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Wrendesign is an artist-owned company showcasing about 400 original paintings and also offering a section on illustrated children's stories online which can be downloaded free for single use. This blog is maintained by one of the resident artists. To see our website please click on link above.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Well - that depends!   Why are you buying the painting? 

If it is strictly because you love it then pay what you can afford to indulge your love.  

If it is for "decor" then think of it as a couch or a chair and shop around for a bargain in the color scheme you're after.   In that case it's in the same category as a sofa pillow.

If it is to set the mood of a room, or function as a centerpiece of a room, or draw the eye as a focal point - then you should be a little more careful and be willing to pay a lot for just the right piece.

If it is for "investment" you should know what you are doing - read a previous article on art as an investment.    Your "investment" may go into a safe deposit vault rather than over your couch.

Now that we have that out of the way - let's discuss why paintings cost what they do.   Really good paintings are somewhat scarce.   That does not necessarily mean they are expensive.   Some very good artists are not very good business people - and especially when they are starting out their paintings may be cheap.   But if they do have talent, they will eventually sell their paintings for an amount that earns them a reasonable living (otherwise they will quit!).

The first "cost" of a painting is the materials.    Admittedly this is a small percentage of the cost of good art, but canvas and paints are expensive.     And remember that the artist probably had to paint a lot of unsold canvases before they became experienced and successful.    So don't expect to buy anything any good for $20.00.

The second "cost" of a painting is the labor.   Admittedly this is not always relevant - a good artist may do one wonderful painting in an hour and another of their wonderful paintings may take them 6 months.     Time spent is not equivalent to value.   But, overall, the artist must make a living.    If you judge that a particular artist on average can turn out 12 good saleable paintings a year then each painting is at least worth one month's salary.

The third, and most important, "cost" of a painting is in the creativity.   There is no formula for this.   When the art speaks, it has its own value.    This may far exceed any materials or labor involved.   If you are buying real art this is the ultimate and only criteria of value.    And it can only be judged by the audience - which is you.    (Okay, it can be judged by the market - but then we are back into the investment angle). 

So - first know why you are buying the art in the first place.   Second consider the fair value of the painting just as a product (the labor and materials).   Third, and most important, judge it by the "art" actually there - the creativity.    That is what it is ultimately worth  - with good art you are buying creativity.   

Monday, February 13, 2012


Okay, so you have bought an oil painting, perhaps at an art fair, and it is not framed and the staples show on the side of the canvas.    Most (but not all) oil paintings are done on stretched canvas.    Some artists use more expensive stretched canvas stapled on the back, and then paint the edges that show, so a frame is not necessarily required.    Some don't, believing that their paintings really need a frame to show to best advantage.   It is a matter of taste, opinion, and your pocketbook.

If you need to cover the sides, but don't have any money after you have just spent it all on the artwork, you can always get some thin lath at Home Depot, nail it to the edges and hang it (hopefully temporarily) that way.

The next least expensive option (assuming you are not a carpenter) is to buy a ready made frame at a discount store or an art supply store such as Michael's.    Wait for a sale.   They happen frequently.   This only works if your painting is a standard size.

If you can't find a ready-made frame, and you can't build a frame yourself, you will have to go to a custom frame shop.   These are also found in stores that sell Art Supplies, as well as stand-alone custom frame shops.

The simplest frame is plain wood or metal.   You will select something (called a molding) from which the frame will be made.    The depth of the molding is important.    It should cover, or nearly cover, the full depth of the canvas.   Otherwise you will see the canvas sticking out the back of the frame when viewed from the side.

Very often, you will also want a liner.    This is a fabric covered  piece than goes between the painting and the outer frame.   It is often cream or white linen.    But there are lots of options, many colors, fabrics such as velvet or burlap or leather.     If a liner is in your budget it can really enhance a painting.    A soft floral painting with a pale velvet liner in a complimentary color and a gold baroque frame can be very striking.    A strong bright abstract might benefit from a wide liner of bright white or some color in the painting and a strong gold, brass or silver colored narrow metal frame with a good depth.    The point is, you can really bring the painting to life as a focal point in your room with a good choice of framing.     You should also consider where you plan to place the painting.   What works well in one room might be overwhelming in another.    That is one reason (besides cost) that artists don't often frame their canvases - the best frame may depend on where the painting is going to live.  And some paintings really don't need frames - ones that are too overpowering can distract.

