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Mike Sexton's Art Buying Guide


I'm very pleased to announce that thanks to all of your votes I am one of the two winners of the Anata Gallery art contest for May 2011!  With the help of all of you who voted for me my work will now not only be featured in their gallery book but also be appearing on the cover of the book which means terrific exposure that money can't buy! I thank each of you who took the time to vote for me, to have your friends & family vote for me as well; it means a great deal to an artist to have that kind of public support.

art book cover

Positives for Purchasing Art Online

These days you can see just about every style of art there is to be seen online in the comfort of your own home or office.  This saves you a tremendous amount of time where you don't have to go walk around a huge gallery, drive a long distance and end up looking at art that you have no idea who painted it, what materials they used, etc.   You'll be surprised how many people just love art and are not experts on techniques, painters' names or styles.  Another benefit to buying art online is the fact that at most online galleries, you will get a short biography on the artist who painted the piece as well as their style & price.  What if you have a question that isn't answered at the online gallery you're viewing?  Well in the real world, sometimes finding someone to help answer your questions can take you a tremendous amount of time & there are even times when you won't find anyone who can help you at all.  When you browse online galleries you generally have the option to email the artist directly and then you can have your answer within minutes- depending on how busy the artist is and when they're checking their email but that's still a huge bonus over scouring an entire gallery for someone to help you.

Reasons for Purchasing Art

I'm sure it seems like the obvious thing but in truth many people overlook this point as their basis for buying art in the first place.  You have to know WHY you are purchasing art in order to get the right piece.  Think about it for a moment, are you buying a painting for someone you love, for your home, for the office decor or maybe as an investment piece?  Or perhaps you want to start collecting artwork from a particular artist to build up a nice collection.  Each reason I've shown you as well as others you might have in mind require a different outlook when you're purchasing from the style of art, the subject matter to the most obvious- the price.  Not too many people want to spend a few thousand on a painting they're just going to hang up in their living room or hallway but on the other hand, if you're wanting your first piece of art for investment reasons, you won't want to pick up a 5 x 7 picture of a fruit salad in a plastic frame.  Also, don't just consider the piece you're looking for but also the artist, their reputation as well in determining the price of the piece.  Naturally, a very well-known artist who sells a lot of their work and is featured in many showings will charge more for their work than someone who's just beginning in the art world.

What's more important? The latest trends or Personal Taste?

Let's face it, we all fall into this trap at some point in our lives- whether it's to do with clothes, cars and yes, even art.  There are so many people who purchase an art piece simply because the style is popular or the artist is very well-reknowned yet they honestly don't like the piece they bought at all-they bought it just to be "fashionable".  Well speaking from personal experience and as an artist myself I want to give you a big tip that is too often overlooked but it is the VERY reason you should be buying art in the first place- because YOU LOVE IT!!  Don't worry about the latest trends in art styles or the popular subject matter for paintings or even how the frame looks that the piece came in.  First and foremost before going any further in the purchasing process ask yourself this- " DO I really like this piece?", "Does it speak to me?"  These are the sorts of questions you need to ask yourself before you even talk to the artist.  I will admit it, naturally I want people to purchase my work BUT most importantly I want them to be in love with it, to have it speak to them in some form, have it convey an emotion to them that just cries out "I have to have that painting!!"  Unlike a car or a blouse, always go with your personal taste and intuition when purchasing any form of artwork.  I would be willing to bet that any artist worth their weight will give you the same advice.

For Sale!

"Calling for Family"
8 x 10 inches
wolves in winter painting
"Raven Sunrise"
10 x 8 inches
raven Celtic knot painting

What Sort of Medium Should I Choose?

