Merion Art Blog

Susan Rains Design and Merion Art have partnered to offer Shop at Home Custom Framing.

This week, we have a guest post from designer Susan Rains, who has a long history with Merion Art. Susan is excited to introduce a new service that takes her design expertise and Merion Arts’ skilled framing into your home!

boss at counter

“Hi, My name is Susan Rains, from Susan Rains Design in Havertown, and I am a mindful residential Interior Designer helping guide homeowners through the process of designing a home that is beautiful and supportive of your wellness. To serve our clients better all around, Merion Art and I have partnered to offer the convenience and unsurpassed design experience of shop at home custom framing.

Custom picture framing was my first career. During my thirteen years as a framer, I moved around a bit and worked at several shops in different states and towns. I started as a salesperson and worked my way through all aspects of production to eventually work at Merion Art for eight years and become the studio manager. During my last three years at Merion Art, I studied Interior Design at Drexel University and went on to open my own residential Interior Design practice. I maintained a close business relationship with Merion Art, and continue to work there on the weekend. I’ve helped so many of Merion Art’s new and loyal customers; maybe I’ve helped you?


My experience working with customers has shown me several problems people have when trying to choose their framing.

1. Second guessing the matting and frame because you’re unsure of the wall, furniture and accent colors in the room.
2. Taking the piece home only to find it’s too big, has too much reflection to see clearly, or it doesn’t work well in the room you want to hang it. Then incurring the additional cost to correct the mistake.
3. Transporting your art when it is big or fragile. Large Artwork and precious objects can be cumbersome and stressful to move without damaging them or requiring a particular vehicle.
4. Your busy schedule does not mesh well with our regular business hours, and there are a lot more fun things to do on a weekend afternoon than waiting in line for framing.
5. You’re unsure what will look best where you want to hang your art, you’re unsure where to hang it altogether or want ideas for grouping that someone can only provide by standing in your space.


Our new shop at home custom framing resolves all of these issues. You can make decisions with total confidence, while picking my brain for ideas that will enhance, accentuate and add the finishing touch that brings a room together.



I’m offering a $75 credit towards your purchase of the custom framing solutions I present to you!


  • Up to 2 hours of consultation time in your home or office. Additional time is available.
  • Upon booking this service, I will send you my insightful Custom Framing Questionnaire. I want to learn the story of your art, where you might hang it, what you want to achieve, and details about your home décor.
  • I arrive prepared with a wide selection of mat board and curated frame samples specially chosen for you. Along with all the tools of the trade to illustrate the framing process and answer your questions.
  • I will give you home decor ideas for where to hang your art, how to create a gallery wall, where your home could use additional artwork and where you can find it.


  • I come to you. You won’t have to run another errand or work around inconvenient business hours.
  • Nothing compares to the certainty you’ll feel when making framing selections in your home. You’ll know for sure the matting will not clash with your walls and that the frame finish will coordinate with your decor.
  • Large or fragile art can stay safely in your home until it’s time to be framed.
  • I use my combined framing and Interior Design experience to curate a selection of frames for you from over 5,000 choices. I always keep your decor style, colors, materials and the best way to preserve your art at the top of my mind.
  • We offer volume pricing for residential and contract framing needs.
  • Repeat and referral discounts.


  • Within 48 hours I will provide you with a price quote.
  • If you like the price quote, you’ll drop off your art, or you can request our pick up service. If we pick it up, we’ll take care of packing your art and transporting it carefully to and from the studio.
  • You’ll receive a call when your artwork is ready for pick up, or you can request our delivery service.  Delivery services mean no more worrying that the SUV will be wide enough or accidentally banging your beautiful new framed art into the door.
  • I can also recommend a professional picture hanger if you need assistance with hanging.



DON’T FORGET TO MENTION THIS BLOG FOR THE INTRODUCTORY SPECIAL: A $75 credit towards your purchase of the shop at home custom framing solution I present to you. 

Are you ready to get started or want to learn more? Then click here!

To find out more about Susan Rains Design go to I look forward to helping you make the most of your beautiful artwork.”