The third thing you can use is a lip.   This is a very narrow piece of wood, usually gold or silver, sometimes wood, that goes between the liner and the canvas.   Depending on the picture it can be very effective.    It can also look like overkill.

On ready-made frames you will often find a lip, a liner, and an outer frame -- though on the less expensive ones these may appear to all be one piece.    They are usually gold-white-gold or brown-white-brown combinations.

A good custom frame shop can help you pick something out for your painting.   But be aware that custom framing is expensive, as is most custom work.    The custom framer will also install the painting into the frame (called fitting).   This involves securing the frame to the canvas (without damaging it), covering the back with paper of some sort as a dust cover, and installing a wire or other hardware to hang it.   They should also give you a good hook.   Note - if you want a metal frame that is not a standard size you will have to use a custom framer unless you have special tools and can find uncut metal picture frame molding.    A custom framer can also re-stretch a canvas onto a narrower stretcher bar if desired to fit a less deep frame, or to remove any looseness.   Note - some "warbling" can be removed by spraying the back of the canvas with water - lightly please!

If you choose to do the fitting yourself, you will need to fasten the frame to the canvas (be careful not to damage the canvas or split the frame).    For wood frames you can use small finishing nails.    Metal frames use brackets which usually come with the frame.   You do not really need to paper-back, but it is a nice touch.   You can buy wire and various types of hangers at hardware stores.   Be SURE to use big enough hardware to hold the weight!

Last note today -- If you buy ready-made metal frames you usually have to buy two packages - one for the height and one for the width.     Be sure the one you buy is deep enough to cover your canvas.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Interior Design With Paintings

Many designers use a painting as a focal point in a room.   It draws the eye in, adds drama, and can set the color scheme and the mood.    Perhaps your client has a favorite artwork they are in love with.   In this case, work with it!    If they are not collectors, and are not sure what they like, you can still use artwork to great effect without infringing on what can be their very personal taste.    In this case, be very sure you have their approval of your selection before you do a lot of designing around it.

Try a large, custom-lighted painting at the far side of an entry hall - it welcomes the guest and draws them it. 

In a living area, a bold central painting can set the tone for the whole room.    This is especially relevant in rooms that are designed for entertaining.

A dining room painting can be quieter, but can definitely set a mood.    Take into account the subdued lighting which will generally be used, perhaps even candlelight on special occasions. 

Master Bedrooms can also benefit from a large quiet painting.   Galleries are also effective here.

Guest bedrooms are often decorated for "fun" - a bright or whimsical abstract might set the tone, you want the guest to remember their visit, and artwork can do the trick.   Take the client's personality into account - they may want their guests to remember a beautiful portrait or a calming forest scene.   If their are several guest bedrooms try making them different and memorable - they might even be "named" after their main painting.

It is easier to decide on the artwork first, and then adjust your color palette to compliment.    You may know you want a blue or a gold accented room, but exactly which shade of blue or gold can be dictated by the artwork selected.    Usually the painter has used colors that are very complementary.   And it is one way to present your color scheme to the client.

And be sure to consider the lighting.    Most paintings benefit from some sort of custom lighting (please not picture lights hanging on top of the frame!).   Use concealed spots with dimmers, or very strategically placed lamps.    If you are considering anything framed under glass, test out the reflections before you place it!

Where to find paintings?   It is somewhat impractical to drag large paintings around to show clients, or to drag clients to where the paintings are.    It is also very time-consuming and geographically limiting to traipse through galleries.   Try the Internet (try us at wrendesign.com - see link above) - there are lots and lots of sites online.    Some are by individual artists, some are run by galleries to establish a wider clientele, some are dedicated art websites that showcase hundreds of artists.     They will all have pictures which you can show your client.    Most will not send a painting on approval unless you have an ongoing relationship and an account with them, but most will also accept returns within a reasonable amount of time, and will refund in full except for shipping charges.    Keep in mind, that crating and shipping large paintings is expensive, and paintings can be damaged with rough handling - so try to be fairly confident of your selection and your client's approval before bringing one in.    However, if you make this a part of your design business it can be very profitable for you and delightful for the client.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

How to Frame Paintings if the Canvas on the Sides of the Stretcher Bar Are Painted Also

Many paintings, both oils and acrylics, are done on stretched canvases where the sides are painted.   The sides may be painted black or a solid color or the painting itself may extend around the sides.