As you may well know, art comes in so many forms;  I can't even begin to do them justice here but as a few examples:  you have watercolors, oils, acrylics, photographs, digital art, statues, murals, etc.  Which style is the most valuable or the most respected?  The truth is that the medium the artist used to create their painting means very little in the end buying decision if you're truly in love with the piece.  Take for example, I'm going to a site that sells acrylic paintings and even though I've never owned such a painting and never really cared for that medium, I find a piece that speaks to me; it has a beautiful bright and bold tropical rainforest scene with a gorgeous flock of birds in the foreground and I'm just in awe of the craftmanship this artist has used.  Would I just say to myself," Mike, you hate acrylic paintings, don't waste your money on that"?  NO WAY in the world would I be this foolish!! Naturally I'd buy this piece because it spoke to me, it gave me something that transcends the paint used or the surface where it was painted on.  This is the sort of mindset you have to get yourself into.  There are so many wonderful pieces of art that are being created every day around the entire world in various mediums- from acrylic to digital paintings to 3-D images- what makes any of these styles less important than another?  Absolutely nothing but your own taste.  If you see a watercolor painting and love it- buy it!!  If you see a digital painting that speaks to your soul- buy it!!  Do you see where I'm coming from here?  If you're brand new to the art world, let me give you a few definitions of some of the more popular styles:
1. Abstract- This is art where the artist an artist either exaggerates or simplifies the form of the subject to attach emotion or other meaning to it.
2. Art Deco- A form of abstract art, this celebrates technical advances of the 1920's and 30's. Art deco paintings have a slick, metallic look, they include jarring angles & use machinery colors.
3. Gouache watercolors- This is a type of watercolor that include white pigments that make them thicker & more opaque than other types of watercolor paintings.
4. Impressionist- This type came into being in the late 19th century and include such well known painters as Monet and Renoir. These painters altered their strokes to approximate the effects of changes in lighting on the subject. Impressionism still remains very popular among artists, collectors & art enthusiasts.
5. Pop- Pop art shows contemporary, common objects in a way that makes a statement about modern culture. You might be familiar with the work of Andy Warhol who painted Campbell's soup cans- he was a pop artist.
6. Realist- Realism art portrays faithful and realistic depictions of subjects; this comes from the idea that any subject is worthy of being painted in and of itself.
7. Surreal- Surrealism, is a very cool approach to art; it features objects that look or act unnaturally or are depicted together unexpectedly; this is similar to a dream.

Author : Mike Sexton
Copyright -2007
All Rights Reserved
Please do NOT reprint this article unless you have my permission, thank you.

Celtic Breaker
For Sale!

"Fire & Ice"
8 x 10 inches
dragons fighting painting
"Prideful Lion"
8 x 10 inches
wild cats lion portrait painting

Tips for when it's time to think "Framing" Art

To Frame or Not to Frame

Framing did not come into being until about the 15th century.  Paintings were done on buildings, ceilings, small wooden folding panels or small boxes.

When the artist began to paint on larger panels of wood,  then the need of support became apparent.

Early frames were used to keep the wooden panels from warping.  As time went on, the craft of frame making became very elaborate & refined and the frame was considered to be as important as the art work.

Consequently,  the frame became the center of attention.

Framing a Watercolor

A watercolor painting must be framed under glass.  Having said that,  some artists have opted not to use glass.  There aren't any hard & fast rules.  But a water-soluble painting cannot be cleaned easily.  Sometimes it's impossible.

The traditional way of framing a watercolor is with a white or off-white mat and a very simple thin wood moulding.

Decorators and their customers have said WHITE IS NOT ENOUGH,  we want color!  So,  we have mats in every color imaginable.

But who's to say if it's wrong or not in good taste?

But then again,  the frame and matting must compliment the art work,  not detract.


To Glass or Not to Glass

Paintings that are not cleanable, such as watercolors, pastels, gouaches, charcoals, colored pencils, reproductions & photographs,  must be framed under glass.

There are always those who do not want glass,  but they face the risk of dirty art work and no way of cleaning it.

If it's water-soluble, meaning, if it was wet, the paint would smear or run, it needs to be framed under glass.

To Mat or Not to Mat

This type of art work also needs a mat for separation from the glass.  If the glass sweats and there is nothing between the paper & the glass,  the condensation from the inside of the glass will cause the watercolor paint to become soluble and it can run and spot the mat or run down the art work itself.

Be careful about putting any art work on paper next to glass.  We have talked about the sweating that can occur.  Another problem that can pop up is,  the art work itself,  sticking to the glass.  If acrylic medium was used to varnish the painting or used as a glue,  as in a collage,  it will stick to glass.

Please note,  watercolors are NOT varnished.  Acrylic paint is sometimes used like a watercolor and can be varnished,  because it's not water-soluble.

No Glass Please

Oil and acrylic paintings shouldn't be framed under glass.  Their varnish is protection enough.  Some even caution against cardboard on the back of the stretcher strips,  saying the canvas needs room to breathe and completely dry.  The drying process takes many years, even though it feels dry to the touch.

