Merion Art Blog
A Quick Personal Story and A Challenge:
In a college studio art class, my professor did an experiment. As a quiz, without Googling, he asked the class to name 50 artists in 10 minutes. “Piece of cake!” we thought, and started listing. He continued, “-who are ALIVE TODAY,” and we froze, crossing Michelangelo, Picasso, Pollack, and DaVinci off the list, minds racing, Art History majors panicking.
50 suddenly seemed like a much larger number, and we almost immediately tried to stretch the time limit, and the definition of “artist,” and “alive,” and “today,” to make more names count: “Ray, do we count? We’re all artists, there’s like 10 kids in this class, okay, how about you and all our other professors, cool that’s 15, oh, that guy that died just last week, can he count? Yeah, I know I hadn’t heard about him ‘til he died, but-”.
Dead Artists’ Society
This exercise was meant to point out that the most easily recognizable names in Art History are dead, and most have been dead for hundreds of years, but the landscape of the art world is always changing. It requires constant effort to keep up with changing times -going to galleries, reading art news, doing research- but that effort is worthwhile.
If this challenge still sounds like a piece of cake to you (good for you!), take it up a notch. The most easily recognizable names in Art History are also overwhelmingly male, white, and European. If asked to name 30 living female artists, could you get 30 in 10 minutes? How about 30 female artists, period? Without cheating!
Could you name 25 black artists, any nationality? Or 20 American artists, alive or otherwise? How about just 15 Asian artists? Try 5 local artists- can you name 5 artists working right now in a 5 mile radius of your town or nearest city? They do exist, even in the suburbs!
Take 10 minutes today to learn about living artists. See what new things people are trying with contemporary technology and what they have to say about modern-day issues. Starry Night and the Mona Lisa aren’t the end all and be-all of artwork, lots has happened in the last hundred years that’s worth painting.
Take 10 more minutes to specifically research female artists, and non-Caucasian artists, both working today and throughout history. Their work will educate and inspire. They are around, and they are fascinating. They’ve always been in the art world, pushing aesthetic boundaries, exploring issues of race and gender, and just generally defying the image of an artist as a white guy with a mustache, a palette, and a jaunty beret.
Make it a point to learn about local artists, even (especially) those who haven’t yet been “discovered”- take a look at what’s on display at the nearest gallery, even if you’re in a small town, or check out local art fairs. See the kind of art made by people living and working in the same time and place as you do, and see if the things you have in common foster a deeper connection and understanding of their artwork.
I promise the effort is still worthwhile!
Look around your room. Is there some art on the walls? Nice! Is it more than 10 years since that frame was opened? Less nice. Think about your basement or attic- is there any framed artwork stored there? Even less nice.
Once something has been framed, the inclination is to leave it alone, pretty much forever. After all, it’s framed, it’s done: the only thing worse than re-doing a bad job is re-doing a good one. While it’s true that a good frame job will preserve and display artwork for a good, long time, nothing is permanent, and eventually it’s time to take your art down and bring it to see a custom framer for a checkup or a refresh. Here are some reasons you should consider reframing or refitting your old art and photographs.
(Reframing describes taking the art out of its old frame and choosing a new frame and or mat. Refitting involves taking art out of its old frame and putting it back in without changing out the mat, glass, or frame.)
This is the most obvious reason to change the frames on decorative artwork. While framers often recommend “framing to the piece,” not to the room it’s destined for, most people consider their home’s aesthetic when picking out a framing package. That frame may have gone with your decor when it was chosen, but you’ve got new furniture and new paint now. If it’s a very old piece, the colors of mats and frames may have shifted or faded over time, and a combo that looked great now clashes. If it’s a piece you inherited or something that’s been through a move or two, maybe it was designed for an entirely different house in an entirely different style. And hey, maybe your personal tastes have just changed over time- something you loved in your twenties is going to look very different to a 40 year old.
