Priming: A Primer

Posted on September 7, 2017 by merionart
Gesso, GAC 100, rabbit skin glue, priming, sanding, absorbent grounds! Some kind of primer will be the first layer of product on practically any painting and several kinds of drawings, but for something so basic it can become a complicated subject! Additionally, because it is so fundamental, it can often be overlooked. We often talk to customers who don’t know whether or not the canvas they are using is gessoed, or what kinds of grounds they will need to try for different kinds of artwork. Here’s a brief overview of some of our preferred kinds of grounds and primers, and how and why you might want to try them out!
Properly prepping your surface is an important step if you’re intending to think about the longevity of a piece of art. The first step to prepping surfaces is sizing. Sizing is used to protect the art from itself: it keeps the paints and pigments from damaging the substrate. Without sizing and primer, the chemicals in paint, especially oil paint,  can over time begin to eat away and degrade canvas and raw wood. “Oil painters must size their canvases to stop the acidic oil from penetrating into the support, which can cause the fibers to rot. Traditionally, a hide glue (typically rabbit-skin) was applied directly to canvas or linen to stiffen the fabric and protect the support from the acidic oils.” These days, there are chemical substitutes for hide glue that have a number of advantages. For one, they’re easier to obtain and don’t include dead animal bits, and for another they don’t re-absorb moisture in a way that hide glue can (ironically the properties of the hide glue itself can lead to art degrading over time). One of these modern substitutes is GAC 100. (GAC stands for Golden Artist Colors)
GAC 100: When you lay your colors down, you want to be sure the stay the way you want them for years to come. Sadly, if you don’t protect against the acids and other harmful substances and impurities inherent in your substrates, your painting can succumb to Support Induced Discoloration. “Support Induced Discoloration (SID) is a phenomenon that occurs in acrylic paints and mediums. Many common artist supports have impurities that can discolor a translucent acrylic gel layer or color glaze, and a size must be applied before gessoing to ensure the products stay clear as the films dry. As a paint film cures, the water exits two ways: through the surface of the paint and through the back of the support, if porous enough. Canvas, linen, wood and masonite are all porous enough to allow water to absorb into them. […]The water extracts water-soluble impurities such as dirt, sap, starches, etc., from the support and deposits them into the acrylic film. The result is a discolored (typically amber) film […] SID can transform the appearance of an Ultramarine Blue glaze into a lower chroma, greenish color. Gesso alone will not stop SID, and different gels and mediums have varying degrees of blocking capabilities.” GAC 100 is Golden’s answer to SID. GAC 100 acts as a barrier between the substrate and your artwork. It is also “useful for diluting and extending colors, especially when film flexibility and integrity are important characteristics.”
Gesso: Pronounced “JESS-o”. Traditionally a blend of rabbit-skin glue, chalk, and white pigment used to prep rigid surfaces like wood panels and masonite. In modern times we (again) often ditch the rabbit-skin glue, and widely used acrylic gessoes are a combination of calcium carbonate and an acrylic medium, plus pigment and other chemicals for greater flexibility, allowing modern gesso to be used on less rigid substrates like canvas. (For most applications, acrylic gesso works fine, but for working in traditional mediums like egg tempera or silverpoint, a traditional gesso will work best. Rabbits beware!)

Gesso gives paint a surface that it can adhere to, and can also be used to give a surface a uniform color to start from. Usually this is white or black, but pigments can be mixed with gesso to create different colored backgrounds. There is also the option of clear gesso, see below.
If you are buying a pre-stretched canvas, generally gesso will already have been applied. If the canvas is white instead of beige canvas colored, it has been primed with gesso. Conversely, a cradled wood panel almost never has any gesso or sizing on it, and you’ll need to apply this yourself. Watch out when using low-end student grade canvases- they’re perfectly acceptable cheap alternatives (especially for practice pieces), but they are sometimes not gessoed thoroughly enough. Try holding it up to the light- if you can see light through it at all, it’s best to give it another coat of gesso, just to be safe. If this is a concern for you, upgrade to artist-quality canvases like Masterpiece.
Gesso can be applied with any kind of brush or paint knife, or even thinned down and applied through an airbrush (a favorite technique of Purchasing Manager Justine). Krylon even makes a spray Gesso that can be applied like spray paint in thin, even layers. Gesso can be used to build up textures, add areas of relief to paintings, and can be applied and sanded in many layers to provide a smooth surface for painting. Most painters will use gesso a LOT, and consequently, it’s one of the cheapest art supplies, and one of the few you can buy in a gallon bucket without it breaking the bank or seeming like a completely unreasonable amount of material.
Molding paste and Modeling Paste: Gesso is not the be-all and end-all of grounds. Different artwork will call for different kinds of grounds that can be applied on top of gesso. Paint companies manufacture a huge range of grounds and primers that have varying textures and absorbancies. One of Marketing Manager Jen’s favorite grounds is Golden Molding paste. Pastes are more commonly used to build up raised areas in paintings and add texture, but they can make excellent grounds.
“Pastes are opaque because they contain Marble Dust or other fillers that create a white or clay-tone finish,” and the Marble Dust is what gives it enough of a tooth for things like graphite and oil pastel to then be used (gesso on its own can be slick and non-porous, difficult for dry media to stick to). Molding paste and Liquitex Modeling paste work as the missing link that allows artists to mix certain kinds of media together on one panel, allowing a transition between acrylic paint, decoupage, graphite, oil pastel, pen and ink, and more.
Absorbent Ground “is a fluid acrylic medium that dries to a porous, paper-like surface. Applied over gessoed canvas, it facilitates raw canvas-like staining and watercolor effects.” This allows experimentation with thinner paints that don’t stick well to a slicker gessoed surface. You can get watercolor effects on canvas without unfortunate pooling or adhesion problems.
Clear Gesso allows you to prime the surface without obscuring the color of the substrate- for instance if you want the wood grain of a panel to show through your artwork. Many brands of art materials make a clear acrylic gesso. It tends to have a coarse, grainier texture than the smooth chalky finish of regular gesso. You can also use a layer of GAC 100 and gel mediums, matte or gloss, as a clear gesso substitute. There should always be some kind of primer used, for protection and adhesion.
(Note: much of the historical and technical info from this post was obtained from the Golden Artist Colors website. For more info and an in-depth and historical look at how to prep a surface for art, check out Golden’s overview here.)
Do you use a different method, technique, or product to prep and prime your work? Let us know in the comments what we’ve missed!

Why You Should Shop Small, Local, & In Person For Art Supplies

Posted on August 30, 2017 by merionart
These days most people know it’s good to “Shop Small” or “Think Globally, Shop Locally,” but they don’t always know why. You may buy all organic local vegetables, but don’t know why you’d be better off buying your paints or canvas from a small local store like Merion Art, rather than at a big-box store or online. Here are some reasons why shopping for your art supplies in person, at small, local stores can be good for you, your community, and your wallet, all at the same time.
In a small brick and mortar store like Merion Art, you can communicate with professionals on staff- Small retail businesses are more likely to hire people with experience in the field they serve, as opposed to big box retail stores. You can ask questions and get an instant answer, amalgamate your trial and error lessons with theirs, and make personal local connections with other artists in your community. Obviously, you can communicate online (we’re doing it right now!), but if you’ve ever sent a misunderstood text or an email that languished in a spam folder past its useful time, you know that face-to-face real-time communication is still faster and more reliable. This is especially true for those of us who have a tendency to use sound effects, hand gestures, or the word “thingy” when describing something we want; retail workers are very, very good at charades and better at guessing games than Google is.
“I need, like, acrylic, but with some thingies mixed in it for texture, you know? And a silicone brush with like, little *gestures* on the ends?”
Shopping in person allows you to physically see, feel, smell, and experience the things you are thinking of buying- This is essential for artists- shopping local and in-person allows you to check paper, paint, and pastel colors, and try them under different lighting conditions, so that you can assemble a custom palette without guessing. Smell is also important- knowing that a certain product has a strong odor and taking appropriate steps can be important, especially if you have an in-home studio! Shopping in person allows you to test the feel of different kinds of materials. Texture, weight, consistency, and friction matter! When shopping online, you can’t feel the weave or bounce of a canvas, check the tooth of different kinds of paper, swish a brush across your palm to test for spring and softness, or feel the weight of a pen and how it glides and writes. This sensory access to your art materials gives you more control over your creative process.
You gotta check if it’s a happy little brush.
When you’re physically in the store, you can check quality up close and compare brands in real-time- You can shake the box, kick the tires, and take products for a test run. You can weigh a different paintbrush in either hand and check their balances. You can compare quality and different brands by testing or talking to other artists, and experienced staff. This is important when you’re thinking of upgrading or buying something high end. Buying something new online is always just a guess and a prayer. It’s worth it to remember that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet- sellers online may only want to make a sale, and they will say anything to sell the product. It’s in a local sales associate’s best interest to get you what you actually want or need: they are part of your community, and moreover, they know that if they misrepresent a product, you’ll be back next week to harangue them in person.
Always a good idea to do a little comparison shopping…
Inspiratiois boosted by shopping in person– You can wander down aisles full of products you’ve never even thought about using, and come up with new ideas on how to incorporate them into your work. You can read the backs of boxes, leaf through how-to books, see associated products, find out about specialized tools, and make connections. You might see new colors or mediums that inspire a change in your style, or find the answer to a question you didn’t know you had.
Me, with an hour to spend in an art store
You may find an amazing deal- A brick and mortar store is all about physical space and logistics. Space is valuable and sometimes a physical store will place things on sale simply to free up more space. This happens in every retail business (think 50% off Halloween candy on Nov 1st), and returning the items to the distributor is often not an option. Most of the time, these items are not damaged or defective in any way. In physical stores, you can often find deep discounts on overstocked items, discontinued stock, superficially scratched-and-dented items, items that will be going out of season, or items that didn’t seem to sell at this particular store (sometimes there just isn’t a local market for an otherwise amazing product). The only way to find these store-specific discounts and deals is to go in and look around in person. The treasure-hunting, bargain finding aspect can be incredibly satisfying for a customer!
“Hmmm, 50% off Holbein Artist Oils… must be a trap.”
Shopping small helps local businesses know what you want to buy- Rather than having to follow some kind of national sales plan, small businesses are able to tailor what they carry to the attitudes and specific needs of the area they are in. Unlike a big-box national chain, if we find there is a large community of encaustic artists in the Main Line area, we can expand our encaustic offerings, and if it turns out no one is into adult coloring books anymore, we don’t have to carry them. Small businesses are not beholden to shareholders in another state, they’re only beholden to their customers. We can immediately give our customers more of what they want and less of what they don’t.
So you can shop happy!
Shopping local helps the local economy- Money spent at small businesses stays in the community at a much higher rate than money spent at big-box stores. Your tax dollars stay local, improving your roads, your town, your schools, and your life. Shopping locally helps your community: according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance and a multitude of studies, “small-scale, locally owned businesses create communities that are more prosperous, entrepreneurial, connected, and generally better off across a wide range of metrics.”…”These studies find that the increasing size of corporations is driving inequality, while local and dispersed business ownership strengthens the middle class.” Plus, small businesses give a town a unique character, and employees who live and work locally have a vested interest in making the community strong.  It’s a win win!

