The definitive guide on buying fine art paintings

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White Samurai with Sumi Ink and Acrylic  by Brenda Heim

Does buying a fine art painting really require an entire guide? It may seem superfluous but buying art–good art, really is an art in itself. 

We’re going to break down the do’s and the don’ts and show you what to look for. We’ll even introduce you to some emerging artists that you’ll want to start off your paintings collection with or add to your existing collection. Look for their names sprinkled throughout the guide.

And for some, their collections can’t just bear any old names. It’s important for their reserve of art to say something, hold value and be respectable.  At the same time every collector will have their reasons for choosing a certain artist’s work. 

For instance, you might enjoy their style, that they fit a current trend, or their work just genuinely speaks to you in a way other works do not. Whatever your reasons are, don’t feel obliged to do any one thing. Feel free to take all or some of these considerations into your new picks.

Read on for essential notes on purchasing your next painting.

Discovering emerging painters is often the way to go when buying fine art

Where do new fine art paintings come from? Do they just appear or are curators and galleries alike on the hunt for these prolific works and the artists who produce them? 

For starters social media is making it easier than ever to suss out who’s doing what, the audiences that love them, and the projects and networks growing their reach. Depending on how fine art painters use these platforms they can make their work ever more visible and buying options easy to act on. 

You may even see your share of artists’ works at a niche and small cafe that collaborates with local artists to show their works. Wandered a new happening–mall art galleries. Or ventured through an art walk or art fair in your city, born and bred for discovering the latest and greatest. One of the biggest haunts for these sorts of artist gold mines are the often referenced Art Basel. 

When collectors find an artist they admire and want to follow it may not be their work alone that draws the final decision.

It may be their story.

MAC FINE ART  works with several prolific fine artists with equally profound stories that make their works all the more alluring. Take Brenda Heim of Alliance, Ohio who stakes her works in this notion of finding the mindful in the chaos with a body of work akin to zen meditation(s). She has been painting and sculpting for over 40 years. Her focus is the imperfect, which somehow makes perfection. These methods evolved into a personal technique that would work as a cathartic therapeutic release and sort of self-psychoanalysis. This technique allowed her to be liberated in both mind and emotion and truly enter a free state of being.

A collection of Heim’s paintings would easily scream (maybe silently), free yourself.  And this energy would speak volumes of the collector and the collected. 

What story are they telling? Art that tells stories is often sought after.

All fine art painters double as storytellers.

What story they tell has many variables, and whether you connect with it will have even more. The important thing to note though, is this rule of thumb for any collector:

Choose the works and the artists that speak to you. 

If they speak to you, they will likely speak to others. Of course not in the same identical ways, but that speaks to the universality of art. It is a language we all understand in the mother tongue of our own souls. 

Art should grip you by the emotions–should at some point tug on every one of your hearts strings. It should call on the creative in you. If it does not do that, why do you own it? 

The immutable feeling becomes, a collection should not exist simply because the artist and their art will be worth money in the future but because it moves you. And the way you display that work will further demonstrate the vitality of the very existence of the work. Art does not need to manipulate to be what it is. The fact that it is, does the convincing. 

Consider René Romero Schuler of Chicago, Illinois. She is a vastly, globally collected artist who seeks to convey the full range of human emotions. Many of her works are named after states of being especially her own. Take her piece, Oleander, which is a poisonous shrub. One could likely remember a time in their own life when they were poisonous or the toxic one in their friend group or family. You might also notice the ephemeral, evanescent nature by which the portraiture is presented. They are never quite solid like the fluidity of our emotions; only meant to stay for a time and disappear. 

René like Brenda also tells the story of the imperfect, while leaning into the spiritual and the textural.  

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Degra by René Romero Schuler

Quality over quantity is king when buying art

This cliche absolutely still works, especially for paintings. It’s important you consider the quality of the paintings you are purchasing. All of this matters when the goal is a sizable, long-lasting collection. Paintings ought to keep their life for decades to come. You wouldn’t want a piece that yellows before it’s had time to settle into your collection or before an artist has fully taken off. 

You’ll need to consider the grade of archival inks and papers for this. 

Make it last forever

Archival Inks are used to increase the storing capacity of a work. These are used in calligraphy, paintings, printings, even journaling. The objective is plain– to make it last. But archival ink, in and of itself, does not imply the purpose of the ink but is merely a verb for the activity itself. So, the storage of the paintings you buy truly must be considered before you own it. How did the artist or collector you are purchasing from, store the painting?

