Quality Materials = Quality Artwork

I realise that what I am about to write may be seen as contentious, but feel it is an important thing to discuss as it is becoming more obvious that up and coming and new artists are buying into the fact that they don’t need to buy quality art supplies, yet want to sell their work for high prices.

The quality of the materials you use is a direct reflection of how you view your work, and in turn how you view the people buying your work.”

When you walk into a gallery and museum you are faced with works of art that are centuries old, yet the colours remain strong and almost as bright as the day they were painted. Why? The artist saw the need to preserve their name through history by using the best quality pigments and surfaces they had available to them. Some colour pigments are shipped thousands of miles because artists want them for their lightfastness and durability. The price of purchasing such pigments reflects this, as does the price of the final piece of artwork.

In my role of working with artists, giving advice and providing exhibition space, I am seeing more and more emerging artists refuse to pay the high prices for the quality materials, and instead opting for what can only be described as ‘bargain price’ art supplies that are intended only for children or art students from stores who have no knowledge or experience in what they are selling.

Now you could easily say ‘but Barry you own an art shop, you would say this’, however owning an art shop comes with huge responsibilities to our customers, and provide a wide range of art supplies covering a wide range of price points for different purposes. However, I feel it rather ill mannered to expect a prospective client to pay a high price for a piece of art seen as an investment, when it has been created using inferior materials from a bargain bookshop, and which may not endure longer than a year or two. The price of artwork must reflect the cost of materials used, and the client made aware of how long the artwork may last without fading due to the materials used. The onus is on the artist to understand the materials they are using, how long they will last, and what their lightfastness is. 

I am certainly not against the buying of lower quality materials as they are perfect to help student artists learn their craft and can be a fantastic way to discover new things. In fact, I tell my students to just buy the best that they can afford. Buying the best quality materials that you can afford at the time is certainly something I have been a strong advocate of, but here I am talking about work in galleries and at art shows. Even in the art classes I teach, I use artists’ quality materials on the whole, and those pieces get sold for just £5 as workshop sketches – they have served their purpose for the class I taught, and I would just like them to be enjoyed. That is £5 for an original painting painted using high quality materials, which will last longer than some pieces of ‘high end’ art on the walls of some galleries.

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with an artist using low quality materials to produce artwork – maybe there are certain colours that look great for what they do, which is great. Here my advice would be to keep the original and get high quality prints made of it. That way you know that the prints are guaranteed to last 70-100 years, and don’t have the embarrassment of the client returning your artwork X years down the line because it has started to fade. 

When we shop for food items, we have been trained to look at what that food may contain: allergens, E numbers, salt or sugar content and alike, so really then as artists we should be looking at the materials we buy to make our living from in the same way. I have been mainly talking about the paint used, but the support used is also dependent on being quality enough to endure. Certain cheap papers may fade or even degrade, which in turn will affect how the colours on it will alter. The quality of the items used in creating a piece of art is crucial to how long that piece of work will last. It is incumbent on the artist not to knowingly sell work as an ‘investment’ to a client, whilst painting with inferior materials. Trying to pass off something for something that is of a higher quality is illegal. You wouldn’t dream of passing off a Fiat 500 as a Ferrari, but even that is visually obvious. In art, it is not obvious to the untrained eye what is has been painted with, so more reason to be accurate in how it is sold. 

If you want your art to be sold as an investment, or be something that will keep your name going long after you have left this mortal coil, then you really do need to examine the materials you use, and ensure the best quality materials will command the best quality prices, and will