Ways to Work Art Into Your Back-to-School Prep!

Posted on August 23, 2017 by merionart
As Summer winds down, inevitably thoughts must turn back to school. This year though, there’s no reason for you to have the same old notebooks and outfits as everyone else. Here are some suggestions of ways you can use art supplies to personalize your school supplies, clothes, accessories, dorm room stuff, shoes, and practically anything else you want to throw some creativity at. Get excited, there’s still enough Summertime left to get ready to make this the best school year yet!
-Use Angelus shoe paints to customize your new kicks, or revitalize last years sneakers or handbags. Check out their instagram for inspiration, or just start splashing your favorite colored paints around! Try a new design to set your stuff apart from everyone else’s and really express your personality.
-Use Marabu fashion spray and Jacquard Lumiere to embellish backpacks and denim jackets and add new visual interest to tired or bland buttondowns. Camouflage a stained shirt, or add your own twist to basic tanks, tees, jeans, leggings, and shoes.
-Upcycle found furniture, or redesign last year’s dorm furniture to give your space a makeover and get a fresh start and a fresh look. Try using Montana Gold spray paints, Jacquard Neopaque, and stencils. Use Marabu’s Glas and Porcelain Painters to personalize cheap mugs and dishware to level up your dorm-room dining experience.
-Paint and draw on your notebook covers- Sharpies, paint pens, and acrylics are all your friends for taking your boring black-and-white notebook to the next level. Decoupage a collage of your favorite things onto your binder, or try using Golden mediums to coat a slick cover in something that graphite and ink will stick to! Zendoodle is always a great technique for decorating school supplies- just don’t get caught doing it in class!
-If it’s canvas, you can paint it! That goes for backpacks, totes, shoes, chairs, pencil cases, and more. Prime it, paint it, dye it, ink it, go nuts! Derwent’s Inktense pencils are great for dying raw canvas with great control, and practically every acrylic paint will work well on canvas items.
For more advice on ways to use art supplies to rev up your school supplies, furniture, outfits, and accessories, come talk to your local art retailer- we’ve got tons of ideas for unique ways to use art supplies to make your stuff truly YOURS!

In Praise of Art Supply Brand Websites

Posted on August 16, 2017 by merionart
While we at Merion Art always recommend talking to your Art Materials Retailer for information on your art supplies, sometimes it’s more effective to go straight to the source. After all, the people who make your favorite art supplies often have an incredibly deep knowledge of the products they develop. Many art supply manufacturers have websites with a wealth of information that can be useful to the artist who reads carefully. Manufacturer websites can also be a great place to find safety sheets, detailed product specifications, project ideas, art communities, specialized apps, and more. Here are a few manufacturer websites which we feel merit special recognition.

The Golden Artist Acrylic website includes SO MUCH INFORMATION. The caps are warranted: the website not only contains basic product info (How to use GAC 100, 200, etc) it also includes a virtual paint mixer, an interactive color chart, store locator (you don’t need this, since you have us!), how-to videos, and a link to their bi-annual newsletter “Just Paint”which “is a technical resource for painters about the capabilities and possibilities of materials, and (sometimes) their limitations.” It’s incredibly in-depth and it’s a great resource for art nerds.

Along with product specs and usage directions, Gamblin has a gorgeous website with a plethora of useful tidbits. There’s a load of interesting articles and videos on their “Experience Color” page. They have info on Ultramarine Blue and its history, different pallette examples for different applications, and multiple articles on choosing the correct white for your work. They also have a section dedicated to Studio Safety– an important topic for any artist. They’ve also got posts about less-considered aspects of living an artist’s life, like how to travel with art supplies, how to store paintings, and how to effectively clean brushes.

Sakura, who makes Pigma Microns, Cray Pas, and Identi Pens has a wealth of information on their website including applications and technical qualities for most of their products. This tells you how their products can best be used, as well as answering questions about what will remove their inks and what could destroy your work: They often tell if the product is “Not recommended for use on fabrics intended to be washed. Not evaluated for cosmetic use on skin.”

The Speedball Art website has lots of information on the products Speedball specializes in. There’s in-depth info about the history of Speedballs contributions to calligraphy, recommended best practices for blockprinting, and the techniques involved in screenprinting and gold-leafing.

Marabu Creative has a website full of inspiration, instructions, and information. They have page upon page of projects, complete with step by step directions and pictures. They have downloadable and printable instructions organized by difficulty level, as well as the usual informative lists of product specs and usability details. The company is German, so there are occasional small mis-translations, but it just gives the site a little European flair.

At Princeton Artist Brush Co., it’s all paintbrushes, all the time. They’re a fantastic company founded and based in Princeton NJ, and they really care about their brushes and their customers. On their site, you can learn what each shape of brush is intended for, read interviews with featured artists, explore painting techniques, and learn in-depth information about brush anatomy, hair choices, and brush care.
As you can see, these companies don’t just make your favorite brands, they do research and development of new products, gather helpful tips and tricks for artists-at-large, design online tools to help creative people, and their websites are a great place to spend some time. If you’re looking for information, inspiration, or just something to do on the internet, you should definitely dive deep into these websites. Let us know your favorite art company websites in the comments!

3 Reasons to Custom Frame Your License or Diploma

Posted on August 10, 2017 by merionart
From pet stores, to beauty salons, to lawyers, to doctors, many businesses have official documents which are required by law to be posted in public view. Diplomas, certificates, licenses, awards…there’s a plethora of important paperwork that should be visible to clients and customers. While business people are required to “post” these documents, there is nothing that requires them to be posted nicely. All too often, I see them taped to walls, crooked inside plastic frames, fading in direct sunlight, and crinkling in humidity. Here are 3 reasons I believe you and your business can benefit from custom framing these documents instead.
It looks more professional- The whole reason we are required to post certificates and licenses is to prove that we are trained and certified professionals at what we do. A slap-dash framed license makes you look unprofessional and careless. No one is reassured by seeing a doctor or dentist with a slovenly diploma. If they can’t take care of an important document, how well will they take care of you? Even a Harvard diploma looks trashy when it’s crooked and pressed up against the glass in a cheap frame. A bad frame on your diploma is the equivalent of showing up to work wearing a Snuggie. Sure, you’re technically present, but it’s not going to impress your clients at all. Consider your workplace framing as an important aspect of brand image. Your office likely has a dress code, and I’d suggest your framing should follow it- if your place of business is all scrubs and sensible shoes, a simple no-nonsense frame will convey your attitude and skills to clients waiting for medical care. If you work in an office that’s got a suit-and-tie standard, let your frame impart your competence and professionalism with richly stained wood and linen, or modern minimalist glass and metal.
How Not To Do It: This license is wrinkled, faded, and generally sketchy
It shows pride in your work– A Veterinarian I know went a little over the top framing his diploma, and when asked if he was okay with the higher final price and the large frame, he said “This diploma is what I’ve spent the last 8 years working towards, of course I’m going to make a big deal of it.” He was proud of all the work he had put into becoming a doctor, and this diploma was a visible, physical reminder of all he had accomplished. For people in high-stress jobs (and really, what job isn’t stressful?), it can be a powerful reassurance to see a physical representation of their accomplishments. After a difficult day at work, you can see proof of your own achievements hung like a big sign on the wall saying “You did it!” This can be especially helpful for high-achievers who have trouble with “Imposter Syndrome.” Well-framed diplomas, accolades, licenses and certificates can all reassure you, and your customers and clients, that “You’ve earned this.”
Now that’s an impressive diploma!
It will protect your valuable certificate– Of course, some things are not meant for the grand look- for instance, state-issued business licenses aren’t really intended to be gorgeous framed artwork. We’re not suggesting a full custom frame job on every OSHA flyer! Framing is not just for visual impact, it’s also for protection, and protecting your paper certifications is the practical thing to do. That piece of paper is the legal proof of your hard work and education and professional status- so you should treat it nicely! If it’s not properly framed, it can decay, bleach, fade and become brittle. It will destroy itself, just by being framed cheaply! The important things to make sure you consider (as we’ve repeated almost ad nauseum) are acid free backing and UV protective glass. If UV damage causes the certificate to bleach out, have you really still got your license posted as required? If your “Voted Best” award gets acid burns from the backing and changes color, does that help your business image or hurt it? Is your diploma still valid if the Dean’s signature fades under fluorescent lights?  Most of those kinds of certifications can be re-issued, but if you take the time to frame it right, you won’t have to order a potentially costly or inconvenient replacement.
Merion Art’s License: Not visually exciting, but very well protected!
We hope this post has caused you to think about the state of your certificates, licenses and diplomas. Does your diploma fit the image you want your business to impart to new customers? Does looking at your certification documents make you feel a sense of accomplishment and pride, or does the look of them make you start thinking of excuses? What messages are your posted licenses conveying to your customers and to your staff? If you’d like to improve the look and longevity of your diploma, license or certificate, bring them in and let one of our talented framers take a look. We promise to make it look professional! Click here for a special deal for upgrading your professional certifications!

Exciting New Products, and Why We Chose Them!

Posted on July 31, 2017 by merionart
At Merion Art, we are constantly bringing in new products throughout the year to make sure we’re carrying the most interesting, useful, and up-to-date art supplies. Along with all the logistical changes going on at Merion Art right now, (like the store remodel and a planned outer-facade facelift) we’re also getting in a larger-than-usual surge of exciting new items in the near future, and we want to give our customers a heads up!
Here are some of the new things that our Purchasing Manager Justine and Marketing Coordinator Jen picked out at the Dealer Workshop they attended in California in June. They are both working artists with 5+ years in art retail, and these were the products that made them say “OOH! We NEED to carry that!”

