13 Things Every Collector Should Know

A compendium of expert advice and insider information to make your art-collecting experiences better than ever

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

This story was featured in the October 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!


How to Figure Out What You Like


The virtually endless variety of options in the art world can be overwhelming (as shown here), whether you’re just beginning to buy art or you’ve been collecting for years. Here are some strategies to zero in on what you’re most attracted to.

Look at lots of art. Whether you are at home or vacationing, one way to determine what you like is to check out as many galleries and other art venues as possible.

Ask the galleries lots of questions. Mark Greenberg, former owner of Greenberg Fine Art in Santa Fe, tells art lovers that there is no such thing as a stupid question about artists and their work. “By asking questions, buyers will start to train their eye and establish a relationship and rapport with the gallery,” Greenberg says. Consider asking about the artist’s background, medium, subject matter, and techniques. Take home printed information about the artists and artworks. Emily Wilde, assistant director at Total Arts Gallery in Taos, NM, suggests taking a selfie with paintings that appeal to you so that you have a digital record, too.

Ask yourself lots of questions. Do you favor traditional or contemporary? Landscapes, still lifes, or figurative works? Are you attracted to bright colors or moody scenes? In the end, rely on your intuition. As you visit galleries and return home, ask yourself which paintings you remember most clearly. In other words, as gallery owners often say, “Trust what you love.”


How to 
Understand Pricing

Shannon Robinson

Shannon Robinson (Photo: Marc Piscotty)


Shannon Robinson is a Denver-area collector, lecturer, and curator of the Windows to the Divine show. When Robinson talks to collectors, she breaks down pricing into six major factors.

When determining the price of one work within a body of works by an artist, the major factor is size. Generally, the larger the work, the higher the price.

Generally, oil paintings are priced higher than other media because of the notion that they are the most long-lasting. Works on paper are often considered fragile and are usually priced lower than oils. As a general rule, paper works in color are priced higher than monochromatic works, such as graphite and charcoal drawings. Sculptures are often more expensive due to the high costs of materials, shipping, and handling.


Price is affected by supply and demand. An artist whose work is in great demand will command higher prices.

Gallery/Auction House Location
The location and type of gallery or auction house can affect prices because dealer costs are higher in certain markets, such as resort areas.

Historic Importance/Originality
When art observers conclude that an artist’s work is so original and/or important that it deserves a place in art history, prices go up.

The most important and difficult factor is quality, which involves a subjective evaluation of the skill and concept behind the work and a comparison to other similar works in the market. Unless you are going to rely exclusively on experts, this is where your connoisseurship is most needed. There is no substitute for developing your own trained eye and a memory bank of comparable works by other artists in order to pass judgment and justify price.


How to Frame Your Artwork

Neal Fulton, head framer at Evergreen Fine Art.

Neal Fulton, head framer at Evergreen Fine Art.

A frame can make or break a piece of art, so don’t treat it lightly—find a professional framer who is experienced with original fine art. Neal Fulton, head framer at Evergreen Fine Art in Evergreen, CO, provides these tips:

When it comes to the style and color of frames, ask to see a variety of choices. Custom framers work with you to understand your general aesthetic and home interior. Is it traditional, contemporary, or mountain rustic? At the same time, it’s important to tailor the frame choice to the individual piece of art. “I try to enhance the painting and not take away from it,” Fulton says. “Hopefully the collector can move [the piece] anywhere because [the frame] is always complementary to the art.”

When it comes to the mat, Fulton says he chooses to use anywhere from 2 - to 4-inch margins. “You don’t want to have an overly skinny mat and frame because it will suggest that the artwork isn’t important. Use frames and mats that showcase the artwork and allow it to breathe.”

There are special considerations for works on paper, which should adhere to archival standards and be mounted correctly on archival rag backing, not materials like cardboard or other paper products. Fulton says using UV glass or anti-reflective glass, such as Tru Vue glass, is a necessity because two things that quickly damage any piece of art are sunlight and artificial light. He adds, “You don’t want glass to directly touch art because the art can transfer onto, or even adhere to, the glass.”


How to get your artwork appraised

1014Certificate“Appraisal purposes are as varied as people’s lives. Appraisals can be formatted for estates, insurance, replacement, collateral, and legal issues,” says Mikkel Saks, owner of Saks Galleries in Denver, CO. “The charge for an appraisal is based on an hourly fee and is never contingent on the value of the items being appraised.” Saks Galleries has certified members of the American Appraisers Association on staff and available to clients. Certification requires applicants to pass tests concerning the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. Large insurance companies as well as the IRS now require the USPAP format, Saks says.

Galleries such as Tirage Fine Art Gallery in Pasadena, CA, subscribe to several valuation services that the general public doesn’t usually have access to. The gallery also refers clients to free appraisal clinics held at the large international auction houses with offices in the Los Angeles area.


How to Have a Great Trip to Santa Fe

Strolling in downtown Santa Fe.

