October 21st, 2012

Big Art


One of my favorite things to paint? Gigantic abstracts on canvas. I’m about 20 articles behind, so I thought I’d combine two “stories illustrated with photos.”

The big dilemma with painting on a grand scale are the logistical problems. I can paint something 5 feet tall and 15 feet wide, but you probably live hundreds, or thousands of miles away. You might want to buy my work, but getting it from Point A to Point B is a problem. And it can be an expensive problem.

From an artist perspective, I have to deal with a couple issues. How do I store a huge painting and keep it in good condition until it moves to its new home? I’ve always thought the best way to keep a painting in good condition is to hang it on a wall. This keeps it off the floor (safer from random occurrences like bugs, pets or water damage). And because it’s hanging against a wall, the wood frames are less likely to warp (from being stacked or leaning against a wall). An artist has to deal with getting the unpainted framed canvas (or lumber if they’re constructing their own frames/stretcher bars) from a manufacturer to their studio. And while my SUV is spacious, it’s not exactly a U-haul. Once a large painting is sold, I then need to transport it again to UPS or the post office (if I don’t have them pick it up). I also need to deal with carefully packing a large item that’s basically in the shape of a huge pizza box.

When I lived in L.A., I once purchased a couple huge canvases on stretcher bars. Since they had delivery, I took them up on it. I assumed they had a big truck that would pull up in front of my apartment. But what actually happened was one of their employees strapped these canvases on top of his small car and slowly drove across town. It’s very similar to that college student who can’t afford a moving truck, strapping their king size mattress to the top of their car. I was so caught off guard over this method of transportation that I don’t believe I ever asked this art store to “ship” canvas to me again. It got the job done, but I felt badly for the driver.

If you have a large studio and your gallery is up the street, and they do “pick up,” none of this affects you.

I calculated that the biggest painting size I could reasonably ship (on stretcher bars, ready to hang) without it turning into an ordeal was 30″ x 40.” This is a substantial size, but without most of the logistical issues. But let’s face it, going really big is fun and I hate creative restrictions.

So I decided to return to rolled canvas, which I did frequently during the 1990s. It has benefits, but it also has its own set of complications. It does allow me to sell art for a lower cost because I’m spending less on materials. I can bulk order a 90-foot roll of canvas which can be cut down to any number of large canvases. Here’s a roll I recently purchased.

These rolls weigh about 10 times as much as they look. Pure dead weight.

So I cut off the size of the painting I want. I then paint all the way to the edge, but allow about 4″ of clearance on all sides of the painting. This is because once it’s shipped, it will need to be stretched around a wood frame on the buyer’s side (i.e., you take it to a local frame shop, they construct a wood frame and stretch the canvas over the frame for you). Then you call your cousin who has a truck and they drop it off at your house. The costs of having a canvas custom stretched would vary depending on the size of the canvas and what your frame shop charges. Oh, back to the 4″ clearance. You need to have flexibility on the sides so that you can stretch the painting around a frame and staple it on the reverse side. And you need to allow for a variety of stretcher bar widths. If you painted to the edge, then signed it 1″ from the bottom, your signature would end up on the back of your painting. Though most of my paintings don’t require a frame, adding a frame can take any painting to a higher level. And if you’re having a canvas stretched over a frame (i.e., stretcher bars), you might as well have them frame it at the same time. Even a simple minimalist frame will do.

So there are cost savings in production and shipping, but there’s the added step of custom canvas stretching.

The reason I’m having this conversation is because I want to be able to link people back to one source once I start listing gigantic canvas paintings. Then I simply roll them up and ship anywhere. This makes it particularly easy for international buyers. I remember working with a woman in the UK in around 1998 who purchased one of my large canvases. Then after she received the painting, she sent me a couple emails as she worked through the stretching/framing process. And I hope this painting is still being enjoyed on her wall in a London suburb as she’s sipping tea, eating crumpets and sharing gossip about the Real Housewives of Berkshire.

Part 2 of this story involves a painting in my house. I was originally planning on stenciling this design on my bedroom wall. But then I thought, if I decided to move in a year or two, I’ll have to paint this over. A lot of time wasting. So I decided to paint this on a large unused canvas I had on hand. Then I could just take it with me to the next house. Or even move it to another room if I wanted to change things up. To make this painting, I did a pastel type multi-color effect on the white canvas. I then covered this with a white/blue mix of paint, leaving open patches to reveal the “multi-color” paint. Then I rough stenciled the ivy. To get a perspective on the size of this painting, it’s 48″ x 60″ (4 feet by 5 feet). Actually, this painting has nothing to do with rolled canvas being stretched. But it does show an example of one of my larger pieces or artwork.





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