The frames we chose in 1995 are not the frames we would choose for 2017. Even something as straightforward as metallics go through changing trends: In the 80’s we were into shiny silver chrome, in the 90’s we loved that brassy gold, and the last 10 years have been all about gunmetal and copper, and recently rose-gold. The point is, simply swapping out the mat and frame can totally revitalize a piece of art that feels tired or dated. It’s the same as reupholstering an antique chair or changing the tailoring on a vintage dress- little tweaks can bring it into this decade and give it years of new life.
*(As I was writing this post, an object lesson came in- an antique map, which has been in its frame for probably 50 years. Below, you can see three pictures: the first shows the dinged and dated frame, too thin for the piece, with no mat. In the third photo you can see the backing, mid-century cardboard, which is starting to break down and mildew. In the middle, you can see the back of the artwork, which is stained and brittle from being against the cardboard.
The map will be getting a gorgeous cream 100% cotton rag mat, a cream acid free backing, and a classic black and gold frame. A checkup and a reframe are going to save this cool 1930’s map for generations to come!)
Check-up on Art Condition
If you have a very old piece of original artwork or an old photo, you might want to refit just in order to give your art a checkup. This is an especially good idea for artwork that was already framed when you received or purchased it. It’s good to know just how the frame was put together, whether the mats and backing are acid free, and whether the glass is uv protective. We once saw a piece that a customer had inherited from a family member, and wanted to make sure it was well preserved. When we popped the backing off, it turned out the frame was good, the mat was fine, but it was mounted using duct tape and an old piece of 1960’s wood paneling- NOT the PPFA recommended method for hinging delicate artwork!
This is really a checkup for your art- when you go to the doctor for a checkup, it’s not because something is wrong, it’s to stop things going wrong in the future, and to touch base with a professional who knows what to look out for. Having a framer take a look behind the dustcover once every decade or so is a very good way to keep your art in good condition for years to come.
Clean Glass and Dust
If you’ve got some art that’s been sitting framed in a basement or attic covered in cobwebs, or lives in a humid bathroom, or salty and dusty shore-house, or even just a frame that hasn’t got a good dust-cover on the back, this might be the reason to get it re-framed or refitted. Dust, insects, dirt, humidity and oils can get behind the glass and make your artwork look grubby and gross. Out-gassing from incorrectly framed artwork can fog the insides of the glass. Let a framer take the glass off and clean it, brush off any residue, give the frame itself a good rubdown and then put the whole shebang back together with a new dust-cover- it will give a dirty old frame a new lease on life. It can even be economical: a cleaning and refit is cheap compared to the cost of buying new artwork- you can spend a fraction and take care of the artwork you already have.
This is especially important for a frame that has escaped some kind of catastrophe- flood, fire, etc. We had a customer bring in a sweet cross-stitch that had escaped a house fire but not the fire-hoses- it had some moisture stains and discoloration, but no actual structural damage to the frame. The customer’s aunt had made it and given it as a gift decades ago. The customer felt obliged to display it every time the aunt visited, but the rest of the year, she was so embarrassed and put off by the outdated frame and water stains that it lived in a closet. We chucked the old frame, had the cross-stitch laundered, and put it in a fresh new mat and frame- now it’s lovely and clean, and on the wall all year round.
This may sound like an odd reason, but it’s a valid one: frames are heavy, and glass can shatter. Frames need to be treated carefully or they could be a hazard! I knew a family who hung a framed piece next to a heavy door. Every time one of their kids closed the door hard, the piece would drop off the wall, and the glass would shatter everywhere. This happened multiple times before we suggested reframing using plexi- no more problem!
Another time, we had a customer who wanted to re-use an antique frame. When we got it, it was so loosely joined and damaged that it easily shifted into a rhombus and could barely hold a screw without falling apart. That’s bad enough as-is, but then the customer cheerfully mentioned that he intended to hang it over the baby’s crib. There were looks of horror all around, while we imagined this heavy frame disintegrating and the glass plummeting towards an unsuspecting child! Sometimes it’s time to reframe for safety’s sake: let the framer pick you a brand new frame that’s structurally sound!