This may be because the artist thought the painting looked better without a frame, or it may be just because a frame is expensive and cumbersome and heavy for shipment, and may not be what the client wants in the end anyway.   Very often paintings displayed in galleries are hung without frames.

If you like your painting the way it is, just hang it and be happy.   This is very common today, especially with abstract paintings. 

If you prefer it framed there are two options.

One - if the stretcher bar is narrow - some are only 3/4", you can just put it into a standard frame (if it is a standard size) or pick something out at your custom framers.

Two - if it is a wide stretcher bar you will have to consider that.   A 2" stretcher bar won't fit in most standard frames without making the finished picture stick out from the wall too far.   If that is the case you can:

   A. Choose a frame with a deep rabbit (that's what they call the cut inside the molding that actually holds the picture.)   You can find some that have a deep rabbit - usually they are fall-away frames.

   B. Have your custom framer take the canvas off the wide stretcher bar and put it on a narrower one.  Then frame it as you normally would.
Canvases are often removed from stretcher bars.   This may be to:
   1. Reframe it on a narrower bar
   2. Tighten a loose canvas
   3. Facilitate shipment (it is much cheaper to roll up a big canvas and ship it in a tube than to crate a very large painting.

What the framer often cannot do is save the part of the picture that is painted on the edge of the stretcher bar. Generally the artist does not expect this part to be saved, they painted it merely to facilitate hanging in the gallery without a frame - some artists and galleries think it looks much better than painting the edges black.

When the framer restretches the canvas onto a new (or old) stretcher bar, it is difficult or sometimes impossible to line up the edges exactly as they were.    The creases will show.   This is no problem if you are using a frame.    If you are not using a frame, the edges will probably have to be touched up in places, which may or may not be a satisfactory solution. 

We are sometimes asked if the painting cannot be "expanded" so the edges will become part of the flat surface.   This is not really an option.   The perspective will not look right, and the corners will not be painted as they have been folded under.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Signed and Numbered Editions - What Does it Mean?

Original Graphics and Limited Edition Prints (included Giclee) are usually signed and numbered.

They are supposed to be signed by the artist (but in actual practice, in large editions, they may delegate someone else to sign them).

They are numbered like this   125/500.  

This indicates number 125 out of a total of 500.

In the case of actual original graphics (such as if pulled off a lithograph stone) the first number is supposed to be the actual place in the edition.   2/100 would be the 2nd print pulled out of a total of 100.   Lower numbers may (or may not) be more valuable as presumably the stone would be less worn.   But also, the artist sometimes makes changes during the run, so # 30 may be slightly different from #29, etc.    Since the artist presumably approves each print before signing any print in the edition should be okay.

In the case of limited edition prints done photographically (including Giclees) all the prints should be exactly the same, barring some flaw in the paper or something.   So, the lower numbers should be no more valuable than any other.    In actuality, the prints are usually not numbered in the order they came out anyway - they are usually numbered by what is most convenient, such as in what order they arrive in front of whomever is doing the numbering (probably not the artist).   The value lies in the fact that there are a limited number of them.

The total in the edition can be misleading anyway.   There are always a number of artist's proofs.   These are not counted in the total edition.   In the old days, the artists proofs were the first printings and the artist either approved them or made changes before proceeding.    Sometimes, they were "extras" given to the artist to enhance their income.   At any rate, they are never counted in the total edition, and there is no way to know how many there were, but there are usually not a huge quantity.
If you see one for sale it will be signed and say AP in lieu of the normal edition #.   Since they are frequently seen, I assume this is still standard practice even with limited edition prints.

As for the signature.   Let us assume that the artist actually signs each print.   In large editions this is not always true, but it is generally not possible to know. 

One other thing - with current technology, it is no longer necessary that the artist order the whole edition printed at the same time.   Once the up-front scanning cost is done, they need only order a few prints at a time.   And they do not have to number them in the order printed.   Thus you might get #34 out of 50 but only 12 have actually yet been printed.    I am not saying that all artist's do this, but it is accepted practice. 

Original Graphics - What Are They?