Strolling in downtown Santa Fe. (Photo: Doug Merriam)

Santa Fe is a major international art destination, home to numerous museums and more than 250 galleries located on Canyon Road, in the downtown Plaza area, and in the more contemporary Railyard district. During the summer high season, the city hosts an array of major art markets, from the International Folk Art Festival to Santa Fe Indian Market. If you don’t like crowds, considering visiting in May, September, or October. Here are some of our favorite places.

Where to Stay
Hotel Chimayo de 
Santa Fe A reasonably priced hotel with interior touches such as wooden crosses and woven Native American rugs from its namesake, the nearby town of Chimayo.

Inn on the Alameda Small hotel ideally situated between the plaza and Canyon Road. Classic Santa Fe-style rooms, some with small patios and balconies.

La Fonda A historic hotel featuring Pueblo-style hand-painted furniture and folk art in the guest rooms. The seasonal rooftop bar and restaurant is a popular place to watch the sun set.

La Posada de Santa Fe Southwestern- and 
casita-style rooms, some with kiva fireplaces and latilla ceilings. The hotel showcases works by area artists.

Where to Eat
Café Pasqual’s If you see a line out the door, it’s a typical day at this popular restaurant that features gourmet fare for the adventuresome palate.

TerraCotta Wine Bistro Not far from the 
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, this charming bistro features an eclectic menu. Check out the patio.

The Shed With a colorful, cozy interior and good prices, this is a favorite with locals 
and visitors.


How to Purcha$e at a Fixed-Price Sale

1014Fixed-PriceThe rules of the game for fixed-price sales vary from show to show, but the 2013 Cowboy Artists of America Exhibition & Sale offers a good example of the process.

1 Each person with a reservation received a ballot book. The book included a single ballot for each artwork.

2 The purchaser had a designated time to drop a signed ballot into the box next to the desired painting or sculpture.

3 When the balloting time was over, an air horn sounded. Three ballots were then drawn from each box, and the buyers’ names were posted on cards next to each work.

4 The first name on the list had 30 minutes to pick up their bill of sale and purchase the artwork. “Sold” was then posted on the card. If the first buyer chose not to claim the work, the second name became eligible, and so on until the piece was sold.


How to Hang Your Artwork

Expert hanging on display at Christine Bullard's home in Denver, CO.

Expert hanging on display at Christine Bullard’s home in Denver, CO. (Photo: Marc Piscotty)

The general rule of thumb these days is to hang the work so the midpoint is at eye level for a person of average height. There are exceptions to the rule, though—if the focus of the painting is near the bottom of the canvas, it may be appropriate to go a few inches higher, says gallery owner Mikkel Saks. Also, he advises, when placing a large painting over a fireplace mantel, the best solution is to have the bottom of the frame within 2 to 5 inches of the mantel, leaving a larger space between the top of the frame and the ceiling. This grounds the painting so that it doesn’t appear to be floating away.

Other options include grouping smaller paintings together, particularly ones that focus on similar subject matter, or creating a “salon-style” wall with multiple paintings hung close together, forming columns and rows.


How to Expand Your Collection

Tender Touch (

At some point in your collecting journey, you may find it useful to devise a plan to guide your future purchases. That way you won’t end up with a collection of works that is, say, more eclectic—or more repetitive—than you had intended. Factors to think about include:

  • Do you want to collect works by deceased or living artists? Answering this question and determining your art budget allows you to zero in on specific galleries to visit or auctions to attend. If amassing works by deceased artists, some collectors like to hone in on a particular time period, such as 19th-
century American western art. Others prefer to focus on a particular style, genre, or school of artists, like works by the California Impressionists.
  • If you plan to focus on living artists, determine if you want to collect regional art or works by nationally known artists. Again, determine the genres, styles, and subject matter that interest you. Some collectors acquire numerous works by a single artist; others might love wildlife art in all its forms (as shown above).
  • If you’re working with a limited budget, consider looking for works by emerging artists, which tend to be less expensive. You might seek out galleries that specialize in this approach, look for shows at local art schools and universities, and visit local art festivals.


How to Have a Great Trip to Jackson

Antler arches on the town square in Jackson, WY.

Antler arches on the town square in Jackson, WY.

Summer and fall in Jackson, WY, are ideal times for art lovers. Consider planning your trip in September, when the weather is lovely and the city hosts its annual Fall Arts Festival. There are more than 60 galleries in Jackson, many on the streets surrounding the town square. While you’re there, make sure to spend time in stunning Grand Teton National Park, just a short drive north of town. Here are some of our favorite places.

Where to Stay
Alpine House Modeled after a comfortable Scandinavian lodge, the lobby and rooms blend contemporary and western sensibilities.

The Lodge at Jackson Hole A luxurious inn with a rustic feel, located a short drive from the town square.

The Wort Hotel The Wort is a historic hotel which bills itself as old-fashioned and “New West” in style. Home to the Silver Dollar Grill.

Where to Eat
Snake River Grill A well-known, upscale eatery that boasts an award-winning chef and entrees such as smoked Idaho trout and roasted elk chops.

