Dos and Don’ts for Artists and Photographers
CategoriesArt Business / Fine Art / Art and Technology
by Michael Damico
As a creative designer I have a unique vantage point in the industry. I’m the common link between artists, photographers, various other creatives, and the end users of these types of art. Meaning anyone who will buy your work. That includes collectors, individual shoppers, corporate buyers, homeowners, designers, businesses, architects, and more. I service and know both sides of the business here. So, the following list of “dos and don’ts” I’m about to give is solid. It comes directly from experience. They are usually based on decisions creatives make that lead to later problems for their clients. Here’s how to avoid them:
Don’t sign mat boards.
I’ve said this before and I can’t stress it enough. Instead, do this:
- Sign in the margin (if there is one)
- On the image (with enough room not to clip the signature from the overlap of the mat)
- On the back of the print
Very often, your clients want to ditch the mat choice you selected for display. But if you’ve signed the mat, your client is locked into one option. Be honest: you used a random white mat you found in the studio or online. Don’t get me wrong. As a custom framer and artist myself, I obviously advocate for artists presenting their art nicely. I’m not suggesting you exclude a mat. Instead, just sign the piece rather than the mat. That leaves your client room for choosing a frame and mat without losing the artists mark.
Don’t sign with Sharpies and cheap ink pens (like Bic).
No offense to Bic, it’s just that those pens and similar brands are not designed for archival purposes. Instead, do use one of the following:
- Pencil (for almost everything)
- Archival ink pen
- Paint (if you’re a painter)
Sharpies and typical blue or black ink pens will fade, sometimes becoming invisible. They also tend to smudge, transfer, and smear. Lastly, in some cases they corrode. This shows up on your piece as a yellow area around the signature. People always ask, “Why pencil?” My answer is always the same:
- It’s the most archival thing you can possibly sign with.
- It’s noncorrosive and made of carbon atoms, which happens to be some of the oldest stuff on the planet or even the universe, for that matter (matter…get it?).
People always wonder, “But can’t someone erase it?” Of course they can. It’s a pencil. But the same applies to all the work signed in carbon-based art tools like charcoal and graphite. That includes some greats, like Peter Max, Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, and Robert Rauschenberg. Would you rather have a signature that vanishes over the years? Sure, I suppose there is a risk either way. But you are certain to have your signature disappear if you use cheap ballpoint ink pens and Sharpies.
If your confident, use an archival ink pen like a Rapidograph-type pen with permanent, non-fading ink. I say, “If you’re confident,” because too many times I’ve seen this happen: an artist or photographer goes in to sign and ends up dripping a pool of ink right on their fresh new piece. Sign at your own risk with archival ink.
Don’t call everything a “limited edition” print.
Seriously, this phrase gets abused these days and is very misleading. Instead, do simply sign and title, then use phrases like:
- “Signed Print”
- “Numbered print”
- “High Quality Fine Art Reproduction” (if you’re using giclee method)
I’m not opposed to “limited edition” prints, but lets take a quick look at what it actually means.
- Limited editions are a series of prints made all at once.
- The series is submitted to the Library of Congress for copyright with a known list of every copy ever made for the particular series. That list includes artist proofs and copies also submitted to the Library of congress. (NOTE: This process takes some time. Begin at the Registration Portal of the Copyright Office. Learn more about the entire process and next steps here.)
- Lastly, Certificates of Authenticity created for every piece will reflect:
- Title registration ID number issued by the Library of Congress.
- Publisher (in the case of giclee, whomever is scanning and printing your art).
- Artist’s promise that methods for creating the series are all destroyed and that no others from this series will ever be created.
If you’re currently using “Limited Edition,” I strongly encourage you to phase it out on anything that doesn’t reflect these conditions. Use of some of the alternative phrases above still promote a sense of “special” in the shopper’s mind. Furthermore, if you really want to do something special, let us help you with micro limited edition giclees. This involves making very small runs (10-20 or even less) so that you create an exceptionally rare series. Not only is it superior quality reproduction, but its even more limited than usual. For more information on this topic and related alternatives, check out Four Easy Alternatives to “Limited Edition” Art.
Don’t mount using Scotch tape or ANYTHING that’s not archival.