Priming: A Primer

Gesso, GAC 100, rabbit skin glue, priming, sanding, absorbent grounds! Some kind of primer will be the first layer of product on practically any painting and several kinds of drawings, but for something so basic it can become a complicated subject! Additionally, because it is so fundamental, it can often be overlooked. We often talk to customers who don’t know whether or not the canvas they are using is gessoed, or what kinds of grounds they will need to try for different kinds of artwork. Here’s a brief overview of some of our preferred kinds of grounds and primers, and how and why you might want to try them out!

Properly prepping your surface is an important step if you’re intending to think about the longevity of a piece of art. The first step to prepping surfaces is sizing. Sizing is used to protect the art from itself: it keeps the paints and pigments from damaging the substrate. Without sizing and primer, the chemicals in paint, especially oil paint,  can over time begin to eat away and degrade canvas and raw wood. “Oil painters must size their canvases to stop the acidic oil from penetrating into the support, which can cause the fibers to rot. Traditionally, a hide glue (typically rabbit-skin) was applied directly to canvas or linen to stiffen the fabric and protect the support from the acidic oils.” These days, there are chemical substitutes for hide glue that have a number of advantages. For one, they’re easier to obtain and don’t include dead animal bits, and for another they don’t re-absorb moisture in a way that hide glue can (ironically the properties of the hide glue itself can lead to art degrading over time). One of these modern substitutes is GAC 100. (GAC stands for Golden Artist Colors)


GAC 100: When you lay your colors down, you want to be sure the stay the way you want them for years to come. Sadly, if you don’t protect against the acids and other harmful substances and impurities inherent in your substrates, your painting can succumb to Support Induced Discoloration. “Support Induced Discoloration (SID) is a phenomenon that occurs in acrylic paints and mediums. Many common artist supports have impurities that can discolor a translucent acrylic gel layer or color glaze, and a size must be applied before gessoing to ensure the products stay clear as the films dry. As a paint film cures, the water exits two ways: through the surface of the paint and through the back of the support, if porous enough. Canvas, linen, wood and masonite are all porous enough to allow water to absorb into them. […]The water extracts water-soluble impurities such as dirt, sap, starches, etc., from the support and deposits them into the acrylic film. The result is a discolored (typically amber) film […] SID can transform the appearance of an Ultramarine Blue glaze into a lower chroma, greenish color. Gesso alone will not stop SID, and different gels and mediums have varying degrees of blocking capabilities.” GAC 100 is Golden’s answer to SID. GAC 100 acts as a barrier between the substrate and your artwork. It is also “useful for diluting and extending colors, especially when film flexibility and integrity are important characteristics.”

Gesso Product Shot

Gesso: Pronounced “JESS-o”. Traditionally a blend of rabbit-skin glue, chalk, and white pigment used to prep rigid surfaces like wood panels and masonite. In modern times we (again) often ditch the rabbit-skin glue, and widely used acrylic gessoes are a combination of calcium carbonate and an acrylic medium, plus pigment and other chemicals for greater flexibility, allowing modern gesso to be used on less rigid substrates like canvas. (For most applications, acrylic gesso works fine, but for working in traditional mediums like egg tempera or silverpoint, a traditional gesso will work best. Rabbits beware!)


Gesso gives paint a surface that it can adhere to, and can also be used to give a surface a uniform color to start from. Usually this is white or black, but pigments can be mixed with gesso to create different colored backgrounds. There is also the option of clear gesso, see below.

If you are buying a pre-stretched canvas, generally gesso will already have been applied. If the canvas is white instead of beige canvas colored, it has been primed with gesso. Conversely, a cradled wood panel almost never has any gesso or sizing on it, and you’ll need to apply this yourself. Watch out when using low-end student grade canvases- they’re perfectly acceptable cheap alternatives (especially for practice pieces), but they are sometimes not gessoed thoroughly enough. Try holding it up to the light- if you can see light through it at all, it’s best to give it another coat of gesso, just to be safe. If this is a concern for you, upgrade to artist-quality canvases like Masterpiece.

