|Taylor Meadow's Patterns, 24x30, now available in the Crystal Lodge Art Gallery in Whistler Village|
Looking at a digital image of a painting, one may think that writing that signature in its corner is the last thing to do before calling it done. In fact, it takes much more to get a piece of art ready to go out into the world and hang on an art-lover's wall.
If you'd like to know more about it, grab your toolbox, and join me at the workbench!
The topic of all this crafty stuff may not seem very attractive, but it sure affects attractiveness of a finished piece of art. I am talking about the quality of the entire piece - its front, back and sides, which includes varnishing, painting the edges, installing the hanging hardware and more. None of these tasks sound like a part of art creation, but it is all extremely important. If you put yourself into the shoes of an art collector, it immediately becomes obvious why.
Some years ago I decided to invest quite a hefty sum into a purchase of a painting by one of my favorite artists. I thought I'd just go to the gallery and pick a painting, but I was surprised with what I experienced. I gained a whole new perspective. I found myself examining suspicious patches in the varnish, yellowy stains on the back of the canvas, and an unsightly crack in the otherwise lovely frame.
I adored the artist's work, but parting with a (for me) significant dollar amount made me feel responsible for making sure that what I was buying was of a top notch quality in every sense.
This was a revelation that made me completely reconsider my own process.
Here are the finishing practices I've adopted, and which have been working well for me so far.
Quality Finish Practices
Edges are what you see when you look at the painting from a side. You don't see them if the painting is framed in a conventional way. I don't frame medium and large paintings, which are the the sizes that I make most often (20x24 and up). Frames inevitably get damaged in transportation and installation. Their style is subject to personal taste, and overall, frames present an investment that is not feasible. I've even had situations where a canvas wouldn't fit into a frame. Taking all that out of the equation, I can be sure that the collector won't be faced with a frame they didn't like or even worse, with a damaged frame.
I use canvas tacked on the back, and I paint its edges. I use a small sponge roller with black gesso or some neutral mixture of acrylic paint. On occasion, I continue the painting's image around the edges. In any case, the edges must look neat, and reflect the love and care that I feel toward my work.
I varnish the front and edges with a protective layer of glossy non-removable acrylic varnish. I apply it with a soft brush in a fairly thick layer. It dries as a crystal clear uniform shiny coat, which compliments rich colors in my paintings. I found that an additional layer of a removable varnish has unpredictable effects. Sometimes it turns waxy and even flakes off, so I don't use it any more.
I like the back of the canvas to be clean, with just my name, signature and the title of the painting written with a ball-pen or acrylic marker. I don't put a date because I sometimes revisit a painting over a few years, and I like to give myself a freedom to do that without having to muck with the date. I am okay with having a few splotches or drips of paint on the back of the canvas, which is a normal thing that happens during the painting process, but I don't allow anything that can be hazardous to the archival soundness of the piece (mold, grease, damage etc.).
My favorite method of wiring a painting is to screw in those little screw eyelets that nobody likes because they can protrude from the back of the piece, but I screw them into the inner side of the stretcher instead. They are easy to install and look clean, and are perfect for unframed canvases. Another method is to use the standard hanging kit with D-Rings and those nasty little screws that you can buy in home hardware stores.
Despite having that layer of non-removable varnish I mentioned before, I had incidents of badly scratched paintings, returning from shows. This especially happens close to the edges, when the gallery may have framed the piece in a dirty frame, or stored it in an inadequate space. The good news is that scratches on acrylic paintings are very easy to fix with a few touches of fresh paint and varnish. To minimize the risk of scratches, I wrap a a layer of cling wrap around the painting's edge when I deliver of ship the piece to the the gallery, in hope that this practice will get picked up by whomever will be handling my paintings.
Whenever I get paintings back from a show, I gently wash their surface with soapy water, retouch the edges, and even put a new coat of varnish if needed, to ensure that the painting looks crisp and clean, before sending it out into the world again. I also check that the wiring is still sound and that every aspect of the piece contributes to its overall quality.
Having already made my case for not using frames, I am aware that leaving a painting unframed affects its look. Paintings generally look better in a frame. If I conclude that a certain painting will benefit from being framed, I use a simple black floating frame which has the most similar look and feel like an unframed painting, so that all my paintings, framed or not, can hang together, presented in a similar way.
The wood from which stretchers are made sometimes warps over time. As a result, the painting doesn't lay flat on the wall, it looks wobbly. If the warpage is very bad, the only fix is to carefully dismount the canvas and re-stretch it on new stretchers or board. If the warpage is minimal, you can install stiff hardboard corners on the back of the canvas, which will keep its corners straight and add to the overall sturdiness of the piece. I sometimes install these corners on any large canvas, especially if I am shipping it somewhere, just to make sure that nothing bad happens to it during transportation.
When all this is done, the painting is ready for delivery. Unless it needs to be packed and shipped - which is a whole new story, for another day.
The point I wanted to make was that all the love and care that we feel for our work is reflected in its entire presentation. The physical presence of a piece of art is experienced in more ways than just seeing its front image.
Neat and clean, safe and sound, my baby is ready to face the world!
Happy end of January!