 

Fine art paintings, all on their own, are meant to last. Be sure to ask about the storage of the paintings and the ink quality. This will help you ensure all the paintings you purchase from that particular artist used the same ink from the same place and that each painting was stored in the same way.

Ask these direct questions if they are not apparent prior to purchase. 

Paper Matters

Now, Fine art paper works in tandem with the storage of the paintings and the uniformity of the ink used. Together these all function towards the continuance of the pieces in your collection. The goal is as much fixity as possible–an immortal painting. Anyone taking in the visual spectacle that is your collection should not even be able to tell whether it has just been completed or if it’s 50 years old. One could look on an original Jean-Michel Basquiat and still wonder if he’s alive and just painted it.

You’ll want to ask the seller what type of paper was used in the production of the painting. Paper matters. Your fine art painting paper should have as many natural fibers as possible. Natural fibers are equivalent to purity which is equivalent to perpetuity. 

See our piece on Fine Art Prints for more information on the autonomy of good fine art.

The anatomy of a painting and why  you should know it to buy art

The type of medium in your collected paintings does not need to be uniform. It is also not uncommon for artists to play around with mediums and completely different genres of fine art.  Here are some of the usual types of paint or chemicals found in major pieces. 

Acrylic paint is Otto Röhm was the German chemist who created the first acrylic resins, which later birthed the sequel–acrylic paint. Acrylic comes from parts of the acrylic fibrous resin and the acid, methacrylic. Resins are usually derived plants, these are actually healing compounds produced by plants when perhaps a leaf is torn or some other injury is sustained. 

These acids were combined in the middle of the 1900’s long after the discovery that polymers and acrylics could have their hydrogen particles removed and replaced with hydrocarbons. The resins today are what make the acrylic paints used today. Following Röhm’s discovery of acrylic resin, in the mid to later 1940s, acrylic paint was coined by the makers of the paint brand MAGNA paint– Leonard Bocour and co-founder Sam Golden. Acrylic paint also tends to dry relatively quickly.

Acrylic paints also serve the artist well when they are produced on the proper paper. The paper is generally heavyweight and durable, this will keep the paint from bleeding through and allow it to be extremely even with a linen woven finish.

Oil painting was deeply mastered by Belgian painter Jack van Eyck in the 1500’s. Oil painting mixes vibrant pigments with linseed and nut oil. Oil paint art has the uncanny ability to take on variable textures. It is the chameleon of paint, going where the brush demands, becoming what is asked of it. It also takes eons to dry and can actually remain wet for days or weeks.What gives oil paint its nature is its ability to hold the pigments within their oil. 

According to Britannica “oil colours are made by mixing dry powder pigments with selected refined linseed oil to a stiff paste consistency and grinding it by strong friction in steel roller mills. The consistency of the colour is important. The standard is a smooth, buttery paste, not stringy or long or tacky. When a more flowing or mobile quality is required by the artist, a liquid painting medium such as pure gum turpentine must be mixed with it. In order to accelerate drying, a sicctive, or liquid drier, is sometimes used.”

Watercolor Unlike oil paintings have their pigments suspended held back by oil, watercolors paints are held back by water, released once water hits the pigments. According to Watercolor Affair this painting medium is known as a translucent medium. Which means it allows light to pass through  or has this gossamer appearance. Brightener is added to bring out the pigment. Compared to acrylic or oil, water colors are less bold and sharp, more soft and opaque. The paint is bound by natural or processed pigment and gum-arabic which is the binder. And depending on additives it can further adulterate the paint and or help it last longer prior to being purchased. The more natural and or rare the pigment is the more difficult it is to acquire and the more expensive it will be for the consumer. The amount of pigment present also changes the grade, quality and price which are considered professional or student grade. 

Watercolor paints can also come in colored pencil and marker form. The watercolor pencils are activated when they hit water, while the markers that produce the water color pigment affect all on their own. They also have a special watercolor paper to support this particular medium which helps keep the paint from seeping through. A special coating keeps the paper from being eaten away by the use of constant rewetting.These first papers were made by James Whatman circa 1700’s. At the time a gelatin was used to thicken the paper and protect it.

Varnish is the seal of a good painting. It is also used for other home projects like wood working or wood paneling in a tree house. This will also protect the work from natural elements or atmospheric pollutants. The painting must still be well-stored and preserved. According to Britannica is a coating made from the heating of resins produced by natural organisms. It is an overlay added to the end of a work which dries clear and adds a protective layer.  The varnish is coagulated with resin, a drying oil, and a solvent that’s left after oxidation is the resulting varnish.  This will also serve as an enhancement and a testament to the staying power of the painting.Varnish was also first discovered by chemist Leo Baekeland and has since been perfected.