Gesso can be applied with any kind of brush or paint knife, or even thinned down and applied through an airbrush (a favorite technique of Purchasing Manager Justine). Krylon even makes a spray Gesso that can be applied like spray paint in thin, even layers. Gesso can be used to build up textures, add areas of relief to paintings, and can be applied and sanded in many layers to provide a smooth surface for painting. Most painters will use gesso a LOT, and consequently, it’s one of the cheapest art supplies, and one of the few you can buy in a gallon bucket without it breaking the bank or seeming like a completely unreasonable amount of material.

Molding paste and Modeling Paste: Gesso is not the be-all and end-all of grounds. Different artwork will call for different kinds of grounds that can be applied on top of gesso. Paint companies manufacture a huge range of grounds and primers that have varying textures and absorbancies. One of Marketing Manager Jen’s favorite grounds is Golden Molding paste. Pastes are more commonly used to build up raised areas in paintings and add texture, but they can make excellent grounds.

molding pastes

“Pastes are opaque because they contain Marble Dust or other fillers that create a white or clay-tone finish,” and the Marble Dust is what gives it enough of a tooth for things like graphite and oil pastel to then be used (gesso on its own can be slick and non-porous, difficult for dry media to stick to). Molding paste and Liquitex Modeling paste work as the missing link that allows artists to mix certain kinds of media together on one panel, allowing a transition between acrylic paint, decoupage, graphite, oil pastel, pen and ink, and more.

Absorbent Ground “is a fluid acrylic medium that dries to a porous, paper-like surface. Applied over gessoed canvas, it facilitates raw canvas-like staining and watercolor effects.” This allows experimentation with thinner paints that don’t stick well to a slicker gessoed surface. You can get watercolor effects on canvas without unfortunate pooling or adhesion problems. goldenabsorbant

Clear Gesso allows you to prime the surface without obscuring the color of the substrate- for instance if you want the wood grain of a panel to show through your artwork. Many brands of art materials make a clear acrylic gesso. It tends to have a coarse, grainier texture than the smooth chalky finish of regular gesso. You can also use a layer of GAC 100 and gel mediums, matte or gloss, as a clear gesso substitute. There should always be some kind of primer used, for protection and adhesion.

(Note: much of the historical and technical info from this post was obtained from the Golden Artist Colors website. For more info and an in-depth and historical look at how to prep a surface for art, check out Golden’s overview here.)

Do you use a different method, technique, or product to prep and prime your work? Let us know in the comments what we’ve missed!




Why You Should Shop Small, Local, & In Person For Art Supplies

shopsmallThese days most people know it’s good to “Shop Small” or “Think Globally, Shop Locally,” but they don’t always know why. You may buy all organic local vegetables, but don’t know why you’d be better off buying your paints or canvas from a small local store like Merion Art, rather than at a big-box store or online. Here are some reasons why shopping for your art supplies in person, at small, local stores can be good for you, your community, and your wallet, all at the same time.

In a small brick and mortar store like Merion Art, you can communicate with professionals on staff- Small retail businesses are more likely to hire people with experience in the field they serve, as opposed to big box retail stores. You can ask questions and get an instant answer, amalgamate your trial and error lessons with theirs, and make personal local connections with other artists in your community. Obviously, you can communicate online (we’re doing it right now!), but if you’ve ever sent a misunderstood text or an email that languished in a spam folder past its useful time, you know that face-to-face real-time communication is still faster and more reliable. This is especially true for those of us who have a tendency to use sound effects, hand gestures, or the word “thingy” when describing something we want; retail workers are very, very good at charades and better at guessing games than Google is. 

“I need, like, acrylic, but with some thingies mixed in it for texture, you know? And a silicone brush with like, little *gestures* on the ends?”

Shopping in person allows you to physically see, feel, smell, and experience the things you are thinking of buying- This is essential for artists- shopping local and in-person allows you to check paper, paint, and pastel colors, and try them under different lighting conditions, so that you can assemble a custom palette without guessing. Smell is also important- knowing that a certain product has a strong odor and taking appropriate steps can be important, especially if you have an in-home studio! Shopping in person allows you to test the feel of different kinds of materials. Texture, weight, consistency, and friction matter! When shopping online, you can’t feel the weave or bounce of a canvas, check the tooth of different kinds of paper, swish a brush across your palm to test for spring and softness, or feel the weight of a pen and how it glides and writes. This sensory access to your art materials gives you more control over your creative process.  

