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How to prepare your art for show and sale

One of the most important things next to creating unique & interesting art, is how the art is presented and how you take care of the art when it is shipped to galleries and buyers. Presentation is a factor that is present in everything we partake of, whether it’s buying a new guitar, dining at a restaurant or staying somewhere while on vacation. If your dinner was just thrown down in front of you, and the place was dirty and the people rude, would you feel comfortable about spending your money there? Or if the hotel room clearly hadn’t been cleaned and was run down, or that special guitar you bought was shipped in a cheap box and poorly treated. You would no doubt question your purchase and steer clear of those places in the future.

Buying and owning art is a luxury, and should be an enjoyable experience throughout. Especially when to many artists, the sale of original works of art means paying some bills, purchasing more supplies and eating a little better. There have been too many occasions where I have gone to art shows and witnessed art that was presented in a way, that it gave the impression the artist had little respect for the work they were showing. So hopefully this guide will be able to help in showing some of the best ways to have your art presented and prepared, as well as shipped.

Works on Canvas

Any paintings that have been done on canvas should have the sides of the canvas finished off. The most common way to do this is the just paint the sides. You could either paint it solid black, or one of the dominant colors of the painting. Or like the example shows, carry the work off on to the sides of the painting (example). This looks really cool and adds an extra “oooh” factor to it.
The other method is just framing the canvas. I have also seen a few works where strips of wood were attached to the sides as to create a frame for it (example). The frame should be deep enough so that the canvas fits in flush with the frame. You could also close off the back with paper if you wish, although this is only a good idea if you think no one will want to replace the frame you chose. There are also canvas “floater” frames, where it looks like the canvas is floating within the bed of the frame. These types of frames are really cool looking but you will need to have the sides painted as they are exposed with this type of frame.

Works on Masonite, canvas board or similar

Any type of work that is done on Masonite, canvas board, hardboard or similar surfaces should really just be framed. These types of materials are usually thin so it’s best to add the support a frame can offer. It’s a good idea to deal with them like they are paper, really sturdy paper. You wouldn’t just nail paper the wall at a show would you? I have actually been to a few shows that Masonite was just attached to the wall, and since it is thin and coated with paint you could see the warping in the board. It looked bad. Just frame it, or even mount it to something sturdier.

Works on wood panels

Paintings or drawings on wood panels are one of the more expensive surfaces, but if you can get a AAA rated top where the grain just looks beautiful it can really give your work something special. You can even incorporate the grain into your works, such as Katherine Piro, Amy Sol and of course Audrey Kawasaki do in their work. If the wood panel isn’t very thick it’s best just to frame it. This avoids warping and since your using a classy material like this, you might as well go that extra step and frame it. If the wood panel is thicker you can sand the sides or treat it like canvas and paint them. A great addition is to have the sides rounded. I also like to add little rubber or felt feet to the bottom, so that the wood doesn’t scratch the wall up where it is hanging.

Works on Paper

Paintings, drawings, collages or any other medium on paper always look amazing. So you can either mount the paper onto board, or frame it. If your using a thin paper with straight edges it’s a good idea to have the work behind matte board in the frame. It looks classy too. If the paper is thicker and if you have the edges deckled, you can attach the paper to a board or matte so the work is kind of floating there in the frame. Do not use any non-archival sprays or adhesives to mount the paper. It will ruin the paper over time. You can use mounting corners, I’ve seen clear plastic mounting wires, or even use dabs of wax. The most fancy being rice paper hinges, but if your paper is warping the hinges will not stop this. So if you have heavily warped paper, you can use “Yes” glue to mount it. You don’t want to do anything permanent that will be hard to change, or anything that will alter the back of your work. Make it easy for the work to change frames if need be. Luckily “Yes” glue comes off very easy.

Prints

Fine art prints are a great way to earn some extra income, as well as allow users to collect your work. Once a painting sells, thats it, it’s gone. But prints allow fans to have that image of your work they may have missed out on. So any prints shipped to buyers should be prepared for shipping so that they can withstand anything. It’s too easy to damage them, and once they have folds or nicks, they are worth far less. So you can either ship them flat, or in tubes. If you opt for tubes, make sure you use really sturdy tubes not those flimsy Christmas wrapping tubes, or to save money you can even buy strips of plastic pipe and use those (examples). To stop the print from rattling around in there stuff some tissue paper in both ends to secure as well as protect the print. If you’re going to ship the print flat don’t just pop the print in an envelope, secure and protect the print. I bought a James Jean print that was protected between two pieces of Masonite. Dean Mcdowell protects his prints with strong cardboard, and both prints arrived unharmed. It’s your print vs. the shipping service, protect your print so that it will show up in good condition.

Sculptures

This is an easy one. Any type of sculpture or 3d dimensional work should be wrapped like it’s going be handled by a Rugby team. Wrap the work in tissue then bubble wrap. Get a good size box so that you can place this wrapped item in a bed of Styrofoam peanuts, or any other soft material that will protect it. It’s good to recycle and use different materials for packaging, just make sure that the material will provide enough support and not inflict any damage on the work. It would suck to work hard on protecting your work, and then the one thing that damages it is the material you used to protect it. So try to stay clear of paper bags, wood chips, sand, broken bits of plastic & likewise. Oddly enough I have seen each of those materials used.