Itoya Pop-Up Easel Presentation Books: These are going to be useful to non-artists and artists alike! This presentation book is a portfolio with a built in stand. This is going to make displaying and transporting papers much simpler. For anyone looking for a way to hold and protect recipes, sheet music, large photos, and (of course) artwork, this a great buy.

Gamblin 1980: While not the same top shelf quality as Gamblin Artist Oils, these paints are a much higher quality than student brands.  At a very similar price to Winsor Newton’s Winton student line, they offer a consistent, creamy texture and rich pigment load far surpassing its competitors. These paints are perfect for pros who want to watch their wallet, as well as students who want a higher quality paint without breaking the bank.

Angelus Leather Paint: These paints are a darling of the shoe customizing community. They paint excellently on leather, plastic, and rubber, and their additives allow for a range of applications from airbrush to multi-surface. It’s not just a great product for the re-sale market, it’s the perfect paint to touch up old accessories, furniture, or just giving that outdated handbag a fresh look.

Micron Pigma PN: These new pens are the brothers of the industry standard Pigma Micron. The PN stands for plastic nib–or more accurately “polyacetal nib”. The new nib offers greater durability allowing for heavier uses such as everyday writing and note-taking. “Pigma archival quality ink is waterproof, chemical and fade resistant, bleed free, quick drying, and pH neutral!”

Marabu Porcelain & Glas Painters: These markers allow you to decorate and customize glass and porcelain. The paint is food-safe, unlike many other porcelain markers, and the Painters come in 33 high pigment colors, giving you a huge creative range for decorating tableware. “The Painters with the new formulation are ideal for use on porcelain and glass, but also on metal, mirrors, ceramic, terracotta and stone (…) The decorated objects become dishwasher-safe by simply fixing them in an oven.” Colorful, durable and easy to use!

Sennelier Abstract Acrylics: Just when you were wondering how they could possibly get acrylics to do anything new, they repackage! These high quality artist acrylics come in a bag with customizable tips (much like a piping bag) for varying applications. This new design is great for modeling the techniques of Jackson Pollack and giving you an increased range of control without a brush. The softer casing is also beneficial for getting out the last drop of paint. These acrylics come in a soft matte and high gloss finish.

We hope you’re as excited about these art supplies as we are! Let us know what you think of these new items in the comments!

“MFA: Yes or No?” Personal Reflections on Grad School from Darryl Smith

Posted on July 24, 2017 by merionart
Images Copyright Darryl Smith
Merion Art Team Member Darryl Smith is leaving us! He had his last day and farewell demo this past Monday. The intrepid draftsman will be leaving to start earning his Master of Fine Arts degree in Drawing and Artistic Anatomy from the New York Academy of Art in the fall. The whole team at Merion Art would like to wish Darryl best of luck in his studies and future teaching endeavors! Before he left, Darryl wrote down some of his musings about why he knows an MFA is right for him, and some thoughts on how to decide if one is right for you…
Guest post by Darryl Smith
“Now that I am going to grad school, I wanted to talk about why exactly I am getting my masters degree in Drawing, and help you to decide whether getting a masters degree, or any degree, in the fine arts might or might not be a path for you.
Many folks have been perplexed when I tell them I am getting another degree saying, “Oh but you draw so well already! What is this next degree for?” Well it can be for a lot of things: networking, skill-building, and more networking.  (The networking is important!) Finding and becoming part of a professional artistic community is an aspect of the grad school experience that I definitely wanted, mainly because it was something that I have never actually had a chance to be a part of. I’m excited to work in a group of peers who think in the same manner as myself and have similar interests (like going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and spending 5 hours just drawing in the Greek and Roman sculpture section of the museum).
I am primarily getting my MFA in Drawing because it was an interest that I followed right at the end of my BFA program and really wanted to take the time to explore professionally what this medium was, and I wanted to explore it under the guidance of well-established artists who currently work in the medium.
Besides being amongst professional figurative painters, sculptors, and draftsmen, I plan to use my MFA degree so I can teach and lecture at the collegiate level about drawing techniques and advanced artistic anatomy.  As most of you who have attended my demos know, I LOVE talking about techniques and the history of said techniques and I would love to share my knowledge and passion with many folks!
Being in a classroom setting is very challenging- you are exposed to a variety of processes and techniques, and I enjoy that because it really helps me fight for my ideologies, so to speak.  I got a lot of this challenge during my time when I was getting my BFA–I went to 3 separate schools.  I soaked up any information like a sponge and just unleashed it all at the end during my thesis exhibition and I learned quite a lot about what I like and what I didn’t like and the next step afterwards is to really take a hold of what I enjoyed and research it extensively.
Now, there are cases where higher education may not be suitable.  Granted, it’s a very structured system, which does not work for everyone, and of course the cost is a huge factor. Unlike more structured occupations that require professional certification, its possible to succeed as an artist without a graduate or even under graduate degree. In an artistic career (unless you are planning to teach) working experience can often act as a substitute for graduate diplomas, and there are a number of paths you can take.
I personally love the experience gained by just working by yourself, away from the structured class environment, to see how you can learn and interpret the medium without any outside influence (whether it be from a teacher or classmate). You can learn a lot about the medium and about yourself that way. For example, I taught myself how to oil paint.  It was very hard, I used crappy materials, but in the end it worked and I found out I really like structured techniques and processes, which now carry over into how I execute my drawings.  I also taught myself sumi ink drawing which, through constant failure, taught me how to become zen when I begin a new drawing, and accept the mistakes. I probably wouldn’t have come across these ideologies organically, had I started immediately studying in a degree program in art without some prior experience messing around with art.
As an alternative to a full graduate experience, I have encountered many folks who have taken continuing education (CE) classes at schools and art centers and they, too, have found their artistic community.  I think CE classes are an extraordinary opportunity for vast exploration, just because you have many choices at your disposal. Between college courses, workshops with working artists, evening studio classes, lectures, and camps, there are plenty of ways for an artist to further their education outside of graduate school.
I am a firm believer that passion drives absolutely everything that anyone wants to achieve in life and you must go down any path that suits your practice, whether it be an MFA degree or not! The answer to “Should I get my MFA?” is ultimately something to be decided between you, your passion, and your plans for the future.”

Know Your (Living) Artists

Posted on July 19, 2017 by merionart

A Quick Personal Story and A Challenge:
In a college studio art class, my professor did an experiment. As a quiz, without Googling, he asked the class to name 50 artists in 10 minutes. “Piece of cake!” we thought, and started listing. He continued, “-who are ALIVE TODAY,” and we froze, crossing Michelangelo, Picasso, Pollack, and DaVinci off the list, minds racing, Art History majors panicking.
“Dead, dead, dead again, dead, very dead…”
50 suddenly seemed like a much larger number, and we almost immediately tried to stretch the time limit, and the definition of “artist,” and “alive,” and “today,” to make more names count: “Ray, do we count? We’re all artists, there’s like 10 kids in this class, okay, how about you and all our other professors, cool that’s 15, oh, that guy that died just last week, can he count? Yeah, I know I hadn’t heard about him ‘til he died, but-”.

We got a little desperate…
Dead Artists’ Society
This exercise was meant to point out that the most easily recognizable names in Art History are dead, and most have been dead for hundreds of years, but the landscape of the art world is always changing. It requires constant effort to keep up with changing times -going to galleries, reading art news, doing research- but that effort is worthwhile.
A Challenge
If this challenge still sounds like a piece of cake to you (good for you!), take it up a notch. The most easily recognizable names in Art History are also overwhelmingly male, white, and European. If asked to name 30 living female artists, could you get 30 in 10 minutes? How about 30 female artists, period? Without cheating!
Try it! Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Could you name 25 black artists, any nationality? Or 20 American artists, alive or otherwise? How about just 15 Asian artists? Try 5 local artists- can you name 5 artists working right now in a 5 mile radius of your town or nearest city?  They do exist, even in the suburbs!
The Takeaway
Take 10 minutes today to learn about living artists. See what new things people are trying with contemporary technology and what they have to say about modern-day issues. Starry Night and the Mona Lisa aren’t the end all and be-all of artwork, lots has happened in the last hundred years that’s worth painting.
Take 10 more minutes to specifically research female artists, and non-Caucasian artists, both working today and throughout history. Their work will educate and inspire. They are around, and they are fascinating. They’ve always been in the art world, pushing aesthetic boundaries, exploring issues of race and gender, and just generally defying the image of an artist as a white guy with a mustache, a palette, and a jaunty beret.
You know… *this* guy.
Make it a point to learn about local artists, even (especially) those who haven’t yet been “discovered”- take a look at what’s on display at the nearest gallery, even if you’re in a small town, or check out local art fairs. See the kind of art made by people living and working in the same time and place as you do, and see if the things you have in common foster a deeper connection and understanding of their artwork.
I promise the effort is still worthwhile!

5 Reasons to Reframe Old Art

Posted on July 6, 2017 by merionart
Look around your room. Is there some art on the walls? Nice! Is it more than 10 years since that frame was opened? Less nice. Think about your basement or attic- is there any framed artwork stored there? Even less nice.
Once something has been framed, the inclination is to leave it alone, pretty much forever. After all, it’s framed, it’s done: the only thing worse than re-doing a bad job is re-doing a good one. While it’s true that a good frame job will preserve and display artwork for a good, long time, nothing is permanent, and eventually it’s time to take your art down and bring it to see a custom framer for a checkup or a refresh. Here are some reasons you should consider reframing or refitting your old art and photographs.
(Reframing describes taking the art out of its old frame and choosing a new frame and or mat. Refitting involves taking art out of its old frame and putting it back in without changing out the mat, glass, or frame.)