New Framing Technology
One of the best reasons to replace a frame, mat, and glass is the advent of new framing technology. Sure, Grandma’s wedding photo was framed with state-of-the-art framing tech in 1945, but we’ve got acid free mats, conservation glass, new frames, and better backings now. This is hugely important for things of sentimental value. You’ll want to reframe to avoid mat burn, UV-bleaching, and out-gassing that comes from the breakdown of old framing materials. If your treasured family snapshots are fading to that vintage Instagram-filter greenish orange, it’s time to reframe. If it has been more than 20 years since your item was framed, chances are we may have something new to show you! When your photos have lasted another 100 years, you can thank us…
Reframing the Conversation
I hope we’ve given you some food for thought! As professional custom framers we always want what’s best for you and your artwork. A good frame provides both decoration and preservation, and we always want to make sure your frames are lookin’ good and working well. As always, feel free to leave any questions in the comments!
For the savvy artist, shopping for art supplies can be a delicate balancing act. You try to walk the fine line between buying the highest quality materials and going broke. The trick is knowing which items you can save on, and which items to splurge on. We often trade tips about where we can cut corners and how to save money, but what about the other side of the equation? We asked our staff of experienced artists: when buying art supplies, which things do you always recommend spending a little extra money on?
“A little goes a long way”
J (Sales Associate and Painter)- recommends always choosing a high quality paint, especially for oil. He recommends Williamsburg and Holbein. Why? “Color, color, color! The cheaper oils never have the luminosity or depth of color as the good stuff. And mixing is a nightmare- colors turn to mud so quickly!” Sarah (Office Assistant and Mixed Media Artist) concurs, saying “Better to get a small tube of good paint than a big tube of junk. With artist’s grade paint, a little goes a long way.” High quality paint is more highly pigmented. You can always thin it down, but you can’t do much to improve a low quality paint.
“It’s hard to get it to do what you want, unless it’s high quality!”
Darryl, Justine and Caroline all agreed that what they splurge on is the substrate– which makes sense: a good substrate is the foundation of your artwork. Draftsman and Sales Associate Daryl says “Paper! It’s tempting to buy cheap stuff at first, but you’ll notice how much the quality of the paper will start to matter in the long run. You’ll notice a difference in the ability to erase for extended drawings, and cheaper paper will yellow over time.”
Caroline (Acrylic Painter and newbie Sales Associate) suggests using high quality canvas, like Masterpiece “With canvas, the thicker it is, the better it looks, and a high quality canvas takes the paint better” Justine put in a good word for artist grade watercolor paper– A quality brand like Arches watercolor paper will perform differently than cheaper papers: “It’s just so much better quality than a student grade paper, and it’s hard to get it to do what you want unless it’s high quality”
“You’re gonna want the Gold!”
Keith, (Mixed Media Artist and Floor Manager) also encourages looking at different levels of quality even within one brand. “If I’m doing any kind of mixed media layering, make sure to use Montana Gold spray paint rather than Montana Black.” Montana Gold is acrylic based, which allows it to react properly with the other waterbased media . “The pigments in Montana are much better than those in Krylon or other discount brands, and if you’re doing any acrylic or waterbased stuff, you’re gonna want the Gold.”
When you’re dealing with specialty products, it’s important to get them right- after all, you chose them for their special properties. That’s why Justine (Purchasing Manager and Painter) advises spending a little extra on “Gold things.” Whether it’s watercolor, oil paint, acrylics: It’s worth it to invest a little to get a good metallic. If you’re looking for a certain shine and sparkle, it’s best to upgrade- low quality metallics can end up looking cheap and gaudy. “Student quality doesn’t have the same lustre as an artists quality”. She particularly likes the look she gets using Finetec watercolors and Golden acrylic golds.
