders, scallops, stripes etc.

We also tend to look for bolder, chunkier, wider frames as it just creates a nice balance, and adds soooo much interest. We consider our frames to be just as much a part of our artwork as what we put in them.  The right frame makes or breaks it, so we don't ignore it's impact and pick skinny, wimpy, boring frames! We go all out!

Green Girl scored this mammoth, funky frame:

We also use wood plaques (we don't like that word, but what else do you call them?)  They come in a variety of unique shapes and nice sizes:

A Frame with a Paintable Surface - wood that has been varnished very smooth and shiny will chip once painted unless it's sanded first and who has the time to do that?! So we generally pass on anything that looks all lacquered up and look for duller (in sheen, not in personality) wood frames that we know will hold paint well.  They're not always the prettiest, and may be scuffed or dinged up, but they'll look totally different once we get our hands on them.  

Look at you, pretty girl!  All gussied up and two-toned!

Plastic frames are generally not paintable, but don't immediately discount them! Older plastic frames with an interesting design that are already in a desirable color can look awesome! Take Green Girl's "love for the great state of Iowa" art for example. Those little plastic frames are just plain cute! We avoid frames that have a border of metallic looking plastic on the inside edge as it's not usually paintable, and they're plain tacky in our opinion.  Same goes for any type of fuzzy, velour-like fabric glued in a strip around some frames....shudder. We've actually been known to remove such fuzz because sometimes the surface underneath is workable, and if it still has hardened glue or bits of fuzz, it can sometimes be covered with paper. Other frames have a middle border of a canvas-y type material. This is not necessarily a reason to pass this guy by! As long as it's still uniformly attached, it's usually paintable, (although you probably would not want to write or paint anything too detailed on it,) and it actually adds some nice texture, like this one:

A Sturdily Constructed Frame: We give it the wiggle test. if any of the miters (angled corner joints) are loose, and move when you wiggle it, that's a good reason to pass it by. They're probably fixable, but again, who has time for that?! There are so many more frames waiting for us just around the corner!

Things that DON'T deter us, and you shouldn't let it deter you either if you're a smart and resourceful artist:

Minor Knicks, Dents and Chips: In our line of artwork, this usually only enhances the frame and the artwork!  The more character the better. We give our pieces an aged, textural look anyway, so brushstrokes and any other type of indentations or markings just add to the beauty!

Goofy Colors: The color of a wood frame is SO easily changeable with acrylic paint, (FolkArt craft paint works great) so it should never be a deterrent! And who says wood frames have to be wood colored anyway? Bor---ing.  Sealing your newly painted frame with something like mod podge will make it more durable and give it a nice finish.

Odd Shapes:  Unique shapes never deter us - they are interesting, eye catching and we consider it a challenge!

Missing Hardware:  Never a good reason to pass up a cool frame.   We always have a supply of sawtooth picture hangers in a variety of sizes and heavy duty d-rings for heavier pieces.  We own frame guns so we can easily mount our work securely to the frame.  

Tacky Art Still in the Frame:

Some people can't get past it and see the potential. We're looking for the 'good bones' of a frame here people, so who cares if it contains a mass-produced 'painting' of a watermill or scary clown? So what if other shoppers look in our cart and question our taste in 'art?' (term used loosely.) We may have to check our pride at the door, but we come away with some treasures that are often overlooked.  Hey, and before we chuck that faux painting of a horse with mane blowing in the breeze, we use it as a template for the size of the new art that we will be creating, or sometimes build our artwork right on top of it!

Here's the same "plaque" as pictured above, now finished:

Look at it this way:  we're doing the world a favor.  We're doing our part to recycle and we're putting some really bad "art" out of its misery, turning those frames into something beautiful!  Our work is enhanced and truly one of a kind when we transform thrift store frames.  The world is overall a better place.  You're welcome.   :-)

More oft-overlooked frame details:


  1. Great post! Love the before and after. It's great to see new life given to these thrifted finds.

  2. As usual, LOVE LOVE LOVE! Thrift stores are the best. Back in my teenage years when everything had to be name-brand (!) I turned up my nose. What an idiot! You get such a good feeling from rescuing life's discards. You're helping the planet, usually helping a good cause, and making the world prettier. Keep it up!

    (And I recognize that TACKY Home Interiors TREE with the orange background in your Rescue Montage...was hanging in nearly every house when I was a kid, including mine! Would love to see how you transformed THAT!)

  3. i am a HUGE fan of glass-less art... i think it conveys a feeling of honesty and approachability. when something is behind glass, it creates distance between me and the piece and i don't like it nearly as much!

  4. i loved this post!!!!!!!! I am inspired to go thrifting for frames!!!!!!!

  5. Love this post and RATS just left a thrift store with lots of pics about an hour ago.
    You are featured in my page on today!!!

  6. OH Dear!
    This is an interesting post.
    I adore all the art, especially the stinkin' cute owl.
    How creative y'all are!!
    Smart, thrifty.
    Thank you for giving me the link to this post--I learned some things!
    HUGS from SC!

  7. Your opening lines are hilarious! Great post. This week alone my kids have broken two different framed pieces (they {frames not kids} were against the wall while painting)that I absolutely loved. I hadn't thought about going glass-less until now. Thank you!

  8. Is there a way to order the art shown in this post? I Love IT!

  9. Leanna, these particular items have been sold, but keep an eye out in the future for when we post new things via blog or facebook.

    some items go fast! email us at when you see something!

    also, you can keep an eye out on our etsy sites:
    (Green Girls is empty at the moment.)


  10. great post! It really gets the creative wheels turning.