Changing Styles
This is the most obvious reason to change the frames on decorative artwork. While framers often recommend “framing to the piece,” not to the room it’s destined for, most people consider their home’s aesthetic when picking out a framing package. That frame may have gone with your decor when it was chosen, but you’ve got new furniture and new paint now. If it’s a very old piece, the colors of mats and frames may have shifted or faded over time, and a combo that looked great now clashes. If it’s a piece you inherited or something that’s been through a move or two, maybe it was designed for an entirely different house in an entirely different style. And hey, maybe your personal tastes have just changed over time- something you loved in your twenties is going to look very different to a 40 year old.
The frames we chose in 1995 are not the frames we would choose for 2017. Even something as straightforward as metallics go through changing trends: In the 80’s we were into shiny silver chrome, in the 90’s we loved that brassy gold, and the last 10 years have been all about gunmetal and copper, and recently rose-gold. The point is, simply swapping out the mat and frame can totally revitalize a piece of art that feels tired or dated. It’s the same as reupholstering an antique chair or changing the tailoring on a vintage dress- little tweaks can bring it into this decade and give it years of new life.
*(As I was writing this post, an object lesson came in- an antique map, which has been in its frame for probably 50 years. Below, you can see three pictures: the first shows the dinged and dated frame, too thin for the piece, with no mat. In the third photo you can see the backing, mid-century cardboard, which is starting to break down and mildew. In the middle, you can see the back of the artwork, which is stained and brittle from being against the cardboard.
The map will be getting a gorgeous cream 100% cotton rag mat, a cream acid free backing, and a classic black and gold frame. A checkup and a reframe are going to save this cool 1930’s map for generations to come!)
Definitely time for a reframe!
Check-up on Art Condition
If you have a very old piece of original artwork or an old photo, you might want to refit just in order to give your art a checkup. This is an especially good idea for artwork that was already framed when you received or purchased it. It’s good to know just how the frame was put together, whether the mats and backing are acid free, and whether the glass is uv protective. We once saw a piece that a customer had inherited from a family member, and wanted to make sure it was well preserved. When we popped the backing off, it turned out the frame was good, the mat was fine, but it was mounted using duct tape and an old piece of 1960’s wood paneling- NOT the PPFA recommended method for hinging delicate artwork!
This is really a checkup for your art- when you go to the doctor for a checkup, it’s not because something is wrong, it’s to stop things going wrong in the future, and to touch base with a professional who knows what to look out for. Having a framer take a look behind the dustcover once every decade or so is a very good way to keep your art in good condition for years to come.
It’s a combination tune-up and spa day for your frame…
Clean Glass and Dust
If you’ve got some art that’s been sitting framed in a basement or attic covered in cobwebs, or lives in a humid bathroom, or salty and dusty shore-house, or even just a frame that hasn’t got a good dust-cover on the back, this might be the reason to get it re-framed or refitted. Dust, insects, dirt, humidity and oils can get behind the glass and make your artwork look grubby and gross. Out-gassing from incorrectly framed artwork can fog the insides of the glass. Let a framer take the glass off and clean it, brush off any residue, give the frame itself a good rubdown and then put the whole shebang back together with a new dust-cover- it will give a dirty old frame a new lease on life. It can even be economical: a cleaning and refit is cheap compared to the cost of buying new artwork- you can spend a fraction and take care of the artwork you already have.
This is especially important for a frame that has escaped some kind of catastrophe- flood, fire, etc. We had a customer bring in a sweet cross-stitch that had escaped a house fire but not the fire-hoses- it had some moisture stains and discoloration, but no actual structural damage to the frame. The customer’s aunt had made it and given it as a gift decades ago. The customer felt obliged to display it every time the aunt visited, but the rest of the year, she was so embarrassed and put off by the outdated frame and water stains that it lived in a closet. We chucked the old frame, had the cross-stitch laundered, and put it in a fresh new mat and frame- now it’s lovely and clean, and on the wall all year round.
Cleaned, lean, and ready to hang! No hideous, stained-and-dated before-photo necessary…
This may sound like an odd reason, but it’s a valid one: frames are heavy, and glass can shatter. Frames need to be treated carefully or they could be a hazard! I knew a family who hung a framed piece next to a heavy door. Every time one of their kids closed the door hard, the piece would drop off the wall, and the glass would shatter everywhere. This happened multiple times before we suggested reframing using plexi- no more problem!
Another time, we had a customer who wanted to re-use an antique frame. When we got it, it was so loosely joined and damaged that it easily shifted into a rhombus and could barely hold a screw without falling apart. That’s bad enough as-is, but then the customer cheerfully mentioned that he intended to hang it over the baby’s crib. There were looks of horror all around, while we imagined this heavy frame disintegrating and the glass plummeting towards an unsuspecting child! Sometimes it’s time to reframe for safety’s sake: let the framer pick you a brand new frame that’s structurally sound!
New Framing Technology
One of the best reasons to replace a frame, mat, and glass is the advent of new framing technology. Sure, Grandma’s wedding photo was framed with state-of-the-art framing tech in 1945, but we’ve got acid free mats, conservation glass, new frames, and better backings now. This is hugely important for things of sentimental value. You’ll want to reframe to avoid mat burn, UV-bleaching, and out-gassing that comes from the breakdown of old framing materials.  If your treasured family snapshots are fading to that vintage Instagram-filter greenish orange, it’s time to reframe. If it has been more than 20 years since your item was framed, chances are we may have something new to show you! When your photos have lasted another 100 years, you can thank us…
If your Grandma’s cherished color photos look like this, REPLACE THE GLASS, please!
Reframing the Conversation
I hope we’ve given you some food for thought! As professional custom framers we always want what’s best for you and your artwork. A good frame provides both decoration and preservation, and we always want to make sure your frames are lookin’ good and working well. As always, feel free to leave any questions in the comments!

“WORTH IT!” What To Prioritize When Buying Art Supplies

Posted on June 28, 2017 by merionart
For the savvy artist, shopping for art supplies can be a delicate balancing act. You try to walk the fine line between buying the highest quality materials and going broke. The trick is knowing which items you can save on, and which items to splurge on. We often trade tips about where we can cut corners and how to save money, but what about the other side of the equation? We asked our staff of experienced artists: when buying art supplies, which things do you always recommend spending a little extra money on?
“A little goes a long way”
J (Sales Associate and Painter)- recommends always choosing a high quality paint, especially for oil. He recommends Williamsburg and Holbein. Why? “Color, color, color! The cheaper oils never have the luminosity or depth of color as the good stuff. And mixing is a nightmare- colors turn to mud so quickly!” Sarah (Office Assistant and Mixed Media Artist) concurs, saying “Better to get a small tube of good paint than a big tube of junk. With artist’s grade paint, a little goes a long way.” High quality paint is more highly pigmented. You can always thin it down, but you can’t do much to improve a low quality paint.
“It’s hard to get it to do what you want, unless it’s high quality!”
Darryl, Justine and Caroline all agreed that what they splurge on is the substrate– which makes sense: a good substrate is the foundation of your artwork. Draftsman and Sales Associate Daryl says “Paper! It’s tempting to buy cheap stuff at first, but you’ll notice how much the quality of the paper will start to matter in the long run. You’ll notice a difference in the ability to erase for extended drawings, and cheaper paper will yellow over time.”
Caroline (Acrylic Painter and newbie Sales Associate) suggests using high quality canvas, like Masterpiece “With canvas, the thicker it is, the better it looks, and a high quality canvas takes the paint better” Justine put in a good word for artist grade watercolor paper– A quality brand like Arches watercolor paper will perform differently than cheaper papers: “It’s just so much better quality than a student grade paper, and it’s hard to get it to do what you want unless it’s high quality”
“You’re gonna want the Gold!”
Keith, (Mixed Media Artist and Floor Manager) also encourages looking at different levels of quality even within one brand. “If I’m doing any kind of mixed media layering, make sure to use Montana Gold spray paint rather than Montana Black.” Montana Gold is acrylic based, which allows it to react properly with the other waterbased media . “The pigments in Montana are much better than those in Krylon or other discount brands, and if you’re doing any acrylic or waterbased stuff, you’re gonna want the Gold.”
When you’re dealing with specialty products, it’s important to get them right- after all, you chose them for their special properties. That’s why Justine (Purchasing Manager and Painter) advises spending a little extra on “Gold things.” Whether it’s watercolor, oil paint, acrylics: It’s worth it to invest a little to get a good metallic. If you’re looking for a certain shine and sparkle, it’s best to upgrade- low quality metallics can end up looking cheap and gaudy. “Student quality doesn’t have the same lustre as an artists quality”. She particularly likes the look she gets using Finetec watercolors and Golden acrylic golds.
“You’re gonna change your couch sooner than you’ll change your art…”
Dave (Sculptor and Floor Manager) believes in splurging on custom framing. It’s the best protection for your artwork, and it will last a long, long time. If the upfront cost is divided over the number of years you’ll be displaying the frame, it’s not really a splurge at all. He pointed out “You’re gonna change your couch sooner than you’ll change your art, if it’s going to be on your wall for 20 years, it’s worth spending some money on it.”
Dave also ascribes to the old adage that a craftsman is only as good as his tools. “Especially when you’re talking about sculpting, high quality tools are going to last longer and stay sharper, and keep you safer if you’re carving. Brushes, carving tools, ceramic tools… most of the time, you get what you pay for.” And a good set of tools will pay you back for years to come.
Justine agrees, and endorses Winsor & Newton Eclipse brushes, “Even if you’re gentle with your brushes, high quality brushes will keep their shape longer and perform better over time”. She also advises giving some attention to often overlooked tools, like erasers and pencil sharpeners. Don’t try to cut costs just because they’re the little things. Cheap erasers can smear and smudge and transfer color onto your artwork, and “Cheap sharpeners dull out really quick, I specifically recommend the KUM brand sharpeners. With higher end sharpeners you can replace the blades when they get dull”
“The concentrated pigment really makes colors pop”
Jen (Marketing Manager and Pastel Artist) predictably plugged high quality oil pastels. “Sennelier oil pastels. They’re so high end- they have so much pigment and they glide smoothly. Because they’re so high quality, a little goes a long way and the concentrated pigment really makes colors pop. You really don’t need too many colors- One of the small sets is all you need. They are great for details and accents, in oil pastel pieces and mixed media”
“Go higher grade for your favorite color”
When Cory (Hand Lettering Guru and Sales Associate) was asked what he recommends spending extra money on, he immediately replied “Your favorite color. I always tell people, go higher grade for your favorite color. If you’re buying oil paints, buy everything else in Winton and buy your favorite colors in Williamsburg, if you’re buying watercolors, buy everything else student grade and your favorite color in Daniel Smith.” The colors you love to look at are the colors where you will really notice a difference in quality.
Obviously the idea of what is “Worth it!” will vary from person to person and medium to medium, but we hope this has given you an idea of how we like to prioritize when we shop for art supplies. You don’t need to always be using the best of the best, or the cheapest of the cheap, but we each have our specific areas where we feel it’s best to sacrifice bargain prices for quality. We hope you benefit from our trial and error!
Feel free to ask us any questions about the stuff we prefer, and be sure to leave a comment and tell us what high quality items you make sure to buy!