“You’re gonna change your couch sooner than you’ll change your art…”
Dave (Sculptor and Floor Manager) believes in splurging on custom framing. It’s the best protection for your artwork, and it will last a long, long time. If the upfront cost is divided over the number of years you’ll be displaying the frame, it’s not really a splurge at all. He pointed out “You’re gonna change your couch sooner than you’ll change your art, if it’s going to be on your wall for 20 years, it’s worth spending some money on it.”
Dave also ascribes to the old adage that a craftsman is only as good as his tools. “Especially when you’re talking about sculpting, high quality tools are going to last longer and stay sharper, and keep you safer if you’re carving. Brushes, carving tools, ceramic tools… most of the time, you get what you pay for.” And a good set of tools will pay you back for years to come.
Justine agrees, and endorses Winsor & Newton Eclipse brushes, “Even if you’re gentle with your brushes, high quality brushes will keep their shape longer and perform better over time”. She also advises giving some attention to often overlooked tools, like erasers and pencil sharpeners. Don’t try to cut costs just because they’re the little things. Cheap erasers can smear and smudge and transfer color onto your artwork, and “Cheap sharpeners dull out really quick, I specifically recommend the KUM brand sharpeners. With higher end sharpeners you can replace the blades when they get dull”
“The concentrated pigment really makes colors pop”
Jen (Marketing Manager and Pastel Artist) predictably plugged high quality oil pastels. “Sennelier oil pastels. They’re so high end- they have so much pigment and they glide smoothly. Because they’re so high quality, a little goes a long way and the concentrated pigment really makes colors pop. You really don’t need too many colors- One of the small sets is all you need. They are great for details and accents, in oil pastel pieces and mixed media”
“Go higher grade for your favorite color”
When Cory (Hand Lettering Guru and Sales Associate) was asked what he recommends spending extra money on, he immediately replied “Your favorite color. I always tell people, go higher grade for your favorite color. If you’re buying oil paints, buy everything else in Winton and buy your favorite colors in Williamsburg, if you’re buying watercolors, buy everything else student grade and your favorite color in Daniel Smith.” The colors you love to look at are the colors where you will really notice a difference in quality.
Obviously the idea of what is “Worth it!” will vary from person to person and medium to medium, but we hope this has given you an idea of how we like to prioritize when we shop for art supplies. You don’t need to always be using the best of the best, or the cheapest of the cheap, but we each have our specific areas where we feel it’s best to sacrifice bargain prices for quality. We hope you benefit from our trial and error!
Feel free to ask us any questions about the stuff we prefer, and be sure to leave a comment and tell us what high quality items you make sure to buy!
Get Looking Around!– This is the time of year for outdoor art and craft fairs and plein air painting. Get out there and see who is doing what! It’s a great time to take a stroll and see what your neighborhood artists have been up to all Winter. Talk with artists with similar styles and compare techniques. Check out outdoor art shows and observe new trends and styles. Support local artists and craftsmen by buying directly from them at these events!
Get Framed!– Take your vacation snapshots, your gorgeous panoramas, and all your getaway sketches to our framing counter and let us preserve your Summer memories in a gorgeous frame!
Ah, summer! Season of lovely weather, time off, and outdoor art fairs! Art fairs are a great opportunity for professional and semi-professional artists, especially those just starting out. Your art gets exposure, you see what the local art scene looks like, and you get a free critique on the work you’ve done, all while (hopefully) making money, without having to quit your day job.
If you’re an artist participating in one of the myriad art and craft festivals this season, or an artist who thinks they might want to, here is a list of what you’ll need to do, and some suggestions about what to bring, from a seasoned art fair veteran.
Things To Consider
Consider the Weather– Precipitation in the forecast? Bag everything, gather tarps, and make sure your tent is waterproofed. High winds? You’re going to want some tent weights- SERIOUSLY. (see that blue tent above, in the middle distance? We found it upside-down on top of our tent on the second day of that fair, because of high winds and no weights. Don’t ask what happened to her artwork…) Humid day? Silica gel packets are your best buddy, put them in everything except your mouth. 90 degree heat? Consider giving out free ice water. Holiday market in the northeast? Maybe bake some cookies.
