In my experience, here is the breakdown of frames you will find at the thrift store at any given time:
- 62% cheap, plain frames with no detailing. Some of them are even made of styrofoam masquerading as wood. Gasp! These are usually full of a) inspirational quotes, b) awkward family photos, or c) pictures of stenciled geese and hearts. And nothing shouts 1990's more than a good duck stencil.
- 36% decent frames with more detail, nothing spectacular but interesting. These are usually filled with a) amateur paintings of the Southwest, b) impasto paintings of flowers, or c) Thomas Kincade prints.
- 2% frames with character. These frames usually contain a) Great Uncle Harry's painting entitled 'Deer in the Field', b) a Bob Ross-esque painting of 'happy trees' or c) a faded print of a famous painting
First things first, the frame. You know when you watch some trash to treasure show and the designers say things like "oh, this dresser has good bones"? Well that's what you're looking for: good bones. Look for lots of detail in the molding. Fine art frames (ones made in a frame shop) are sometimes even made up of several frames nestled together, and you can take them apart and paint them differently if you please.
Here is the frame I found:
Eek! It's pretty ugly, right? Heavy, dark...
Moving along, now that you have your empty frame, carefully go over the back and make sure to pull all the staples out with a pair of pliers. Otherwise you're liable to impale yourself. Once you've done that, go over the whole frame with a dry cloth. You want to remove as much dust as possible. Now here's the part where a legit painter would tell you to prime it. And you can, if you're feeling fancy. But in my opinion, picture frames hang on the wall and don't usually get touched so there isn't a high risk of scratching. Once you've wiped down your frame, take it outside. Prop it up on some blocks or buckets or whatever, so it is off the ground and ready to paint.
Now, on to spray painting! I know there are a lot of rules for spray painting, but (you'll be so surprised) I don't really follow them. In this case, following the rules will not get the same affect. To get the shabby chic, vintage-y feel, you have to do a crappy job of painting. Spray lightly, but don't try to spray evenly. Intentionally miss a few spots, because this highlights the design of the frame and makes it look old and full of character. Keep spraying until you get the desired look. I am sometimes a bit heavy handed with the spray paint, and because of that it gets a little cracked as it dries. This is good! It builds character, which incidentally is what my dad told me would happen by driving the most embarrassing gold station wagon EVER. But I digress. Spray your little heart out, miss some spots here and there, and then let that puppy dry. You can always touch up as needed, but wait and see. You might like it just the way it is! Another way to highlight the details is to use a glossy paint. If you already have non-glossy paint laying around, here's a clever trick for adding some shine: spray a coat of spray lacquer over the painted frame. Spray lacquer is the bomb, and it will look just like you used glossy paint in the first place!
When you are done, add some colorful/awesome/funky artwork or in my case, chicken wire, and you're ready to hang it up! (The letters I used are from 'Piggy and Dirt' on Etsy)
I have also written about distressing frames here, and here.....and here. Some of it is redundant, but a lot isn't. So go, find some inspiration!