Framing, How to Trap People in Your Art

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Woman At A Medieval Door
“Woman At A Medieval Door”
In this work, I use the doorway to frame the figure of the woman.
One of my favorite techniques for making art that captures an audience is framing. Framing is arranging your composition so that the main subject is partially or completely surrounded by something else in the scene: a window, the walls of a canyon, columns, tree trunks (one of my favorites)…anything that creates a psychological border that prevents the viewer’s eyes from escaping the image or moving away from the focal point. For instance, a common way use this technique is to position a person in an open door. In such an example, the doorway frames the human figure.

Generally, the elements that are being used to frame the subject are in the foreground, closer than or even with the subject being framed. In other words, the viewer is looking through the frame at the subject. The formal name for such a setup is repoussoir. However, you can use elements in the background to frame a subject, too. For instance, you might align your subject with a break in the clouds behind it so that the clouds create a halo around that subject.

Another thing that makes framing really neat is that it can give you as the artist power over the viewer. Using this technique, you can position the viewer within the scene. You can put them inside a house looking out, on a path leading into a forest, or outside of a cave looking in. In this way, you make them part of the art. You can even influence the viewer’s emotions with this technique. For instance, you can make them feel fear by boxing them in an alley, have them experience guilt by spying through a keyhole, or oppress them by trapping them behind bars.

So the next time you creating an artwork. Keep framing in mind. It can be quite a powerful tool.


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