Have a Good Attitude– smile constantly, say hello, compliment people, pet puppies, make casual conversation. Make friends with your neighbors at the other tents- you’re all in this together. Form relationships and tell stories- people love to talk to the artist about art they enjoy.
Know Your Audience – What kind of town are you in? What kind of event are you at? Is this the sort of place where you’d spend $500+ on an original, or is this more of a $10 print for a kids bedroom wall venue? Dress, act, and display accordingly. My booth and outfit look differently at an outdoor summer casual art-and-music festival than at an winter indoor holiday ladies-shopping-event in a gallery.
Dress to Impress- tailor your look to the weather and the kind of event you are at. Remember you are your art’s best salesperson. Looking friendly and attractive makes people more comfortable, and comfortable customers will stay and chat – and shop. Plus, dressing nicely can give you more confidence, and buyers are impressed by confidence.
Standardize– For ease of use, I suggest you make prints at the standard sizes that companies make ready-made paper, frames, and mats for. This will make printing, matting, bagging, framing, and pricing SO. MUCH. SIMPLER. If you work in circles or squares or something unusual, at least try to repeat the same sizes/shapes. This will also make your displays look more uniform and organized. Standard art sizes are 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, 16×20, etc.
Find a Buddy– make friends with another artist or craftsman with a complementary style to yours and share a booth, or get adjoining booths. This allows you to have someone to talk to, plan with, commiserate with, carry things with, redesign the booth with, not to mention someone to watch your booth when you need to pee. Make friends with your fellow artists. If the customers aren’t biting, they are the only thing that will get you through the day, and you can often make a trade, artwork for artwork. Some of my favorite art in my house has been bartered for after a long day at an art fair.
Tell Your Friends– tell your family, tell your coworkers, tell your neighbors, tell your spouse’s coworkers, share on Facebook, tweet, etc, etc, and so on. Make sure everyone knows about your fair. Bring more people out for these events. Your people don’t usually buy from you, but if everyone selling at the fair brought 3 friends in, everyone at the fair would do a lot better.
Things to Bring: Your Art Fair Checklist
- Business license, tax ID #, or other paperwork- Some shows require you display several, others don’t even require you to have them, much less display them. Make sure you know what kind of official documentation and paperwork you need before showing up at the sale.
- 10×10 tent, white roof– This is the standard size of an outdoor art and craft sale booth. Make sure you know how to set it up beforehand. White is best for lighting- I’ve used a red and a tan one in the past, tan makes it look dark, and red makes the booth look like an oven.
- Square reader and Smartphone– free to get, small fee for credit card processing. This allows you to take credit cards, as well as keep track of cash and check transactions. You can go cash only, but these days, it pays to be connected.
- Change– In a cashbox or zip pouch or belt pouch. Make sure you have enough for the day, in case you can’t leave your booth or there isn’t a bank nearby. Make sure someone is watching this at all times.
- Receipt paper– if you use a Square reader, technically you are required to be able to provide a paper receipt if asked for one. I have never been asked for one.
- Business Cards– so people know where to find your creative self once they get home and regret not buying that painting they hemmed and hawed about for 40 minutes. Also good for picking up comissions for people who like your style.
- Twine, Heavy Packing Tape, Scissors and Paper Towels– Word to the wise: there are very few situations in which having twine, tape, scissors, and paper towels on hand is not a great idea. They will get you through a number of potential issues, in life as well as art fairs.
- Zip Ties– to hang art, repair broken things, add support to tent poles, emphatically attach things to other things
- Clippers– to remove the zip ties. Very important.
- Magnets, hooks, clips, and wires– to hang pictures on grids, hang artwork off the tent, and attach tent sides or curtains or tarps.
- Easels, grids, crates– and other ways to display framed work upright. This is where the magnets, hooks, clips and wires come in. There are commercially available grids made for this purpose, but you can use old doors, wire mesh grids, garden latticework; anything that works for you.