Varnish was first largely natural but was transformed to more synthetic manufacturing as it allowed it to be mass produced and manipulated to fit different needs and uses. The synthetic resins that the varnish now include point to alkyd (comes from alcohol and fatty acid oil like coconut oil or castor oil), polyurethane (organic and does not melt when heated), phenolic (colorless acid), vinyl (not your favorite record but serves as a hardener and is found in flooring), and epoxy (used for its resistance properties and is now a whole art genre).

One reason to buy art: it’s a worthy investment

For some, buying fine art is an investment. They are seeking to acquire their collection solely for the value it will one day be appraised. In order to maintain the quality of their collection points the average art collector would consider cannot be overlooked. Authenticity would be of primary concern along with the aforementioned archival inks and fine art paper types to name a few.

Money Under 30 also discusses art acquisition as a real long term investment. The collector would need to allow the art to mature for more than 10 years before witnessing real ROI. These also become heirlooms and assets people use to pass on wealth to future familial generations. Folk turn to art investment not out of necessity but passion, and tend to appreciate its lesser volatility. The suggestion is not to go into art looking to make money as it is a risky investment but if you play your canvases right, the artist you decide to collect may very well amass a following akin to pop artist icons Banksy, Haring,Warhol, Basquiat,Picasso, and Van Gogh. 

And if you’re not ready to go all in on a major artist collection or work, check out Masterworks. This site allows you to buy shares in paintings. You don’t have to worry about proper storage or the leg work. You’d just need disposable income. This site only hosts investments of iconic works. So think of any Basquiat, Kahlo, or Warhol piece, ever. These are known as blue-chip art works which are defined by their ability to hold value and appreciate in economical and profitable ways despite economic downturns. They have even been known to be more profitable than the Standard & Poor 500.

Checking authenticity before you buy art

According to Invaluable. Paintings can have their authenticity verified in a myriad of ways. 

The simplest method is to check for this authenticity in the process of checking for the painting condition. This means requesting a full report on the state of the painting. These will include information on the body who authenticated the work and who purchased it.  These reports sometimes include warranties if the authentication is not valid–through the authenticating body. If the painting has been pre owned, it will also show a history of previous owners, especially if it is being purchased at auction. It will include any restorations, alterations, or damage. 

These reports are basically carfax for art–art fax. It is even more comforting when it does not need to be requested but comes standard with your purchase and or bid win. 

And be mindful, because not all artists sign their work, looking for signatures as a show of authenticity is not as helpful as it would seem. There is also the fact that these signatures can be forged.

Consult with curators before purchasing art

Curators at galleries do not only exist to form their own collections for your viewing and purchasing. They also serve as consultants in the buying process. They are there for you to ask a question and get detailed answers about what you are about to acquire. 

MAC FINE ART also consults on the pieces in their gallery. You would be able to do a one-on-one consult with a curator prior to purchase. They’ll be able to help you find adequate pieces for your collection especially if the pieces have certain specificites that must be met. Find out more about how the curation process works here, whether you’re outfitting a commercial or residential space. 

Understand you do not have to go into your purchase blindly. 

At the time of purchase you may also want to insure your new painting. This is something your curator can also walk you through. The insurance needs of a given painting may change as the artwork ages, this is to be revisited by industry standards, every 3 years. The present appraisal will determine if the painting is adequately or over-insured.

If your preference is an unbiased or neutral opinion in the buying process, you can utilize any number of expert art buying consultant agencies and services. 

You can also point to others on the art buying hunt that have made the purchase of artist works a way of life and speak candidly about what guides them through the process. Sean Kelly’s website and podcast Collect Wisely centers on getting back to the passion of collecting works of art and defocusing monetary value as a reason to own. 

Wall space is limited. 

Passion is not. 

~Sean Kelly 

And one more artist full of passion is Marshall Crossman who oil paints with both plastic and paintbrushes. Marshall is a paint bender of sorts, pushing and pulling at both the act and theory of creating and destroying through motion and emotion. Many of her pieces include themes of water reminding those who behold her works–to be water.

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Pacifica 15 by Marshall Crossman

If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.- Edward Hopper

Painting is a voice of color and texture, a form going beyond the verbal into the visual dimension. It does what only it can do. It is as serious to the artist as it is for the collector; validating the nature of this guide. 

But when you seek after a new piece, do so for the reasons Hopper reminds us. Be sure the painting says what words cannot. And when in doubt, do what Picasso suggests and find a painting that feels so evasive, it’s almost as if you’re reading the artist’s locked journal because, “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary, ” Pablo Picasso.