Practice the Art of Summer!

Posted on June 28, 2017 by merionart
Summer is here, and it presents all kinds of exciting opportunities for artists and crafters! Take advantage of the nice weather and time off, and practice the Art of Summer! Here are some suggestions for how to work art into your summer plans, to have a creative season and artistic vacation!

This blog post will be liberally sprinkled with gorgeous and tenuously related stock photos for your summer art inspiration!
Get Messy!– When the weather is nice, the world is your dropcloth! Get yourself a tarp and try all those things you couldn’t do indoors- throw some gesso, try a “dirty pour,” splatter paint, tye-dye, spray paint, work large scale, and free your mind!

This guy knows what we’re talking about.
Get Looking Around!– This is the time of year for outdoor art and craft fairs and plein air painting. Get out there and see who is doing what! It’s a great time to take a stroll and see what your neighborhood artists have been up to all Winter. Talk with artists with similar styles and compare techniques. Check out outdoor art shows and observe new trends and styles. Support local artists and craftsmen by buying directly from them at these events!
That is a serious grid.
Get Out There!– Try Plein Air sketching and painting! Park yourself somewhere pretty, take a hike, tuck a small sketchbook into a pocket and wander off. Plein Air mediums like watercolor or pen sketching allow you to draw and paint in areas that would be uncomfortable in Winter. Go get a fresh perspective and take your art on the go!

If you can sketch here, you’ve hit the Plein Air jackpot!
Get Your Garden in Order!– Use this opportunity to turn your art on your garden, balcony, or other outdoor areas! Refresh your garden signs using paint pens, paint some decorative rocks, make some cool mosaic stepping stones, build a birdhouse, spraypaint outdoor furniture to update your decor, decorate some flower pots, and just generally beautify your outdoor space!

These could use some paint!
 Get Into Nature!– Try incorporating nature into your artwork! Use summer flowers for a still-life, or get outdoors to draw some summer fauna. Try using leaves and found natural objects to make awesome gel monoprints or Solar-Fast dyed t-shirts!

I bet we can think of 5 different ways to use a sunflower!
 Get Prepared!– Even Summer days aren’t all nice- snag a Summer Grab Bag and stow it away for a rainy day! These $19.99 packs are a great value (most contents are 30% off MSRP) and great fun. We’ve hand-packed kits for everything from painting to pipecleaner animals! Stock up now and you’ll never be bored!

It can’t all be fun in the sun…
 Get Printing!– Our Repro department isn’t just for architects- there are some crazy fun things you can do in Repro! Print a huge banner for a family reunion! Get a foamboard cutout made of a friend or celeb, and pose with the Pope or the Prez at your backyard BBQ! Blow up a huge copy of your little brothers most embarrassing photo for his birthday! Make a crazy collage for a friends wedding! Sky’s the limit!

This pic has nothing to do with Repro, but we figured some extra pretty stock photos wouldn’t hurt anyone… Although you could always order a canvas print!
Get Framed!– Take your vacation snapshots, your gorgeous panoramas, and all your getaway sketches to our framing counter and let us preserve your Summer memories in a gorgeous frame!
If, for instance, you vacationed here, you could frame this picture to make all your friends jealous. I’d be jealous.

Art & Craft Fair Basics

Posted on June 21, 2017 by merionart
Ah, summer! Season of lovely weather, time off, and outdoor art fairs! Art fairs are a great opportunity for professional and semi-professional artists, especially those just starting out. Your art gets exposure, you see what the local art scene looks like, and you get a free critique on the work you’ve done, all while (hopefully) making money, without having to quit your day job.
If you’re an artist participating in one of the myriad art and craft festivals this season, or an artist who thinks they might want to, here is a list of what you’ll need to do, and some suggestions about what to bring, from a seasoned art fair veteran.
Things To Consider

Consider the Weather– Precipitation in the forecast? Bag everything, gather tarps, and make sure your tent is waterproofed. High winds? You’re going to want some tent weights- SERIOUSLY. (see that blue tent above, in the middle distance? We found it upside-down on top of our tent on the second day of that fair, because of high winds and no weights. Don’t ask what happened to her artwork…) Humid day? Silica gel packets are your best buddy, put them in everything except your mouth. 90 degree heat? Consider giving out free ice water. Holiday market in the northeast? Maybe bake some cookies.
This fair was 2 days long. It rained like 6 inches. Tarps aplenty.
Have a Good Attitude– smile constantly, say hello, compliment people, pet puppies, make casual conversation. Make friends with your neighbors at the other tents- you’re all in this together. Form relationships and tell stories- people love to talk to the artist about art they enjoy.
Know Your Audience – What kind of town are you in? What kind of event are you at? Is this the sort of place where you’d spend $500+ on an original, or is this more of a $10 print for a kids bedroom wall venue? Dress, act, and display accordingly. My booth and outfit look differently at an outdoor summer casual art-and-music festival than at an winter indoor holiday ladies-shopping-event in a gallery.
I wasn’t raised in a barn, but I do occasionally sell in one…
Dress to Impress- tailor your look to the weather and the kind of event you are at. Remember you are your art’s best salesperson. Looking friendly and attractive makes people more comfortable, and comfortable customers will stay and chat – and shop. Plus, dressing nicely can give you more confidence, and buyers are impressed by confidence.
Standardize– For ease of use, I suggest you make prints at the standard sizes that companies make ready-made paper, frames, and mats for. This will make printing, matting, bagging, framing, and pricing SO. MUCH. SIMPLER. If you work in circles or squares or something unusual, at least try to repeat the same sizes/shapes. This will also make your displays look more uniform and organized. Standard art sizes are 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, 16×20, etc.
Find a Buddy– make friends with another artist or craftsman with a complementary style to yours and share a booth, or get adjoining booths. This allows you to have someone to talk to, plan with, commiserate with, carry things with, redesign the booth with, not to mention someone to watch your booth when you need to pee. Make friends with your fellow artists. If the customers aren’t biting, they are the only thing that will get you through the day, and you can often make a trade, artwork for artwork. Some of my favorite art in my house has been bartered for after a long day at an art fair.
Me ‘n my Art Fair Buddy!
Tell Your Friends– tell your family, tell your coworkers, tell your neighbors, tell your spouse’s coworkers, share on Facebook, tweet, etc, etc, and so on. Make sure everyone knows about your fair. Bring more people out for these events. Your people don’t usually buy from you, but if everyone selling at the fair brought 3 friends in, everyone at the fair would do a lot better.
Things to Bring: Your Art Fair Checklist
  • Business license, tax ID #, or other paperwork- Some shows require you display several, others don’t even require you to have them, much less display them. Make sure you know what kind of official documentation and paperwork you need before showing up at the sale.
  • 10×10 tent, white roof– This is the standard size of an outdoor art and craft sale booth. Make sure you know how to set it up beforehand. White is best for lighting- I’ve used a red and a tan one in the past, tan makes it look dark, and red makes the booth look like an oven.
  • Square reader and Smartphone– free to get, small fee for credit card processing. This allows you to take credit cards, as well as keep track of cash and check transactions. You can go cash only, but these days, it pays to be connected.
  • Change– In a cashbox or zip pouch or belt pouch. Make sure you have enough for the day, in case you can’t leave your booth or there isn’t a bank nearby. Make sure someone is watching this at all times.
  • Receipt paper– if you use a Square reader, technically you are required to be able to provide a paper receipt if asked for one. I have never been asked for one.
  • Business Cards– so people know where to find your creative self once they get home and regret not buying that painting they hemmed and hawed about for 40 minutes. Also good for picking up comissions for people who like your style.
  • Twine, Heavy Packing Tape, Scissors and Paper Towels– Word to the wise: there are very few situations in which having twine, tape, scissors, and paper towels on hand is not a great idea. They will get you through a number of potential issues, in life as well as art fairs.
  • Zip Ties– to hang art, repair broken things, add support to tent poles, emphatically attach things to other things
  • Clippers– to remove the zip ties. Very important.
  • Magnets, hooks, clips, and wires– to hang pictures on grids, hang artwork off the tent, and attach tent sides or curtains or tarps.
  • Easels, grids, crates– and other ways to display framed work upright. This is where the magnets, hooks, clips and wires come in. There are commercially available grids made for this purpose, but you can use old doors, wire mesh grids, garden latticework; anything that works for you.

Gotta love the grids!
  • Tables– to display things on and act as a register space. When you’re placing tables, make sure you think about the arrangement of your booth- consider flow, visibility, and customer comfort: can customers move freely through your booth and see your artwork well?
  • Comfy chair– you’ll be there for several hours, and selling can really take it out of you. Also, with certain layouts, standing in a 10×10 tent can seem overeager and scare off customers, sitting allows them to browse.
  • Salty snacks and cold Gatorade (or croissants and hot coffee, if seasonally appropriate)- see above re: selling can really take it out of you, especially at a summer fair. You’ll need to replenish electrolytes and nutrients. I absolutely  consider Fritos to be a nutrient.
  • Baskets or print rack for displaying bagged prints– pick baskets or racks that fit your aesthetic- rustic, modern, metal, wood, white, multicolored, naturally stained, etc.
  • Attractive table cloths– again, try to match your aesthetic. White or black is a good bet all around, but if you’ve got a funky colorful vibe, feel free to mix it up.
With all this stuff, you should be prepped and ready to go for any outdoor fair this year! Remember that Merion Art and Repro is here for all your art fair prep needs! Our Repro and Framing departments are your source for prints, frames, backing, and clearbags to display your art, and our Art Supply department has tape, framing wire, pigma microns, easels, and other supplies! (Now, if only we sold Gatorade and Fritos…)

What the heck is gouache?!