- Tables– to display things on and act as a register space. When you’re placing tables, make sure you think about the arrangement of your booth- consider flow, visibility, and customer comfort: can customers move freely through your booth and see your artwork well?
- Comfy chair– you’ll be there for several hours, and selling can really take it out of you. Also, with certain layouts, standing in a 10×10 tent can seem overeager and scare off customers, sitting allows them to browse.
- Salty snacks and cold Gatorade (or croissants and hot coffee, if seasonally appropriate)- see above re: selling can really take it out of you, especially at a summer fair. You’ll need to replenish electrolytes and nutrients. I absolutely consider Fritos to be a nutrient.
- Baskets or print rack for displaying bagged prints– pick baskets or racks that fit your aesthetic- rustic, modern, metal, wood, white, multicolored, naturally stained, etc.
- Attractive table cloths– again, try to match your aesthetic. White or black is a good bet all around, but if you’ve got a funky colorful vibe, feel free to mix it up.
With all this stuff, you should be prepped and ready to go for any outdoor fair this year! Remember that Merion Art and Repro is here for all your art fair prep needs! Our Repro and Framing departments are your source for prints, frames, backing, and clearbags to display your art, and our Art Supply department has tape, framing wire, pigma microns, easels, and other supplies! (Now, if only we sold Gatorade and Fritos…)
… is exactly what I asked a coworker of mine at the art store when she told me that she refuses to use anything else.
This is when the law of attraction kicked in, opening my eyes to the small but very dedicated fan base that gouache has as a painting medium. The thing was, I never really saw too many people actually using it, but that’s because until that point I didn’t have my eyes open.
(A quick aside, for those of you only coming across this medium in writing, gouache is pronounced “gwash” – not goosh, not goo-ake, not g-whoa-che, or a hundred other pronunciations that come up as seemingly reasonable options.)
Returning to the question, the answer is simply this: Gouache is opaque watercolor. It comes in either tubes or in pans, dilutes and reactivates with water, and can be used on paper. Unlike watercolor, gouache will sit on top of the paper in a superficial layer, creating a painterly effect. Gouache uses pigment that is more coarsely ground, usually with a higher pigment-to-binder ratio. Additionally, chalk may be added to increase the opacity.
And it looks suh-weet.
A whole new world
The aforementioned coworker (who we’ll call Julia, because that’s her name) had a small exhibit of works that were gouache on paper, which spun my head right ’round and gave me a glimpse into the potential of the style.
The colors were flat and opaque on the thick watercolor paper, yet just as vivid as any oil or acrylic paint. The even distribution of each color gave the appearance of a print.
As an illustrator with a preference for cartoons, seeing the medium in use seemed to fit right in to place. For me it seemed that gouache filled in the gap between the even distribution of color and dynamic control employed by alcohol markers, and the and the opaque, definite coverage of acrylic and oil paint.
And it goes hand in hand with countless wet and dry media alike. On a background of watercolor paint, gouache can go over the top to bring say, a cartoon character in a scene to the forefront. It also goes well to create different effects when used alongside pastels, chalk, conte, colored pencils, and even graphite.
Think you’ve never seen a piece in gouache? Think again!
Before our modern era of digital colorization, gouache served several uses in the artistic and commercial realms. Heck, many brands such as Winsor and Newton and Daler Rowney still call their own lines ‘Designer’s Gouache’. The very clothes on your back, the building you live in, or the car you drive (assuming that it’s old enough) could have been designed originally with gouache paint.
Like comic books? How about movies? Some animated cels for films have even used gouache as color for its consistency and opacity.
So give it a shot
If you’re looking for a new way to express yourself and want to get into something with a slight learning curve, but fits right in with your heavy-body painting skill set, give gouache a try.
Like watercolor, it all you gotta do is squeeze it out of the tube, add some water, mix it up, and you’re good to go!
The trick lies in the consistency. You just want to make sure that the paint is wet enough to come off of your brush evenly, but thick enough that the strokes level out onto the surface into one layer without streaking. Try it for yourself and see.
Happy painting, friends!