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If one is thinking of making an art purchase, where does one start? I have gathered information which you may find helpful. It is designed to answer some of the questions that we as artists are asked. Please feel free to contact me if there is additional information which I may provide to you.

Original Paintings
What Medium?
What is the difference in substrate?
What coatings?
How do I decide to purchase?
Care


PRINTS
Is a Print a GOOD Investment?
What type of Print?
Paper and Ink Quality
How do I decide to purchase?
Framing
Care

Original Paintings
What Medium?
Two-dimensional originals can be presented in several different mediums: oils; acrylic; watercolor; gouache; pastel; pencil; inks; scratchboard, and tempura. (Woodcut prints and silkscreens may be considered originals as each may be individually created by the artist.)

Of the 3 major groups (oil, acrylic, and watercolor), watercolor tends to be the least expensive. This has always puzzled me as the artist uses just as much creativity, and I find it the most unforgiving of the mediums. (As a note, gouache is a fast-drying opaque watercolor, giving it the drying of a watercolor and the depth of an acrylic.) Art created in oil tends to sell for the highest of the three although lately the distinction between oil and acrylic has lessened.

Acrylic is a water-based paint, more opaque and slower drying than a watercolor. Many artists are using this medium rather than oil because it is faster drying than oil and does not require solvents for diluting or clean-up. In addition, ventilation of the studio is not as critical and acrylics travel better in the field. The finished surface of acrylics is also non-porous. A disadvantage to acrylic is it will crack if subjected to below freezing conditions so care in winter should be considered. There is a recent trend of underpainting oil paintings with acrylics. According to Ross Merrill (chief of conservation for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.) the smooth non-porous surface of an acrylic underpainting "makes the long-term bonding of oil paint tenuous at best, although it may adhere for a few years."
(Quoted from Making Art That Lasts, The ARTIST’S Magazine, July 1998.)

Oil is the "classic" medium. It is not any better than the others, but does provide its own unique characteristics. It is the slowest drying of the three main mediums and it is considered not fully "cured" enough to varnish and seal for at least 6 months after the painting has been completed. Clean-up requires turpentine and the better paints usually have a linseed oil base. The main disadvantages to oil are the
clean-up, greater transportation problems for field work, and solvents in the studio. However, I have found the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. The luminosity and depth of color, the given longevity of oil, and the blending ability of oil are all for me unmatched in any other medium. (New water-based oils have come out in the 90's. Maybe I’m just a purest, but I am concerned about the life of the paints and whether some of the oil’s luminosity will be lost without the oil base.)

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What is the difference in substrate?

The are several types of surfaces on which originals can be painted: canvas, panels, and paper are the three main groups.

Most of us are probably most familiar with canvas for oil and acrylic paintings. Linen canvases provides the greatest stability of the natural fiber canvases although a long-fiber cotton is also a good product. The new nylon and polyester fiber canvases may increase in use as artists look for supports which won’t change with varying levels of humidity.

Of the panel choices, there is solid wood, plywood and hardboard (Masonite being a brand -name hardboard.) Hardboard is the most stable of the three although tempered hardboard can create adhesion problems for water based paints and can bleed or stain even oil paints. The best bet for a panel is an untempered hardboard which is sealed front, back, and edges with gesso to increase stability. (I use untempered hardboard for my substrate because I like the firm surface for blending the oils and the ability to create turpentine underpaintings which blend with the above layers.)

Paper is usually reserved for watercolor or gouache. It will become brittle and will yellow with age. However, the new acid-free products have come a long way and besides, if da Vinci’s paper drawings still exist, that is good enough for me.

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What coatings?

Watercolors, pastels and colored pencil paintings should not be varnished, although especially for pencil, there are sprays which will "seal" the image to prevent smudging.

Oils and acrylics can be varnished. There are so many products, many which claim they seal the art work without causing yellowing. It is a good idea to ask the artist what he uses as a final sealant and what care should be taken with this specific product. Matte, semi-gloss, and gloss finishes can be attained. My preference is for matte or semi-gloss at the most as a gloss may create too much sheen and obscure the
image from various angles of viewing.

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How do I decide to Purchase?

One of the most important questions to ask yourself when deciding to purchase is, "Will I like this image tomorrow?" Is there something the artist has captured which is special to me? Maybe it reminds you of something which has special meaning or maybe the piece has subtle lighting, a unique perspective or interaction, or tells an engaging story. The composition might draw you. Whatever the reason, if the
image gives you joy or ignites your spirit, it is one to consider.

