The first thing you notice when you walk into Janet Francis’s quaint San Carlos framing shop is the sheer amount of artwork lining the walls. From that, you can tell that Francis isn’t just a framer, she is an artist. But she also has owned and operated her own business for nearly three decades, which is why when we walked into her shop last week; we knew she would be a great resource for artists interested in doing the same thing.
So enjoy the interview, and if you ever find yourself in San Carlos and in need of a gorgeous picture frame, stop by Cherry Street Framing and Janet will take care of the rest.
You mentioned that you have been interested in art since you were young. How did you become interested in art and what is your background in art?
Ever since I was a little kid I was always interested in creating stuff and making art. My mom was actually a school teacher and quite a good artist. I remember she used to make me these little paper dolls and I loved them. My grandmother made hats and my grandfather was an industrial arts teacher. So I saw all of these people making art and I got interested myself. I went on to major in art at San Jose State University but when I graduated, I didn’t really know the answer to the question of “What’s next?” But I had an uncle who started his own business creating architectural models of buildings and he was quite successful at it, so that gave me a sense that starting my own business could work.
Your art interests actually extend beyond framing, so what are some of the other types of art you enjoy and how did that shape where you are today?
I liked to do a wide mix of different things. I would make little sculptures or work in the garden and do landscaping things. I tried making arrowheads and wood carvings and a bunch of other different types art as well. When you do so much people think you are kind of nutty, but it is definitely a good thing. I was always interested in art history and as a framer that is really useful, because you need to have a sense of art history so you can help people pick the right décor for their frames. You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need a sense of it to help people have the right feeling about their frames.
So you went into business for yourself and opened Cherry Street Custom Framing. When did you actually open the store and what were some of your first experiences like?
After school I bumped around a bit before finally I met up with some people who worked at a frame shop. I hung around for long enough that I eventually got myself a job and worked there for a number of years. The people I worked under were really good framers and I learned a lot from them. One day it was suggested to me that I could open my own shop, which was a scary thought, but I just kind of did it blind anyway.
The shop opened in 1984 and it was definitely overwhelming at first, but you just had to learn how to do certain things. I think the biggest problem some might have is that you have to do everything yourself. You are your own accountant, your own customer service agent and you do all of the designing yourself. All of that was a little more daunting and it still is, and that is the dilemma of an owner/operator.
I imagine building a customer base without current technology was difficult as well, so how did you turn your shop into a success? How did people find out about your shop?
There was a lot of word of mouth where people saw my work and they liked it, so they told their friends. I think the people sensed that I wasn’t just slapping any old frame on a picture; they could really get a sense of the thought and design that went into my frames. When I frame something, I try to select things that are classic, so they will want that frame for a long time. Since I am an artist already, I don’t feel the need to make a statement with every frame. I want to create something beautiful and timeless but not every frame needs to reflect that.
Talk more about how the framing for customers actually happens. They can make requests or ask for your input, so how do you determine how to design a frame for someone who doesn’t know what frame is best?
The key for me is to really listen to the person and get a sense of what they want. I talk to the person, get a sense of what type of person they are. I call on my experience and I ask them about their home, the environment the frame will hang in, the colors in the home. I can’t overemphasize how important it is to get this information. The design differs for something that is going to be put in a corporate setting than something that will be displaying a precious family treasure. I try to reassure them that I am going to give them lots of choices of what to pick, but you still have to sense what is right for them. If they want my advice, I give it to them, but I try to work with them and not force them into something.
When you look at the finished product, you want to see the art, not the frame. It needs to look effortless. If you notice the way something is constructed too much, then you are noticing the wrong things. First you measure and look at proportions, which are really important in framing because sometimes a small antique painting needs to be framed out with a bigger frame.
You have been doing this now for almost 30 years and I bet it becomes a bit of a grind. Do you ever get tired of owning and operating your own shop and how do you try to keep yourself sane?
There is definitely a certain amount of getting sick of what you do, and that is when you need to get into something that gives you that energy again, whether that is painting or something else. I think the thing people need to know about framing is that it always takes longer than you think. A little frame can take an hour and a half; bigger stuff can take a couple days.
What advice would you give to an artist who is considering going into business for themselves and opening up their own shop?
Get yourself some business classes and don’t ignore that part of the job. Finding a mentor would be helpful as well but you definitely need a basic understanding of how to handle the money part of things or else it won’t work.