You gotta check if it’s a happy little brush.

When you’re physically in the store, you can check quality up close and compare brands in real-time- You can shake the box, kick the tires, and take products for a test run. You can weigh a different paintbrush in either hand and check their balances. You can compare quality and different brands by testing or talking to other artists, and experienced staff. This is important when you’re thinking of upgrading or buying something high end. Buying something new online is always just a guess and a prayer. It’s worth it to remember that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet- sellers online may only want to make a sale, and they will say anything to sell the product. It’s in a local sales associate’s best interest to get you what you actually want or need: they are part of your community, and moreover, they know that if they misrepresent a product, you’ll be back next week to harangue them in person.  

Always a good idea to do a little comparison shopping…

Inspiration is boosted by shopping in person– You can wander down aisles full of products you’ve never even thought about using, and come up with new ideas on how to incorporate them into your work. You can read the backs of boxes, leaf through how-to books, see associated products, find out about specialized tools, and make connections. You might see new colors or mediums that inspire a change in your style, or find the answer to a question you didn’t know you had.

belle bookstore
Me, with an hour to spend in an art store

You may find an amazing deal- A brick and mortar store is all about physical space and logistics. Space is valuable and sometimes a physical store will place things on sale simply to free up more space. This happens in every retail business (think 50% off Halloween candy on Nov 1st), and returning the items to the distributor is often not an option. Most of the time, these items are not damaged or defective in any way. In physical stores, you can often find deep discounts on overstocked items, discontinued stock, superficially scratched-and-dented items, items that will be going out of season, or items that didn’t seem to sell at this particular store (sometimes there just isn’t a local market for an otherwise amazing product). The only way to find these store-specific discounts and deals is to go in and look around in person. The treasure-hunting, bargain finding aspect can be incredibly satisfying for a customer!

“Hmmm, 50% off Holbein Artist Oils… must be a trap.”

Shopping small helps local businesses know what you want to buy- Rather than having to follow some kind of national sales plan, small businesses are able to tailor what they carry to the attitudes and specific needs of the area they are in. Unlike a big-box national chain, if we find there is a large community of encaustic artists in the Main Line area, we can expand our encaustic offerings, and if it turns out no one is into adult coloring books anymore, we don’t have to carry them. Small businesses are not beholden to shareholders in another state, they’re only beholden to their customers. We can immediately give our customers more of what they want and less of what they don’t.

shopping puppy
So you can shop happy!

Shopping local helps the local economy- Money spent at small businesses stays in the community at a much higher rate than money spent at big-box stores. Your tax dollars stay local, improving your roads, your town, your schools, and your life. Shopping locally helps your community: according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance and a multitude of studies, “small-scale, locally owned businesses create communities that are more prosperous, entrepreneurial, connected, and generally better off across a wide range of metrics.”…”These studies find that the increasing size of corporations is driving inequality, while local and dispersed business ownership strengthens the middle class.” Plus, small businesses give a town a unique character, and employees who live and work locally have a vested interest in making the community strong.  It’s a win win!

Ways to Work Art Into Your Back-to-School Prep!

As Summer winds down, inevitably thoughts must turn back to school. This year though, there’s no reason for you to have the same old notebooks and outfits as everyone else. Here are some suggestions of ways you can use art supplies to personalize your school supplies, clothes, accessories, dorm room stuff, shoes, and practically anything else you want to throw some creativity at. Get excited, there’s still enough Summertime left to get ready to make this the best school year yet!
angelusshoes-Use Angelus shoe paints to customize your new kicks, or revitalize last years sneakers or handbags. Check out their instagram for inspiration, or just start splashing your favorite colored paints around! Try a new design to set your stuff apart from everyone else’s and really express your personality.


-Use Marabu fashion spray and Jacquard Lumiere to embellish backpacks and denim jackets and add new visual interest to tired or bland buttondowns. Camouflage a stained shirt, or add your own twist to basic tanks, tees, jeans, leggings, and shoes.