There have been articles written stating one should never purchase artwork to match the furniture. I tend to have a more moderate view. If you hope to enjoy the art tomorrow, there is nothing wrong in having it reflect your preference for colors, design, and theme. For instance, if your living room has soft blues and whites, a bright orange piece while engaging today might have worn out its welcome tomorrow. On the other hand, if the art "grabs" you and you can picture it on your wall, diversity in decorating can energize a room.

It may interest you to know that many artists have other artists’ work hanging on their walls. For me, if I see a piece and I can’t get it out of my mind, that is the deciding factor. That painting or print just speaks to me. Many I’ve had over a decade in the same spot, and they still move me.

So, "Will you like this image tomorrow, and does it feel right today?"

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Care

Watercolor originals should be framed and behind glass. Gouache I have seen presented both behind glass and not, and although I am unsure whether the original is protected enough without glass, I prefer to see it that way. The option of UV-protected glass may be something to ask your framer. Keeping the glass and the frame dusted is always a good idea.

Acrylic paintings with their non-porous surface do not need to have glass, and oils should not be behind glass as they have to breathe. Lightly dusting the surface is OK and does prevent build-up.

All art should be kept out of direct sunlight, and in a room where the humidity levels do not get very high. Fluctuations in temperatures should be kept to a minimum. In addition, extremely low temperatures will crack acrylic paintings, so winter shipping should be done with care.

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PRINTS

Is a Print a GOOD Investment?

While prints may appreciate in value, I don’t believe they should be considered as an investment (except as an investment in beauty.) Prints are traded on the secondary market, but that market does not have one regular outlet available for trading. Trading is irregular, non-regulated and the artwork if not framed properly (or cared for properly if unframed) may have deteriorated and not be in prime condition. One of the best sources for the current value of prints is INFORMART magazine but even they admit their information is not all-inclusive.

The safest measure is to purchase a print because you like it - it moves you. See How do I decide to purchase? to help you in your decision process.

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What type of Print?

The term "print" is liberally used in the marketing of any artwork which is not an original. There are two main categories of this broad term; limited and unlimited prints.

Unlimited prints will have no maximum number of prints. Posters, note cards and the like are usually presented as unlimited editions.

Limited prints means that the printer is creating a piece which has a maximum number of pieces printed. (A small exception to this is a time-edition in which the number of prints created reflects the exact number of orders received by a predetermined date. As a note, most time-release editions exceed the more typical edition sizes preferred today by art buyers.) Limited prints will generally be signed by the artist and numbered on each piece. If it is an edition of 750, the first print will be 1 of 750 (1/750), the remainder sequentially numbered until the last is numbered 750/750. The publisher should not reissue this print once the edition is completed. (Note: there is a trend now to reissue limited edition prints in alternative sizes or as a canvas edition. It is my belief that this practice violates the publisher’s original commitment for the maximum number in the edition.)

There are several mechanisms employed to create prints. Off-set lithographs and the newer digital process are the most prevalent today.

Off-set Lithographs

Off-set lithographs are so named because the original image is transferred to photo-sensitive plates which never actually touch the paper. Each image is separated into 4 - 6 color plates and when printed on the paper, the final result reflects the image. With this approach, 1000's of prints can be created that are identical. This was a revolution when created in the 1950's, because before that time, processes were used
in which the final printing of a print would not be as accurate as the first. For example, silk screens (considered as originals as they are hand-drawn generally by the artist through very fine mesh screens) can clog with ink. Wood blocks used to make prints can have pores filled with ink. The off-set lithograph meant a whole new world of art collecting was possible. With technology, the papers and inks have improved, and cost has decreased. Some disadvantages also arose. During the recent heyday of the off-set lithographs, some publishers and artists produced huge editions. With editions exceeding 10,000 or even 50,000, art buyers began to wonder how limited their edition really was. This led to a collapse in the print market. Fortunately, publishers of off-set lithographs have started to put out much smaller editions (under 1000, and some under 450) which now seem to truly have a limited feel. Another issue which is just starting to come into play is that the process of using only 4-6 color plates means that there will be some loss in an accurate translation of every color that the artist has painted.

Advantages: Affordable price,
                     Good selection of images

Disadvantages: Sometimes high edition numbers,
                           Not best translation of original,
    Artist usually unwilling or able to make a print if only a few interested.

Digital Prints

A digital print is the process of printing the image from a digitally scanned transparency. The advantage of this method is a more versatile and accurate color translation from the original image. This process at first gained a poor reputation from the short longevity of the inks and paper used. (The original term for this process was giclee, and the term digital print is now being used.) Visible fading was evident within a few years (something that art purchasers did not want.) With the advent of new technology, the best inks combined with the right paper have an image life up to twice as long as an off-lithograph. Unfortunately, not all digital printers are using the latest inks, paper, or machines, and many artists are not well-versed in the huge disparity of longevity. The latest research information is available from Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. (The authority in the longevity testing process for digital printing.)