This is an epidemic. I see Scotch tape, painter’s tape, clear tape, packing tape, glue, and many other creatively destructive methods to mount a print in a mat or frame etc. Instead, do use the following:
- Linen tape
- Artist tape
- Mending tape
- Gum tape
- Anything that has the words “Archival” or “Acid Free” in the title or product description.
Anything else will, without question, ruin the print or art. Even if your making cost-driven products, DON’T DO IT. It doesn’t actually save you a thing in the long run. This is a corner you should never cut.
Don’t tape mount something down on all 4 sides.
This is something I see all the time: I take a mat off a piece of art or a photo print, only to find that it’s taped down on all 4 sides behind the mat. Instead, do tape a few small points along the top edge only. That is all you need and it’s the preferred method. Why?
- Various kinds of paper tend to expand and contract over the seasons.
- If you tape down all 4 sides, there’s nowhere for relief on the art.
- Then it’s bound to the mat’s rate of expansion or contraction and tends to build stress in the paper.
- The paper is the first thing to give way.
- This inevitably leads to waves and buckling, sometimes quite dramatically in a short period of time (as in one or two seasons).
Depending on the size of the art, apply two or three 1-inch pieces of tape to the top only. For larger pieces, use four or five 1-inch pieces of tape. This takes some experience, so if you’re uncertain, just call us at 615-815-6015 or email.
Don’t use cheap materials for things you intend on selling.
Instead, do use middle-to-high quality materials and save your cheap stuff for practice pieces. I’m constantly struggling against all the DIY technology out there. I’m not even surprised anymore by how creative folks can get when it comes to making their own panels, stretching their own canvases, matting their own prints, and so on. We get pieces in our shop that are rickety, flimsy, poorly made, rushed, and worse. Look, I totally understand using cheap materials to save on costs. But when it comes to pieces you intend to sell, step up your game!
It’s much easier than you think to offset costs. And the buyer gains big when you use good quality materials. It’s also an added selling point to your clients. I’m not opposed to doing things yourself, but if you are, make sure you doing it right. Be sure to use:
- Proper techniques for stretching canvas stretching
- Well-built stretcher frames
- Acid-free and archival materials
- Good quality mediums, including better:
- Colored pencils
Using quality materials will definitely improve your game. Higher quality leads to:
- Better performance
- Longer lasting
- Better coverage
- More consistent work
- Overall better finished product that will be more cooperative for the buyer for framing, mounting, conservation, and installation.
Believe it or not, in many cases the buyer ends up having to spend more to fix problems you created. Obviously, that can leave them frustrated. Trust me, they feel much better when they pay a tiny bit more, know the benefits, and have a more streamlined process for getting it on their wall.
Don’t use anything that’s not archival or acid free.
Instead, do look for key terms on products you intend to use like “Archival,” Acid Free,” and “Conservation Grade.” When in doubt, don’t use it. We have already covered some issues above like this but here are a many more that come to mind. Here are some items I see used that are bad ideas:
- Paper mats (rather than alpha cellulose or cotton mats)
- Cardboard backings
- Cheap glass and acrylic (non UV filtering)
- Regular foamcore (rather than acid free)
If you intend to paint on wood, we strongly recommend using gesso as an absorbent primer coat substrate for painting. Paintings on wood do look really cool, but they will not last. Wood naturally has an acidic level that will harm itself over the years. A layer of good gesso will serve to block the acid from the painted layers and preserve your work.
One more for painters: DON’T use drywall compound for texturizing.
Instead, do use a texturizing medium from an art store. Drywall compound is chalky, dries firm, and doesn’t have a lot of flexibility. Think about it: putting something rigid and chalky on top of something flexible and stretchable (like canvas or wood panels) will certainly lead to cracks or failure in your finished work. I’ve had to repair way too many paintings after the artist used a drywall compound. I see flaky, cracked art that forces the artist or the buyer to pay me for repairing works that are crumbling in random areas.
This applies whether you do anything wrong to the piece (lean it against a couch wrong, handle it wrong, carry it the wrong way, handle it wrong, carry it wrong, anything wrong) or not. Even when you do it all right, and it still cracks or flakes. The solution? Use a texturizing medium from an art store, not drywall compound from a home improvement store.
Have you made some other mistakes not mentioned here? Would you like to share them to help others avoid them too? Just leave us a note in the comments, email, or give us a call at 615-815-6015.
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