Posted on June 15, 2017 by merionart
… is exactly what I asked a coworker of mine at the art store when she told me that she refuses to use anything else.
This is when the law of attraction kicked in, opening my eyes to the small but very dedicated fan base that gouache has as a painting medium. The thing was, I never really saw too many people actually using it, but that’s because until that point I didn’t have my eyes open.
(A quick aside, for those of you only coming across this medium in writing, gouache is pronounced “gwash” – not goosh, not goo-ake, not g-whoa-che, or a hundred other pronunciations that come up as seemingly reasonable options.)
Returning to the question, the answer is simply this: Gouache is opaque watercolor. It comes in either tubes or in pans, dilutes and reactivates with water, and can be used on paper. Unlike watercolor, gouache will sit on top of the paper in a superficial layer, creating a painterly effect. Gouache uses pigment that is more coarsely ground, usually with a higher pigment-to-binder ratio. Additionally, chalk may be added to increase the opacity.
And it looks suh-weet.
A whole new world
The aforementioned coworker (who we’ll call Julia, because that’s her name) had a small exhibit of works that were gouache on paper, which spun my head right ’round and gave me a glimpse into the potential of the style.
The colors were flat and opaque on the thick watercolor paper, yet just as vivid as any oil or acrylic paint. The even distribution of each color gave the appearance of a print.
As an illustrator with a preference for cartoons, seeing the medium in use seemed to fit right in to place. For me it seemed that gouache filled in the gap between the even distribution of color and dynamic control employed by alcohol markers, and the and the opaque, definite coverage of acrylic and oil paint.
And it goes hand in hand with countless wet and dry media alike. On a background of watercolor paint, gouache can go over the top to bring say, a cartoon character in a scene to the forefront. It also goes well to create different effects when used alongside pastels, chalk, conte, colored pencils, and even graphite.
Even Picasso worked in gouache. This piece is from 1905
Think you’ve never seen a piece in gouache? Think again!
Before our modern era of digital colorization, gouache served several uses in the artistic and commercial realms. Heck, many brands such as Winsor and Newton and Daler Rowney still call their own lines ‘Designer’s Gouache’. The very clothes on your back, the building you live in, or the car you drive (assuming that it’s old enough) could have been designed originally with gouache paint.
Like comic books? How about movies? Some animated cels for films have even used gouache as color for its consistency and opacity.
A gouache painting from the 1950’s by post WW2 Austrailan Textile designer Shirley de Vocht
So give it a shot
If you’re looking for a new way to express yourself and want to get into something with a slight learning curve, but fits right in with your heavy-body painting skill set, give gouache a try.
Like watercolor, it all you gotta do is squeeze it out of the tube, add some water, mix it up, and you’re good to go!
The trick lies in the consistency. You just want to make sure that the paint is wet enough to come off of your brush evenly, but thick enough that the strokes level out onto the surface into one layer without streaking. Try it for yourself and see.
Happy painting, friends!

Silverpoint: Darryl Smith Goes Into Detail

Posted on June 7, 2017 by merionart
Drawing With Silverpoint
In preparation for this week’s silverpoint drawing demo with Darryl Smith, we wanted to delve into the history and specifics of this time-honored medium. Silverpoint is one of the oldest and also one of the  most archivally stable art mediums. Metalpoint drawing has been used since antiquity- a stylus made of metal is used to create meticulous and delicate linework. It allows for indelible marks of intricate detail on a variety of prepared surfaces: silverpoint does not make marks at all on un-prepared paper. Its inability to be erased makes it an excellent medium for student artists developing discipline and planning. One of the primary mediums for sketching by apprentices and artists alike before the invention of the graphite pencil, silverpoint was a favored drawing medium of master artists like da Vinci, Dürer, Rembrandt,  Raphael, and van Eyck. The silver in silverpoint oxidizes and tarnishes over time, naturally creating darker colors and warm brown tones of patina. For more information about silverpoint, check out
Draftsman Darryl Smith Goes Into Detail:
Silverpoint is an old method of drawing reaching its peak popularity around the 13th century in Italy and carried well through the Renaissance.  It is a very delicate style of drawing that many students learned in apprenticeships where they would draw with a stylus made of silver.
Drawing is a fundamental part of learning about art, and silverpoint is dependent on drawing skills.  Rendering form with a delicate line is a very difficult task, and this material can teach artists at any level the art of the line. Silverpoint drawing can be a demanding medium for some because, unlike working with graphite and charcoal, it is rather impossible to erase without destroying the paper.  Traditionally students in apprenticeships would take bone ash and saliva on a wooden board and do quick sketches and wipe them away by covering the board again with saliva. Nowadays we have a couple of different grounds that work for silverpoint drawings.  The ground is the most important part of the silverpoint drawing process because this is what allows the silver, or any other metal, to be deposited onto the paper.
Rendering in silverpoint is only done with lines and not shading or smudging like in more contemporary drawing media. When you draw with silverpoint, the value range is very limited; one cannot achieve a very rich black like drawing with charcoal or graphite.  Instead, one has to carefully and strategically layer lines over top of each other to achieve a somewhat dark tone. In ‘Il Libro dell’ Arte, Cennino d’Andrea Cennini’s artist’s guide from circa 1400, he explains the technique, which has remained unchanged for 600 years:
“…run the style over the little panel so lightly that you can hardly make out what you first start to do; strengthening your strokes little by little, going back many times to produce the shadows. And the darker you want to make the shadows in the accents, the more times you go back to them; and so, conversely, go back over the reliefs only a few times.”
In modern times, a fun way to practice drawing for silverpoint is to try drawing with a very thin pen, to get used to not being able to erase or smudge.
Images Copyright Darryl Smith
I am often drawn to this historical medium because of the delicacy and the craft that comes along with it.  I often enjoy the toil and trial-and-error factor that comes with learning these historical methods of art making.  I too have struggled with silverpoint drawing; sometimes I have even pierced my ground and thus destroyed the paper! I enjoy the sense of timelessness that comes with making art in traditional media.  It is very challenging and you learn to grow from these obstacles to create something quite exquisite.
This weekend at Merion Art, I’ll be bringing my own metalpoint drawings done in silver, copper, and 24-karat gold. I will also be discussing grounds for silverpoint that we already have at Merion Art and Repro, as well as ready made papers for those who want to practice the material right away! I’ll also answer any questions in the comments here, so please don’t hesitate to ask!
-Darryl Smith
Darryl is a member of the Society of Metalpoint Artists He studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and currently works in a variety of drawing media from sumi ink and charcoal to silverpoint and graphite. He will soon be pursuing his Masters of Fine Arts in Drawing at the New York Academy of the Fine Art.

Framing: A Primer for Artists

Posted on May 31, 2017 by merionart
Among other things in my storied career, I have worked as both an artist and a custom framer. Controlling the artwork, the reproduction of the artwork, and the framing of the artwork, is a handy bit of vertical integration for a professional artist. It saves time and money, and has given me experience and a perspective on creating, preserving, and displaying artwork that many artists (and framers) lack because they only do one thing or the other. I always love to talk shop and share with other artists all the things I’ve learned over the years. This Framing 101 primer is directed mainly at artists who are just getting started framing their own work to display or sell.
This is where the magic happens…

At some point in your artistic life (or just life in general) you’ll be obliged to put a picture in a frame. It’s still the best way to display and preserve 2D artwork and photography. Most of the time you will likely be asking a framer to do this for you. Some people take this as a sign that they don’t need to know anything about framing, but I look at it like owning a car- you might not repair it yourself, but you should at least know what’s under the hood, and you should know how to tell if your professional is indeed a professional. Here are the basic tips I’d recommend for making good decisions when choosing how to frame something:
Anatomy of a framing package…

Basics: Anatomy Of A Framing Package
The standard 2D framing package is comprised, from back to front, of a dust sheet, backing board (held in with framers points or turn buttons), the mounting board, the artwork, a mat or mats, spacers (optional), glass, and the frame, which is sealed around the whole thing with framers points and covered over by a dust cover. The mat is attached by a hinge to the backing-board, after which the artwork is attached to the backing board in the desired position.  You’ll be asked to make choices about what kind of mat, glass, frame, hinging, spacers, and other features you would like on your artwork or photo. When an artwork of unknown provenance comes in to a framer, the framer has to make educated guesses and err on the side of caution, but there are different choices you can make as an artist, when you know how/when/with what materials an artwork was made.
There are no real rules to framing, but there are definitely best practices. The most important pseudo-rule I always try to follow when framing is this: Everything should be reversible. Never do anything to the artwork that cannot be undone. Framing isn’t supposed to be forever- glass needs to be cleaned, mats may need to be changed, frames may be switched due to damage or just changing styles. But if you use glue all over everything, you’re toast. I had a customer take a collage she had made by gluing things together, and glue it into a frame- the frame is now a permanent part of her collage.
Original artwork shouldn’t be dry-mounted or laminated, since those are permanent processes (Even so-called reversible dry-mounts are iffy to reverse), and since things can go wrong to ruin the artwork, because both of these options can require high heats and/or vacuum presses. The vacuum press flattens things amazingly well, but there’s a chance of permanent wrinkling and folding. Exception to the rule: In my time I have actually done both of these things to my own artwork- Laminated a large piece that was too big to be framed without it costing a mint, and dry-mounted a piece that was falling apart and needed more support. BUT I was present for both of these things, and I was aware that this could completely destroy the artwork if done wrong. A friend once had a careless framer at a big-box store dry-mount a watercolor of hers without asking: THIS WAS NOT OKAY. Doing something like that without talking it over is asking for disaster- it’s very risky, and requires research and probably prayer. What if some of her pigments or materials were heat sensitive? If you try to heat-mount an oil pastel, for instance, you’ll have a melty nightmare and you’ll probably ruin both the press and the pastel.
Choose Wisely….

For mounting, I suggest PH neutral hinging tapes that can be removed cleanly, or photo corners or other plastic-based mounting apparatuses, which don’t get stuck to the artwork at all. I’m a big fan of acid-free gummed paper or linen hinging tape- you moisten the back and stick it on, and if you need to take it off later, gently moistening the back of the tape with a damp q-tip should get it to release.
Use the best materials you can afford. Pseudo rule #2: Mats and backing should be acid free– 100% rag mat if possible. Using non-acid-free mats is a terrible and too common rookie mistake. They are cheaper than good mats, but they will become yellowed and brittle far too fast. Sometimes customers will try to make makeshift backings for their artwork using cardboard, construction paper, or other acidic materials. Non-acid-free mats and backing will begin to break down over time- check any elementary school classroom at the end of the year, you’ll see construction paper art projects yellowing and fading! This chemical breakdown can cause outgassing that fogs up glass, which looks terrible. Acidic paper mats can cause artwork to become brittle and discolored. It can even cause brown marks that creep into the sides of artwork, known as “mat burn”- artwork is literally being burned with acid! Take any really old piece of paper out of an old mat, and you’ll see an orangey-brown cast around where the old mat touched it. Ew.
The horrors of mat burn!

