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Originally published Friday, March 22, 2013 at 8:00 PM

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The art of collecting art

Questions and answers from an art dealer and framing expert.

The Washington Post

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Art dealer and framing expert Susan Calloway, who has managed Washington’s Calloway Fine Arts gallery for 20 years, was a guest recently on the Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: I am young and am interested in starting a collection of art. Where do I begin, and where can I find affordable pieces?

A: Start by going to museums and galleries and really getting an idea of what you like and what quality looks like before you buy anything. Once you have an idea, start going to shows at your local galleries, and ask a lot of questions. Never be afraid to ask questions. You’ll soon see what the range of prices is and can start to make informed purchases.

Q: My living room has a long, 25-foot wall that runs from the corner of the room to a doorway. I have lots of framed pieces I’d like to hang, but I’m overwhelmed by the size of the blank wall. How can I arrange my pictures coherently? They’re pretty eclectic in terms of style, color and content. The furniture along the wall consists of a reading chair in the corner, a floor lamp next to it, a side table and a long sideboard.

A: I’m going to assume the sideboard is the main focal point of the wall, with the chair, lamp and table more tucked into the corner, in which case I would center the grouping of artworks over the sideboard. If there are so many pieces that they extend beyond the sideboard, that’s fine. I’d just use the center of the sideboard as the point from which you start and work out from there. Lay the artwork on the floor, starting with what you’d like in the center — probably one of the larger and/or stronger works — and start laying the other pieces around it, moving them around until you get a pleasing, balanced composition. It doesn’t have to be symmetrical, just balanced. You might have to get up on a ladder to take it all in. The harder part is then transferring that composition to the wall.

Q: Do you recommend purchasing art from students? I recently toured an art school with my daughter, and some of the pieces we saw were amazing.

A: Absolutely! I agree that there is some great stuff out there waiting to be discovered, and of course the prices are amazing as well. Just look closely to assure the quality of execution, although a good fine arts program should ensure that that would not be a problem.

Q: I own some watercolor paintings. Is it really necessary to have a mat cut for them, in addition to the frame and glass? Or can I simply “varnish” them somehow, or insert them directly into frames, and thus save myself some money by not matting them?

A: Yes, you need a mat if you care about the art! The glass should never lay directly on the art. If any moisture ever gets in there, mold is likely to grow on the art, and often the art will end up adhering to the glass over time. This is a big no-no unless the art is worthless, but then why would you want to frame it? You could float-mount the art and use spacers to keep the glass off it, but that would not save any money. And you cannot varnish watercolors! The lesson here is that although works on paper are often less expensive than canvases, the cost of framing is almost invariably higher because there are so many more steps and materials involved when framing paper.


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