There is a category of art known as Original Graphics. These are truly original, as the artist created them by drawing directly on multiple lithograph stones or silkscreens or woodblocks or copper plates or some similar thing.    They were created with the express intention of making multiple copies - there is no "original" painting being copied.    The resulting images may each be slightly different due to alignment etc., or they may even be done in different colors, but they are essentially the same picture. They are usually signed and numbered and in limited edition as the screens etc. tend to wear out. They will be numbered like this -- 14/50, meaning this is #14 or an edition of 50. They are "original" but not in the sense of an original painting which is one of a kind. But they do have a value as an original creation.   (It is possible for an artist to make an original lithograph or silkscreen or etching of their own original painting but this is very unusual as the techniques are so different as to render the resulting graphic not very similar to the painting.   They would more likely be considered different works of art.)    In the past this was a common way for artists to make their work more affordable to their public.   It is still used by some artists to obtain specific effects.

Sometimes photographic prints are called "Original Graphics".    These are photographic prints of a painting that actually exists.    But they are not always labeled as such.   They should be called limited edition prints.  They can be done on paper or canvas and be any size.   In fact, they are often available in a choice of sizes.   Giclees fall into this category.   In such cases the original painting may also be available for sale.   The edition may be very large and neither signed nor numbered.    Or it may be quite small,  signed by the original artist and numbered. The value increases if the edition is limited.   There can also be great variation in the quality of the photography, the printing, the inks used, the number of inks used, and the quality of the paper or canvas.

Do not disdain these, if of high quality.   It can cost an artist hundreds of dollars to have a large painting photographed or scanned on high-quality scanner (which itself can cost thousands of dollars), and the printing is also very expensive if high quality inks and paper are used.   It does give the artist a wider audience though, and it allows more people to enjoy their work at an affordable price.

These are worth more than regular "prints" which are usually printed by a publisher and distributed in large quantities and also called graphics (which is really just a generic term).    There are high quality prints distributed by the art houses such as New York Graphics, and lower quality posters which you can buy everywhere for $3.   But they are not limited editions and almost never signed in pencil.

See the next blog for information on numbered editions.

What is an "Original" Painting

This is somewhat confusing to those not in the field.   In the art field a true original means one painting created directly by the artist - as in an artist stands at an easel and produces an oil or acrylic painting.    Actually two or more artists could collaborate, but there is still only one painting.   The definition of what is painting can be broad, but the result is always ONE original artwork.

Copies may subsequently be made, as in prints, posters, photos, or even hand-done copies done by other artists, but there is only one "original".

Artists can, and frequently do, authorize copies of their originals to supplement income and make art more affordable.    These are usually now done with digital cameras or scanners and a high-quality printer.    They can be quite expensive if done to high standards.   Usually they are done in a limited quantity, and often they may be signed and numbered by the original artist.    They can be printed onto high quality paper or onto canvas.   They do not have to be the same size as the original.   

Giclee prints fall into this category.    When done on canvas, they can look very much like the original.   Sometimes they are hand textured with a clear gel to give the feel of brushstrokes.    This is usually done by a technician, not the artist.  There is nothing wrong with this - they make art affordable to more people and help support the artist.    But they should not be confused with a true original, which is one of a kind.    A giclee print may have an edition of 50 or an edition of thousands.    As an example, the original of a particular  painting may cost $10000, while a good quality giclee print on canvas of the painting in a limited edition may cost $500.    These should be labeled in galleries as giclee reproductions, but sometimes they are called giclee originals.  

There is another type of "original" painting that is in the market.   These are actually done by people (usually in places where wages are low) in a mass production line fashion.   One method is to have an artist stand on a podium before 50 other workers, all in front of a canvas.   The artist says, paint a tree on the left like this, the 50 copy it, and so on until the picture is done.   Another method is to have the pictures move down an assembly line, and each worker adds one element, such as the tree, which he has been trained to paint.   The output is 50 or more "originals" which are all essentially the same painting.    A third method is to have an artist make many quick copies of the same painting.    These are the "originals" you see offered for very low prices at art "sales" and in some furniture stores.   They are original only in that they are paint on canvas, they are not one of a kind.    If you see a large framed painting touted as an original and on sale for $150 it is probably one of these.   No artist could survive at such prices.

In my next post I'll touch on Original Graphics.