It’s easy to teach someone to tell the difference between an acid free mat and a acid-full paper mat. If you hold them side by side, the core of an acid free mat will be a crisp white, and the core of a non-acid-free mat will be a color closer to oak-tag or light café au lait.
“One of these things is not like the others…”

If you’re working on a cool paper with rough edges, or your artwork is an irregular shape, or you are a fan of a more dynamic modern look with your artwork, you might not want to use a cut mat. This is called a float-mount: you mount the artwork on top of a sheet of matboard so the edges are visible. There are some really cool things you can do with float-mounted art. You can raise it up on a piece of foamboard to make it look like it’s actually floating, or show off edges of torn or handmade papers.
Important thing to remember though; Pseudo-rule 3: the glass should NOT touch the artwork. That’s what the mat is for- to keep a bit of space between artwork and glass so that if moisture gets in, it has somewhere to go that’s not your artwork. You’re insulating the art from outside influences- the phrase is “creating a micro-environment.” Also, you’ll want to prevent things like glossy inkjet/ giclee prints, oil pastels or mixed media pieces from sticking to the glass. If you float mount, use spacers. The ones I like are adhesive backed plastic strips that you stick to the edge of the underside of the glass and come in 1/16” ⅛” and ¼” inch sizes.
Choosing to use conservation glass is one of the most important and most basic choices you will make while framing.  It’s like sunscreen for your artwork. Conservation glass blocks 99% of harmful UV light from reaching your artwork or photo. A good framer will pretty much always default to a UV protective glass, like Tru-Vue brand Conservation Clear glass. UV glass (AKA Conservation Clear) shouldn’t cost very much more than regular glass. If it does, you may be looking at a different kind of glass.
This Tru Vue ad is one of the best examples of what can happen if you ignore UV protection.

UV protective glass is always a good choiceeven if the art is not in direct sunlight. This is important. It will stop your paints and pastels from losing their color, and keep your mats and substrate from discoloring or getting brittle. I’ve seen this at every framer I’ve worked for; a customer says “Oh, well it’s going to be in a room with no direct sunlight!” and I have to explain again that lightbulbs can damage artwork too! Somehow this never becomes common knowledge. If it’s light enough to view the artwork, it’s light enough to damage it. Fluorescent light is particularly damaging. Psuedo-Rule #4: Choose life, choose Conservation Glass.
Object lesson: I had a customer bring in a 30 year old chalk pastel one time, done on a green paper with a ghastly lavender mat. She said “I don’t remember it looking so bad when I was younger, but I guess it’s just tastes changing over time!” Nope! When we took it out of the frame, you could see a totally different paper color on the back of the areas where dark black pastel had blocked some light, and different mat colors where the lip of the frame had hidden it. 30 years in a normally lit room had totally changed the piece from what the artist had intended. UV light is the enemy. 
More Notes on Glazing: UV glass is not the same as “Non Glare” or “Museum” glass- “Non-glare” glass means it is anti-reflective, but doesn’t necessarily mean it is anti-UV. “Non-glare glass” can also be used to refer to something called Reflection Control, which has an etched matte surface to reduce glare. Reflection Control has an interesting modern texture, but can blur the artwork if it’s more than approximately 1/16 away from the artwork. Museum glass is both UV protective and non-glare, it looks like the glass isn’t even there. It can costs upwards of around 3 times as much as UV glass will, but sometimes this is worth it!
Conservation, Reflection Control, and Museum type glazing also come in acrylic. Acrylic is much lighter and is shatter-proof, so for a piece that is being shipped or otherwise handled, or artwork destined for high-traffic or earthquake-prone areas (hey, it’s something to consider!) acrylic may be a better bet. Fun fact: to properly insure an expensive piece, it will need to be framed with acrylic and not glass. You will pay a bit more for the scratch resistant, break resistant nature of acrylic, but if you ever see a shard of broken framing glass impaling the artwork it was supposed to be protecting, you will see how it can be worth it in the long run

When the artist is choosing framing for their own work, there can be a temptation to cut corners (one of the dangers of vertical integration!), but any corners should only be cut with a full understanding of what it will do to the piece over time. It’s important to remember that the acceptable shortcuts will be different with each piece, because every artwork comes with unique challenges and opportunities.
All these things being said, you can certainly cut corners when you need to. If you’re framing 2D art temporarily for a small show, you might be able to frame it yourself using a cheap pre-made frame. If you’re just framing an easily reproducible digital print on matte paper, go ahead and squish it against the glass or dry mount it to a board- if it gets damaged you can make a new one. If you know your artwork is pretty darn lightfast, you can get away with using a less UV protective glass. If you know your piece is going to be reframed by the buyer, you can choose to go with a non-acid-free mat or backing (For instance, I do this when I sell cheap un-matted prints at little art fairs, I include a little disclaimer that says “This print is backed with non-acid-free material, please frame with acid free backing to preserve your print’). Don’t feel like every little color copy needs archival framing, but DEFINITELY don’t skimp on framing a valuable or important piece correctly!
This is a lot of information to throw at a person all at once, I realize, so the best advice I can give to someone getting started with framing is to know when to leave everything to a professional. If you’re framing anything that’s expensive, irreplaceable, three dimensional, oddly shaped, unconventionally made, of unknown origins, or easily damaged, you should let a professional framer handle it. Framing is a trade- it takes moments to learn but a lifetime to master. Framers will know things that laymen do not. It’s their job to remember all these options for you and help you to choose the right options for your particular piece.
Merion Art’s framers are the best around!

Find a professional framer you trust. Build a relationship and let them take care of your artwork. Ask them about UV glass and acid free products. Ask them if their preferred method of framing is both archival and reversible. Experienced framers will be able to tell you all their own Psuedo-Rules and exceptions to those rules, and they are always learning, because every piece of artwork is its own unique problem. Case in point- in the course of drafting this blog post, I learned a new tricks from the framers who proofread for me; a good framer is always happy to help others to be better framers!
I hope this has helped any artists hoping to have more control over what happens to their artwork after it’s made, as well as artists trying to figure out where costs and corners can be cut in framing. I’m happy to answer questions, so leave any pressing inquiries in the comments!
-Jen Richter

