28 Dec 2015:
Steven Yip, 51, managing director at Q Framing
How did you first get into picture framing?
By accident. I was trained as a marine engineer, but when I was waiting for my ‘O’ Level results to come out, I spent six months at Merlin Frame Maker – probably the oldest framers in Singapore. I did NS in the navy, but I saw some old sailors on the ships and they’re all very lonely. I didn’t want to become like them, so I went back to Merlin and stayed there for ten years. I also ended up meeting my wife, Zoe, there!
You’re a certified picture framer – what does that mean?
There are two trade bodies – the Fine Art Trade Guild in the UK and the Professional Picture Framing Association in America – that offer certified programmes to promote good practice, and I flew to Las Vegas with Zoe in 2007 and we did the examination. We also use higher-grade materials.
What makes museum-grade materials so much better?
Matte boards, for instance, are divided into five grades, and the lower-grade ones will leave yellow stains over time because they contain an acidic material called lignin. The museum-grade ones are made of 100 percent cotton, which don’t contain lignin and therefore won’t leave an acid burn even after many years.
Who are your main clients?
I have a regular group of art collectors, but I also work with high-end galleries such as STPI, Sundaram Tagore and the National Gallery.
Tell us about the most valuable piece of art that you’ve dealt with.
I’d say around 90 percent of Cheong Soo Pieng’s works have gone through us [to be framed]. One of them, called Balinese Dance, was sold at the Christie’s auction in Hong Kong last November for $1.4 million. It’s the work that fetched the highest price at the sale.
Would you say that 2D works are easier to frame than 3D ones?
Every medium comes with its own challenge. Two-dimensional works can be very flimsy and transparent sometimes, and it’s also important not to retain the tension of the canvases for oil or acrylic works, because otherwise the paint might crack and peel off.
How big is your team at Q Framing?
We currently have 17 staff. I don’t hire people with prior experience, because if they come from other shops and they’re used to doing things a certain way, it’s very difficult to change their habits. It’s human nature.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
When we first started the company, it was to convince people that they should get their artworks framed properly. Framing is a very Western tradition, and people here often think it’s just about giving pictures a structure so that they can hang on the wall. But if it’s done well, framing can really protect and even enhance the work.
Would you say that’s also the most misunderstood thing about framing?
Yes, a lot of people don’t see the point in paying 50 percent more than what they’d pay at the mom-and-pop shops. I hope that will change, and people will start demanding a higher quality of framing in the future.