-Upcycle found furniture, or redesign last year’s dorm furniture to give your space a makeover and get a fresh start and a fresh look. Try using Montana Gold spray paints, Jacquard Neopaque, and stencils. Use Marabu’s Glas and Porcelain Painters to personalize cheap mugs and dishware to level up your dorm-room dining experience.

modpodged-Paint and draw on your notebook covers- Sharpies, paint pens, and acrylics are all your friends for taking your boring black-and-white notebook to the next level. Decoupage a collage of your favorite things onto your binder, or try using Golden mediums to coat a slick cover in something that graphite and ink will stick to! Zendoodle is always a great technique for decorating school supplies- just don’t get caught doing it in class!

canvaschair-If it’s canvas, you can paint it! That goes for backpacks, totes, shoes, chairs, pencil cases, and more. Prime it, paint it, dye it, ink it, go nuts! Derwent’s Inktense pencils are great for dying raw canvas with great control, and practically every acrylic paint will work well on canvas items.

For more advice on ways to use art supplies to rev up your school supplies, furniture, outfits, and accessories, come talk to your local art retailer- we’ve got tons of ideas for unique ways to use art supplies to make your stuff truly YOURS!

In Praise of Art Supply Brand Websites

While we at Merion Art always recommend talking to your Art Materials Retailer for information on your art supplies, sometimes it’s more effective to go straight to the source. After all, the people who make your favorite art supplies often have an incredibly deep knowledge of the products they develop. Many art supply manufacturers have websites with a wealth of information that can be useful to the artist who reads carefully. Manufacturer websites can also be a great place to find safety sheets, detailed product specifications, project ideas, art communities, specialized apps, and more. Here are a few manufacturer websites which we feel merit special recognition.


The Golden Artist Acrylic website includes SO MUCH INFORMATION. The caps are warranted: the website not only contains basic product info (How to use GAC 100, 200, etc) it also includes a virtual paint mixer, an interactive color chart, store locator (you don’t need this, since you have us!), how-to videos, and a link to their bi-annual newsletter “Just Paint” which “is a technical resource for painters about the capabilities and possibilities of materials, and (sometimes) their limitations.” It’s incredibly in-depth and it’s a great resource for art nerds.



Along with product specs and usage directions, Gamblin has a gorgeous website with a plethora of useful tidbits. There’s a load of interesting articles and videos on their “Experience Color” page. They have info on Ultramarine Blue and its history, different pallette examples for different applications, and multiple articles on choosing the correct white for your work. They also have a section dedicated to Studio Safety– an important topic for any artist. They’ve also got posts about less-considered aspects of living an artist’s life, like how to travel with art supplies, how to store paintings, and how to effectively clean brushes.



Sakura, who makes Pigma Microns, Cray Pas, and Identi Pens has a wealth of information on their website including applications and technical qualities for most of their products. This tells you how their products can best be used, as well as answering questions about what will remove their inks and what could destroy your work: They often tell if the product is “Not recommended for use on fabrics intended to be washed. Not evaluated for cosmetic use on skin.”


The Speedball Art website has lots of information on the products Speedball specializes in. There’s in-depth info about the history of Speedballs contributions to calligraphy, recommended best practices for blockprinting, and the techniques involved in screenprinting and gold-leafing.



Marabu Creative has a website full of inspiration, instructions, and information. They have page upon page of projects, complete with step by step directions and pictures. They have downloadable and printable instructions organized by difficulty level, as well as the usual informative lists of product specs and usability details. The company is German, so there are occasional small mis-translations, but it just gives the site a little European flair.



At Princeton Artist Brush Co., it’s all paintbrushes, all the time. They’re a fantastic company founded and based in Princeton NJ, and they really care about their brushes and their customers. On their site, you can learn what each shape of brush is intended for, read interviews with featured artists, explore painting techniques, and learn in-depth information about brush anatomy, hair choices, and brush care.