The varnishing layer is very important to an oil painting.  Perhaps even more important than the supporting frame.  If an oil painting is left unvarnished,  dirt becomes embedded in the cracks and fibers of the canvas and is nearly impossible to remove. The type of varnish is very important.  Never use furniture varnish on a painting.  That type is formulated for furniture and not a fine art painting.

In recent years,  many different types of varnishes have come on the market.  Damar Varnish is a strong and steady standby,  it will turn yellow and get brittle in time though.  Always read the labels before purchasing.  There are different varnishes for oil & acrylic paintings.

Don't put acrylic varnish on the oil.  The oil and acrylic dry at different speeds and will cause cracking and flaking.

Wetting and washing a canvas is not recommended.  Wetting the canvas should be done only by an expert knowledgable in restoration.  If the art work is valuable,  seek professional help. (Not for you personally,  for the artwork ;-)  Water can seep down between the paint cracks and could loosen the paint from the canvas.

I will admit to this though,  when my studio was flooded with 8 feet of water,  and all the paintings on paper and canvas were soaked,  I took the water hose to the ones on canvas and then gently sponged the ones on watercolor paper.  The canvas shrinks 1/4 inch all around,  the stretcher strips warped,  I even scrubbed (gently of course) the canvases,  but I salvaged most of the paintings on canvas.

I think not throwing them away goes back to what was discussed in an earlier chapter;  about how precious and priceless we consider our own art work!  The ones on paper were another matter!  Most of them had to be thrown away.  The mud was nearly impossible to get off and the colored mats had run and discolored the paintings.

What a way to get a fresh start!!  It was almost a relief to throw away paintings that never could be a success.  Paintings that had been worked and reworked for years.  Well,  enough of that saga!

Just remember,  water is not a good thing for a painting!  And neither is nicotine!  Nicotine from just average smoking,  will stain a painting in a very short time. Cigarette smoke will deposit a thin oily film on everything,  staining and discoloring.  Try to avoid smoking around your art work.

For Sale!

"Sky Owl"
10 x 8 inches
Owl Celtic knot painting
"Sea Eagle Island"
8 x 10 inches
wild birds sea eagle painting

Keep Masking Tape & Cardboard Where They Belong: In the Packing Room!

Masking tape and cardboard can ruin your art work!  This cannot be stressed enough.  They are acidic and will, over time, stain the work.  The acid in the cardboard backing will leach out and migrate to your canvas or paper and leave stains.

Linen tape is recommended for fastening watercolors, photos, etc. to their mats.  Just keep cardboard away from direct contact with the art work.  Buy foam core in sheets from art supply houses.  Hobby Lobby,  Michaels Craft Store,  or whatever your favorite art store is.  This can be placed between the cardboard and the art work with no ill-effects.

Many artists will go so far as to varnish the inside of the frame to seal it from leaching acid onto the art work.

Archival mats and backing boards are available and recommended for the longevity of the art work and certainly worth the slightly higher price.  Quality art work deserves and requires all the help we can give it;  to preserve it for future generations enjoyment,  education and enlightenment.

A good frame,  both in looks & quality is worth its weight in gold (so to speak).  The frame will make or break a painting.  Think of it as icing on a cake.  If all we can taste is the icing,  the cake was not noticed and will not be remembered.

Your painting is like that cake,  too much of a frame and it is over powered, weakened. I can't see your lovely art work for that FRAME!!  It's too in your face!  But the painting is certainly in need of a frame for several reasons,  for support, for protection and finally,  to look good.  The frame is not to be the star of the show;  but the supporting actor.

Framing,  when done properly,  will enhance, add to,  support, protect and just hang in there.  That's its job, to just hang there and be supportive.

Resist the impulse to over frame.

Author : Kay Milam

Copyright-2002 All Rights Reserved
A bit about me.  I have painted, made sculptures, and taught art in my private studio and higher learning classes in two colleges, to both children and adults.
My paintings are in galleries in Texas, in private collections,  and may be viewed at my website- http://www.milamstudios.com.

I hope that this page has been of some help to you in your buying decision or at least given you a few things to consider that you might have overlooked; if you have any questions, you're always welcome to contact me and I'll be glad to answer them to the best of my ability.

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