Trio A trendy bistro with New American menu items like wood-fired chicken, lamb pasta, and a gourmet pizza topped with prosciutto, asparagus, and pineapple. Try the killer fries with scallions, black pepper, and blue cheese fondue.

Snake River Brewing 
This casual eatery features great beers as well as pizza, pasta, and pub fare.


How to Have A Great Trip to Scottsdale

Ed Mell's well-known sculpture, JACK KNIFE, amidst the galleries on Scottsdale's Main Street.

Ed Mell’s well-known sculpture, JACK KNIFE, amidst the galleries on Scottsdale’s Main Street.

There are more than 100 galleries in Scottsdale, AZ, many located along Main Street and Marshall Way near Old Town. Consider planning your trip around the Scottsdale ArtWalk, which takes place every Thursday between 7 and 9 p.m. There’s music, entertainment, and receptions in many galleries. Some of the best times to visit are January through March, when the weather is delightful and the art season is in full swing. Here are some of our favorite places.

Where to Stay
FireSky Resort & Spa Contemporary and southwestern in style with comfortable rooms. Small pool that features a sand beach.

Hotel Valley Ho National Geographic magazine declared Hotel Valley Ho’s rooms among the hippest in town. Mid-century modern in design, the hotel has a rooftop bar and is an easy walk to Main Street.

Hyatt Regency Scotts-
dale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch A luxurious hotel situated on 27 acres amid palm trees and set against the 
McDowell Mountains.

The Phoenician Located at the foot of Camelback Mountain, with an international flavor. Guest rooms have large patios and sunken tubs.

Where to Eat
Arcadia Farms Café A stylish eatery near Old Town Scottsdale featuring breakfast and lunch favorites that highlight locally grown, organic foods. Try for a seat on the patio.

AZ/88 A trendy, hip bar and bistro that features classic American light fare like burgers, BLTs, and Cobb salads. Located in a lovely setting and a favorite with folks stopping in before ArtWalk.

Malee’s Thai Bistro Delicious and popular with locals and visitors, Malee’s offers dishes like seafood curry, Thai basil pasta, and crispy mango fish.

The Mission Sophisticated, modern Latin cuisine with choices like Chilean salmon, mango and jicama salad, and scallop tacos.


How to Speak the Language

Michael Obermeyer creating a plein air painting.

Michael Obermeyer creating a plein-air painting. (Photo: Sean Haffey)

Alla Prima A technique in which an oil painting is completed with one ap-
plication of paint in a single session, instead of building up multiple layers of paint.

Edition A set of identical sculptures or prints. An “open edition” contains an unlimited number of pieces, while a “limited 
edition” has a set number of pieces.

Giclée A high-end digital print made from an original painting using advanced technology.

Gouache An opaque watercolor pigment.

Impasto The application of thick layers of paint.

Plein Air Landscapes painted outdoors with the intention of catching impressions of light and color in the open air.

Quick Draw An event in which artists create a small, finished piece in a short period of time, such as an hour, while viewers watch.

Trompe l’Oeil A painting so realistically rendered that it appears three-dimensional.


How to Talk to an Artist

Kathleen Dunphy

Kathleen Dunphy (Photo: Paul O’Valle)

Those of us who love art but may not be familiar with the daily life of an artist sometimes wind up tongue-tied when face to face with a painter or sculptor. So we asked a few artists for guidance.

DO ask artists about their creative processes, inspiration, and techniques. “What inspired this piece?” and “What is your creative process like?” are always safe bets.

DON’T ask, “How long did it take you to paint this?” followed by, “How much is it?” When asked in tandem, says painter Kathleen Dunphy, these two questions are usually followed by the questioner’s mind churning as he or she tries to calculate how much the artist supposedly earns per hour. “I’d love for those folks to come into my studio and go through the stacks of sketchbooks, drawings, and preliminary work that goes into every painting I do,” Dunphy says. “There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that the general public is unaware of.”

DON’T ask other questions that make artists cringe, like, “Do you sell these paintings?” or worse, “What’s your real job?” Erin O’Connor, who often sets up her easel outdoors, is always surprised when people see her painting and ask, “Are you an artist?”


How to Commission a Piece


A preliminary sketch by David Jonason. Collection of Dr. David R. Reagan.

When you have a specific concept in mind for a painting or sculpture, it can make sense to commission an artist to execute that concept. It could be, for example, a scenic view from your property that you ask a local landscape painter to capture, or a portrait of a family member by a figurative painter. Many artists accept commissions, but not all. And commissions can cost more—in an informal survey, we found that the cost increase can range from 10 to 50 percent, depending on the extra time and research involved. Tirage Fine Art in Pasadena, CA, works regularly on commissions from both private collectors and the film industry. Gallery co-owner Kevin Casey encourages clients to view the artwork at different stages of completion—one-third done, two-thirds, and just prior to completion—to ensure they will be pleased with the result.

Mikkel Saks, owner of Saks Galleries, adds that “many artists will do a preliminary sketch or study, which can be approved by the client before the larger version gets underway.” He adds, “Commissions are a chance to have some real fun.”


Featured in the October 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art October 2014 print issue or digital download Or subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!

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