Try to stay clear of…

..using plastic or paper envelopes to ship your work.
..using boxes that have been shipped far too many times. Recycling is good, but don’t go overboard.
..using any kind of non-archival glues or adhesives.
..permanently mounting prints or paper works on to a matte or foam board.

Make sure to…

..clean up any pencil marks that were used as guides for mattes and cutting.
..use a good, strong tape to seal your boxes.
..be clear enough in descriptions so that the buyer knows exactly what they are getting.
..seal up any holes, and tape off any loose hanging wires (example).

Shipping and Packaging

Now that you have your painting or drawing all ready, how to package and ship it? I know it costs a lot to really ship your work well, but the investment is worth making sure your art makes it to the gallery or new owner. When frames are involved, you also risk the chance of the glass being broken and ruining your work. So wrap your work in bubble wrap, or even foam. Turn that work into a mummy, and then lay it a bed of foam/peanuts or bubble wrap. Foam peanuts are really annoying to deal with, but I’m sure people would rather deal with those than a damaged piece of art. When that’s all ready, make sure to use a sturdy box to ship it in. I have also seen people use shipping services to package the work (example), now this does cost more but it looks great and is real sturdy. The new owner can even use this setup to protect the work if they move or decide to sell the piece.

Do something special & unique

So now that you have some amazing art that is presented in professional way and will be wrapped up for shipping the best way possible, what about something unique? You can do something special in the presentation, it might be a unique frame, a certain way you cut the wood you paint on or materials you use.. Sarah Bereza has very unique custom frames for her works, Michael Hussar sends his prints with a certificate of Authenticity and even a wax seal on it. It could be something as simple as putting a thank you note in the box you ship, or throwing in some stickers. I’ve seen a lot of artists put in upcoming or previous show cards in the box. This is good for advertising, and many people like collecting show cards.

Receptions and Art Shows

I’ve had a few people ask what they should do to spice up those art show openings. First let’s look at flyers for the show. The standard is postcards. You want to draw people to the show, so skip the xeroxed paper flyers, unless thats the vibe your trying to throw. A well designed, clean show postcard is the best way to go, many people as I have stated before collect these cards. Sites like Psprint.com and jakprints.com are good places to get the cards done. I have also heard good things about Vistaprint.com, for Custom
posters
and even postcards. Just pop some of the art from the show on the front and put show info on the back. As far as the reception goes, you can have snacks and drinks there if you wish but the goal is for people to look at art, not eat. i know some galleries that have beer available, so if this is an option (and is safe) go for it. Otherwise just present the art in a nice professional manner and you should be good to go.

Conclusion

So that’s about it. I have talked to many artists, some that went to state colleges and some that went to private schools, and many have stated that there were parts left out of the education. Mainly how to deal with the business end of art. I’m not claiming that this article will prepare you for the business end, but I hope that it will at least help give your art that edge when it comes time for a potential buyer to decide to buy your art or someone else’s. The old saying is “sell the sizzle, not the steak”, so make the presentation priority. But art is not steak, and is not as cheap as steak is. So make the art sizzle in presentation as well as in content and you should do fine.

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Ben Rowe
    Apr 24, 2008 at 3:10 am

    Great Article Josh! Some really good tips here.

    Ben Rowe’s last blog post..Christopher Nielsen

  • Reply
    Joyce Ann Slaman
    Jul 28, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Great article. Very helpful regarding presentation and packaging, etc. What about any ideas regarding private showing. I am helping my highly artistic daughter prepare a private showing of her art pieces in her home. What about ambience? Food? Etiquette? Invitations? Any ideas. Much appreciated in advance. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Meg Butler
    Jul 31, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    I am preparing for my first art show. I create art tiles (in the shapes of flowers, birds, animals, leaves, etc.) and then group them in angle-iron frames on hardibacker board. So, they are whimsical, indoor/outdoor pieces.

    Do you have any ideas for how to wrap/package these for buyers who want to pick it up and carry it home? They really aren’t breakable!!! Unless we are talking about the foot that the mosaic gets dropped on!

    Your information on presentation made me start to think about this issue.
    Thanks!

  • Reply
    Lino
    Nov 3, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    I bailed out of the art scene several years ago when the economy crashed and I’m finally getting the nerve to get back into it…coincidentally when the economy seems to be taking another nose dive. But for someone a bit rusty like me, this info is a valuable, indispensable source. great article, great tips all around.

  • Reply
    Hannah
    Jan 26, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    This was so helpful! Answered all that questions I’ve been asking my self about my upcoming show.

  • Reply
    12 April – People do judge a book by its cover | The Art Junket
    Apr 12, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    […] Canvas: Finish off the sides. ¬†Paint the sides – black or a dominant color of the painting. ¬†Creepmachine […]

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