Advantages: Most accurate color from original
Small editions
Longevity if right ink/paper
Greater selection of images (artist can make a print if only a few buyers are interested)
Disadvantages: higher cost
Short life if wrong ink/paper

This is a process that will continue to grow in popularity as art purchasers demand smaller editions, higher quality of the final print and the greatest longevity. Before purchasing a digital print, you may wish to ask the artist the type of paper and ink used and compare it to the Wilhelm Imaging Research charts.

As a note, I have chosen to use Wilhelm Imaging Research as a guide to the best inks, paper, canvas and printers to maximize the life of the print. For more details, see my Prints or contact me for more specifics.

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Paper and Ink Quality

The type of paper used for the print has a bearing on the look of a piece and ultimately on its longevity. (See What type of print for more on longevity.) There is textured and smooth paper with varying degrees of weight. A new look is to print off-set lithographs or digital print on canvas. It is important to note that this technique can cut the life of the inks. I would imagine in the near future however, that the longevity on canvas will equal that on paper. There is also a "trendy" practice of having an artist hand-enhance a print on canvas. A splotch here or a dab there makes the canvas transfer part original in some minds. I find this a poor practice as it misleads the buyer, and the stability of the dab is unknown. An original remarque is a much more appropriate way to have a touch of the artist on a print. Some of the remarques I have seen have been particularly inventive, and all I have seen have added a special dimension to the piece.

The quality of the ink becomes most important when referring to the digital print process. Please refer to the What type of Print for more details.

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How do I decide to Purchase?

One of the most important questions to ask yourself when deciding to purchase is, "Will I like this image tomorrow?" Is there something the artist has captured which is special to me? Maybe it reminds you of something which has special meaning or maybe the piece has subtle lighting, a unique perspective or interaction, or tells an engaging story. The composition might draw you. Whatever the reason, if the image gives you joy or ignites your spirit, it is one to consider.

There have been articles written stating one should never purchase artwork to match the furniture. I tend to have a more moderate view. If you hope to enjoy the art tomorrow, there is nothing wrong in having it reflect your preference for colors, design, and theme. For instance, if your living room has soft blues and whites, a bright orange piece while engaging today might have worn out its welcome tomorrow. On the other hand, if the art "grabs" you and you can picture it on your wall, diversity in decorating can energize a room.

It may interest you to know that many artists have other artists’ work hanging on their walls. For me, if I see a piece and I can’t get it out of my mind, that is the deciding factor. That painting or print just speaks to me. Many I’ve had over a decade in the same spot, and they still move me.

So, "Will you like this image tomorrow, and does it feel right today?"

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Framing

Framing is a crucial aspect of a print’s longevity. You should have a framer who uses acid-free matting and museum quality mounting. Matting with inferior products can damage the print as the acidity of the mat board interacts with the image’s paper and ink.

Your choices in framing are numerous: floating prints; single, double, or triple matting; mats hand painted to extend the art image; glass choices including clear, UV, non-glare; wood or metal frames with almost unlimited choices in color and design.

When it comes to framing, I do have preferences. Double or triple mats although they add to the cost, seem to bring out the print and add to the illusion of depth. In addition, I also believe the frame and matting should compliment the image rather than solely the room in which it is to be placed. Framing the artwork the way you want at the outset (even if it costs a little more) may make the difference in how long you enjoy the piece and mean you don’t have to reframe it at a later date.

There are many excellent framers throughout the country. Finding one to frame your artwork and building a relationship with them will serve you best. The framer will know your preferences and will devote more time and energy to you if you are a regular and loyal customer. Asking friends for the names of the framers they use may help you get increased service if you don’t already have a relationship
built with a framing store.

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Care

Even if the utmost care has been taken in purchasing a print with a high quality printing process and museum quality framing was used, a framed print placed in poor conditions can be ruined. Direct sunlight interacts with the image’s ink and may bleach it or "blue" it. Humid conditions can promote the growth of mold, subsequently damaging the paper and frame. Too dry conditions can also make a wood frame shrink if it was framed in a more humid climate. After all this, what conditions won’t hurt a print? Good prints are actually fairly durable if framed properly (see Framing) and placed out of direct sunlight in moderate conditions with the humidity below 50%. If the print is kept unframed for a period of time, dust is an issue. A print should, at a minimum, be sealed from dust with a cover that will not chemically react with the inks. For a collection of unframed prints, professional print storage cabinets are available (some even with fancy climate controls) although unless you live in extreme conditions (the Antarctic or the heart of the Amazon would qualify) such extremes may not be necessary.

With care, a print can last many decades.

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