Intro to Oil Pastels

Posted on May 25, 2017 by merionart
My name is Jen Richter, and I’m an oil pastel artist (addict?). I could talk for hours about oil pastels, (their history, artists that use them, my experiences, blah blah blah) but this week I’m just going to give a quick intro to what they are, and how to use them.
Like many people, I was first introduced to oil pastels in elementary school art class, in the form of CrayPas. As an adult, I can still count the number of oil pastel artists I’ve met on one hand. When I show my artwork, people often have a hard time identifying the medium, and when I tell them, they’re still surprised. Often, they’ll say: “Oil pastels? I’ve thought about trying those, but aren’t they really hard to use?” or “Oil Pastels? Aren’t those only for kids?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve answered those questions, I’d have a lucrative silly-response side-business going.
Oil pastels are easy to use, and they’re not just for kids. Yes, there’s a learning curve- a drawing done in oil pastel usually needs a little development to look good, and that can scare people away. But there are huge benefits to using oil pastels. Oil pastels are cheap, easy to clean, easy to transport, easy to control, and perfect for artists of all ages and skill levels. Their particular composition and versatility allows for amazing effects, gorgeous textures, subtle gradients, and luminous saturated color.
Benefit #1: they’re just so pretty!
Why You Should Try Oil Pastels
Unlike oil painting, an oil pastel can be done quickly, with very little mess and next to no accessories (oils, solvents, etc.) and doesn’t require dry time. This makes them great for travel or plein-air. Oil pastels start out very cheap– and even if you’re a professional, you can use cheaper brands for underpainting and save your expensive sticks for top layers and fine details. Oil pastels are extremely versatile:
  • They can be used on paper, on wood, and on canvas.
  • They can be used alone or as part of mixed media compositions.
  • They can be used for realistic representational art or abstracts.
  • They can be built up, scraped down, scratched off and started over.
  • They can be used dry like crayons or chalk pastels, or wet like paint, using oil mediums.  
Basically, they’re a great artistic workhorse, and the best kept secret in the art world.
Oil Pastel Quality: Crayons to Lipstick
Oil pastels are some of the cheapest… and also most expensive art supplies around. Confused? It all has to do with quality. The lowest quality pastels can cost around $2.25 for a box of 12 colors, highest quality pastels cost more like $6 per stick. Price is probably the easiest way to tell which pastels are better quality.
“Threshold of quality” is a phrase I use to describe the point at which you notice the quality of the art material you are using. Different art materials have different thresholds of quality. For instance, graphite sketch pencils have a high threshold of quality- you’d have to be using them A LOT to notice “Ooh, this is an expensive, good quality pencil”. Acrylic paint has a middling threshold- an amateur craft painter can tell the difference between plastic-y, watery cheapo acrylic and nice heavy body artist quality paint without too much difficulty.
Oil Pastels have a very low threshold of quality- with oil pastels, you can tell very quickly whether or not you are working with artist-grade tools. If I handed you an unlabeled CrayPas and a Sennelier pastel, and asked which one was artist quality, you’d probably be able to tell the difference immediately.
Nice pastels vs cheap pastels: guess which is which!
Low quality oil pastels are waxier/harder, high quality pastels are oilier/creamier. The cheaper it is, the more like a crayon it is. The nicer the pastel is, the closer it approaches lipstick. This is the easiest way to tell how nice your pastels are. (This is also why I waffle between using the terms “drawing” and “painting” when describing my pastel work, because sketching with the cheaper pastels feels like drawing, but gliding a Sennelier pastel over top of everything is definitelypainting.) I’ve had to assess  multiple sets this way; people give me old, anonymous pastel sets in plastic bags and cookie tins, like “Oh, my great-uncle was an artist, I thought you could use these”. I always accept these gifts, because the nice thing about oil pastels is, even if you can tell a cheapo crappy pastel at 20 paces, they can still be useful to you!
Making Oil Pastel Quality Work For You
I use the old oil painting dictum of “Fat over Lean” Lean pastels, i.e. less oily pastels, go first. Then I layer oilier pastels on top, in order of how oily/soft/creamy they are.
Sennelier pastels go on top!
Underpaintings get done with the cheapest pastels I’ve got, so that I can reserve nicer (more expensive) pastels for fine details and more difficult color modulations. It’s also best to layer cheap to nice for technical reasons; if you try to lay down a cheap hard pastel over a softer pastel, the hard pastel will scrape the soft one up, and you may be left with a gouge in your painting.
Artists Do It On Everything: Substrates and Surfaces
Oil Pastel can be used on various substrates and surfaces: different kinds of paper, canvas, primed wood panel. Primed canvas is best if you’re trying to mix with oil paint or oil mediums such as stand oil, mineral spirits or other solvents. Canvas can be tricky- the texture wears down pastels very quickly, and the stretched canvas dents easily if you press too hard. Paper works best for straight oil pastel or mixing with dry media, like pen and ink or graphite. I prefer Bristol paperbecause it’s got enough tooth to hold the pastel but not so much as to distort the edges of the stroke, plus it can stand up to erasers. Primed wood or MDF panel is my favorite for mixed media that involves collage. I prime the board with gesso, add acrylic paint or decoupage elements, then a layer of an absorbent ground like Golden Molding Paste. It allows me to mix all kinds of media to get the effect I want, and the less-absorbent surface (compared to paper) allows me to scrape, erase and move pastel more effectively.
This mixed media piece was done on primed MDF board, and mixes collage, pen and ink, acrylic, and oil pastel.
Move It All Around: Blending Oil Pastels
Blending is basically the first thing you’ll need to master when using oil pastels. It’s the difference between smooth gradients and blocks of color. It allows you to create depth and shading. Oil pastel doesn’t fix itself to the paper like ink, it can be pushed around, like a much less dusty version of chalk pastels. The simplest way to blend is to use the oil pastels themselves. Lay down an area of blue, then scribble over it with yellow, voila, you got green. This works up to a certain point- after a few layers, the pastels can get too blended, or if you try to blend with a pastel that’s harder than the pastel you’ve already got on the paper, you can end up scraping it off a little. This is okay, you can always lay down more color, more on that later, but it can be a bummer if you’ve been carefully blending an area for ages.
This snake on panel took *ages* to blend the way I wanted it to!
You may want to scrape some of the pastel up on purpose. The easiest way to erase oil pastels is to scrape it up so there’s less to smear. You can also use scraping to create designs, with a technique called sgrafitto. If you lay down an area of one color (say yellow) on paper, then color over it with a darker color, (brown, for instance) you can use a stylus or fingernail or other tool to scrape away the brown layer, leaving an indented yellow area.
My favorite method of blending is to use my hands. I use my fingers to push colors onto clean paper, or to smear and mix two colors together. I like hands best for a number of reasons. Fingers allow me complete control over pressure, they’re slightly warm, which helps to move oil pastels around more smoothly, and they’re easy to clean off. Downsides- fingers are big, so for control over fine details, you have to be very careful. And if you have long fingernails, you may scrape some of the pastel off by accident.
A work in progress
You can use other tools to blend. A great tool for blending precision areas is a white eraser. The eraser can easily be cleaned off, because the pastel won’t stick to the slick surface, and it can allow you to move pastel around in a very controlled manner, especially if you use a stick eraser like Sumo Grip or General’s retractable eraser. Using a stick eraser allows you to hold it like a pencil or a paintbrush, which gives most people the control they need to make small motions.
Oil Pastels and Temperature
Oil pastels are very temperature sensitive. It’s a property you should be aware of, because it can both help and harm. They get harder when cold and softer when warm. Softer/warmer pastels blend and smear more easily. Even cruddy pastels can be a lot more malleable on a warm day, and trying to use a set of Sennelier’s on a hot sunny day can result in melty sadness. On the other end of the spectrum, chilly temps make even nice pastels a little stiff. You can use a hairdryer or heat pad can gently warm pastels to the right temperature to blend the way you’d like them to, and having a fridge nearby allows you to cool-set overworked over-warmed pastels so that you can layer on top.
When You’re Done
When oil pastels are finished, the best way to protect and display them is to frame them. You can spray with Senellier’s Oil Pastel Fixative to give it a little extra protection- Other fixatives don’t work too well, but there’s really no need: after they are used oil pastels tend to set, so there’s none of the unintentional brushing of color that can happen with a chalk pastel or charcoal. Framing oil pastels is just like framing other dry media- glass should not touch the artwork, and there’s no need to use a raised mat (a common precaution with chalk pastels). If you’re storing an unframed oil pastel, putting a sheet of glassine (a kind of archival waxed paper) on top will keep gouges and color transfer from occurring.
And That’s How It Works!
There you have a brief (well, okay, not that brief) intro to Oil Pastel techniques and tricks. Because of how under-utilized the medium is, most oil pastel artists are, to some degree, self-taught, but I hope this answers some of the basic questions you might have. If you are looking for more info, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Ken Leslie’s excellent book “Oil Pastel: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist.” Ultimately, however, the best way to learn about Oil Pastels is to try them yourself!
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments; I’d be happy to answer!

4 Reasons To Talk To Your Art Retailer

Posted on May 19, 2017 by merionart
“Cashiers”, “sales staff”, “register guy”, “The Lady at the Counter”- we go by many names. We are art materials retailers, and we are your point of contact during your shopping experience. When you’ve been working in the Art Retail business for awhile, you begin to see trends in questions you’re asked, problems you need to solve, and issues you encounter over and over. Despite this, one of the things I hear most frequently is “NOTHANKS!JUSTLOOKING!” in response to “Can I help you with anything?”
While I understand the impulse to avoid overzealous salespeople, as someone on the other side of the counter, I want to explain why you should chat with the cashier. Aside from the obvious facts that 1) it’s our job to ask customers if they need help, and 2) the sales floor staff know where all the things live, there are plenty of reasons why it’s a good idea not to tune out the sales staff at your local art store. In art as in many other aspects of life, communication is key. Here are four reasons why talking to your art materials professionals is a really good plan.
1.) We don’t mind special ordering items for you: In store, we stock about 30,000 items on a regular basis. Our suppliers carry hundreds of thousands of different art and architecture supplies. In a brick-and-mortar store we’re limited in what we can keep in stock all the time. But we know that a huge part of making art is pushing boundaries, trying new things, and experimenting with new ways to use various media.
There’s only so much this lil ol’ place can hold at one time!
Sometimes this requires an artist to reach beyond standard oils, acrylics and charcoal- for instance, trying new painting mediums, unusual colors, non-standard sizes and shapes of paper and canvas, and any number of other hard-to-find specialty materials. We are constantly ordering from a variety of suppliers, and we are more than happy to special order whatever items you need. It’s no trouble to us, and we love to be able to help our customers. However, we won’t know you need it unless you let us know. If you don’t see what you want, just ask. Heck, even if you don’t know what you want, ask anyway, and we’ll see if we can figure out what would work best for you!
2.) Our staff are experienced artists- so please ask technical questions: Sometimes at a big box store, you’ll encounter a well-meaning employee who was chosen for their ability to handle a cash register, but who has no in-depth knowledge of the merchandise they sell. With art supplies, that would be a huge disadvantage. At Merion Art, our floor staff are not “just cashiers,” they are artists with experience. Every member of our staff is required to pass a 20 question quiz to prove their familiarity with various art materials. Many of us have college degrees in art, and most produce and sell our artwork professionally. On staff currently, we have specialists in such varied topics as woodworking, clay sculpture, water color, graphic design, oil paint, oil pastel, drafting, silverpoint, brush calligraphy, spray paint, screen-printing, acrylic paint and more. 
These people are experts!
If there is an item you’re considering buying, chances are one of us has already tried it in our own work. We are both qualified and eager to answer your technical questions, whether its “Will this work with that?” or “Which brand is better?” or “How do water-mixable oils work, really?” Like many professionals, we love to talk shop and we love to share our knowledge in order to help your art to improve. We don’t just want to make a sale, we want to solve your unique problems and get you the right supply for the job. Never feel like you’re bothering us, and never feel like we won’t be able to answer your questions. If we’re not personally experienced with the issue at hand, we’ll find you someone who is.
3.) A great reason to have a long conversation with an art materials professional is the fact that  there’s more than one way to solve most problems– If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail; but at Merion Art, we’ve got a whole toolbox! When you need to figure out the best way to do something artistic, it’s good to remember that often there isn’t one best way, and there are any number of good ways. Different mediums can solve the same problems with different results. Different painters have varied methods for painting the same sky, hair, and trees. Different primers have various effects on the paintings they produce. Sometimes you’ll need to rethink a problem from a new perspective, or try a few different things before you arrive at your right way. Talking through a problem with your art retailers is a good way to figure out creative new approaches– if we haven’t encountered the problem ourselves, we act as a clearinghouse for other artist’s problems, and we may have heard of something that will give you a new point of view.
4.) Art supplies have intended uses and going outside those uses can have unintended results and art materials professionals might be able to keep you from making terrible mistakes. Here are some drastic real-life examples: I’ve had customers ask for oil paint… to paint their bodies for a college football game. I’ve had customers request day-glo spray paint… for people to spray on each other at a kids paint party. I’ve had customers buy chalk pastels… for coloring hair. None of these things are a good idea. The only paint you should use on a body is body-paint (it’s right there in the name!). I managed to talk all of these people out of inadvertently doing potentially harmful things to themselves (except chalk pastel-hair-girl- that wasn’t really harmful, just very, very messy). I asked “What kind of project are you working on?” and through a series of follow-up questions, I steered them away from terrible ideas and towards the correct product (body paint, body paint, and hair dye respectively).
Please don’t do this with oil paint.
If they hadn’t talked to their Friendly Neighborhood Art Retailer, they could’ve been dealing with full-body rashes, pigment poisoning, ruined clothes, allergic reactions, and sad, uncleanable, fluorescent spray-painted pre-teens (to say nothing of wasted art supplies- the football guys were going to use Williamsburg Artist Oils!). On the less physically terrible side, I’ve also stopped people from melting styrofoam sculptures with spray paints (propellants can melt foam), from painting plastics with water-based paints (they will peel), and from using Sharpies for things they want to be permanent (Sharpies are notoriously not lightfast, and fade easily). Talking to your art retailer can stop you from making easily preventable mistakes, and even save you an unfortunate trip to the doctor (while spray-painted neon yellow).
Art materials retailers- we’re always there: solving problems, finding the right products, offering unique approaches, and preventing catastrophes…using our powers for good, in a world full of murky and uncertain product choices. Next time you see “The Lady at the Counter”, remember, we’re here to help, and we’d love to chat. So… Can we help you?