As you can see, these companies don’t just make your favorite brands, they do research and development of new products, gather helpful tips and tricks for artists-at-large, design online tools to help creative people, and their websites are a great place to spend some time. If you’re looking for information, inspiration, or just something to do on the internet, you should definitely dive deep into these websites. Let us know your favorite art company websites in the comments!

3 Reasons to Custom Frame Your License or Diploma

From pet stores, to beauty salons, to lawyers, to doctors, many businesses have official documents which are required by law to be posted in public view. Diplomas, certificates, licenses, awards…there’s a plethora of important paperwork that should be visible to clients and customers. While business people are required to “post” these documents, there is nothing that requires them to be posted nicely. All too often, I see them taped to walls, crooked inside plastic frames, fading in direct sunlight, and crinkling in humidity. Here are 3 reasons I believe you and your business can benefit from custom framing these documents instead.

It looks more professional- The whole reason we are required to post certificates and licenses is to prove that we are trained and certified professionals at what we do. A slap-dash framed license makes you look unprofessional and careless. No one is reassured by seeing a doctor or dentist with a slovenly diploma. If they can’t take care of an important document, how well will they take care of you? Even a Harvard diploma looks trashy when it’s crooked and pressed up against the glass in a cheap frame. A bad frame on your diploma is the equivalent of showing up to work wearing a Snuggie. Sure, you’re technically present, but it’s not going to impress your clients at all. Consider your workplace framing as an important aspect of brand image. Your office likely has a dress code, and I’d suggest your framing should follow it- if your place of business is all scrubs and sensible shoes, a simple no-nonsense frame will convey your attitude and skills to clients waiting for medical care. If you work in an office that’s got a suit-and-tie standard, let your frame impart your competence and professionalism with richly stained wood and linen, or modern minimalist glass and metal.

How Not To Do It: This license is wrinkled, faded, and generally sketchy

It shows pride in your workA Veterinarian I know went a little over the top framing his diploma, and when asked if he was okay with the higher final price and the large frame, he said “This diploma is what I’ve spent the last 8 years working towards, of course I’m going to make a big deal of it.” He was proud of all the work he had put into becoming a doctor, and this diploma was a visible, physical reminder of all he had accomplished. For people in high-stress jobs (and really, what job isn’t stressful?), it can be a powerful reassurance to see a physical representation of their accomplishments. After a difficult day at work, you can see proof of your own achievements hung like a big sign on the wall saying “You did it!” This can be especially helpful for high-achievers who have trouble with “Imposter Syndrome.” Well-framed diplomas, accolades, licenses and certificates can all reassure you, and your customers and clients, that “You’ve earned this.” 


Now that’s an impressive diploma!

It will protect your valuable certificate– Of course, some things are not meant for the grand look- for instance, state-issued business licenses aren’t really intended to be gorgeous framed artwork. We’re not suggesting a full custom frame job on every OSHA flyer! Framing is not just for visual impact, it’s also for protection, and protecting your paper certifications is the practical thing to do. That piece of paper is the legal proof of your hard work and education and professional status- so you should treat it nicely! If it’s not properly framed, it can decay, bleach, fade and become brittle. It will destroy itself, just by being framed cheaply! The important things to make sure you consider (as we’ve repeated almost ad nauseum) are acid free backing and UV protective glass. If UV damage causes the certificate to bleach out, have you really still got your license posted as required? If your “Voted Best” award gets acid burns from the backing and changes color, does that help your business image or hurt it? Is your diploma still valid if the Dean’s signature fades under fluorescent lights?  Most of those kinds of certifications can be re-issued, but if you take the time to frame it right, you won’t have to order a potentially costly or inconvenient replacement.

Merion Art’s License: Not visually exciting, but very well protected!

We hope this post has caused you to think about the state of your certificates, licenses and diplomas. Does your diploma fit the image you want your business to impart to new customers? Does looking at your certification documents make you feel a sense of accomplishment and pride, or does the look of them make you start thinking of excuses? What messages are your posted licenses conveying to your customers and to your staff? If you’d like to improve the look and longevity of your diploma, license or certificate, bring them in and let one of our talented framers take a look. We promise to make it look professional! Click here for a special deal for upgrading your professional certifications!