Using Art as Wall Decor, Part 2: Fundamentals of Specifying Art
Interior designers need to source artwork that integrates with and strengthens the complete design scheme for every room. In part 1 of this series, I provided an overview of Using Art as Wall Decor. This issue outlines the basic criteria you should consider when specifying art for your project.
Your selections for artwork in a design scheme should be driven by the needs of the client, and ultimately, the occupants of the space. And even when visual imagery is used in a supporting role — subversive to architecture, lighting, wall coverings and other interior decor — art carries its own weight within a design scheme. As such, the choices you make for what to hang on the walls are vitally important.
Here’s a basic checklist of considerations when specifying artwork
2. Color palette
As with all other aspects of an interior design scheme, it’s crucial to establish a budget for artwork as early as possible in the planning process. Unfortunately, too many design proposals severely underestimate the cost of artwork or neglect to include a budget for art at all. In these situations, sourcing artwork becomes a major challenge late in the implementation of the project — often during final stages of fit-out — and the quality of the total interior design suffers as a result. Clients will often resist budgeting for artwork, or choosing it, very early in the design process, but it’s essential that you communicate the importance of the artwork along with other decor accessories in completing the design. Try to create as detailed a budget as you can for the project artwork, as the constraints imposed by the budget will determine the options available when specifying the art.
The colors (or lack of color) in the artwork is the single most important element to consider when integrating artwork into a room design. From the most basic standpoint, you can choose to use art with complementary or contrasting colors. Complementary colors are those opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green. Color contrasts are created using colors from different families of hues, such as green and blue. You’ll need to decide how much you want the artwork to stand out from the other design elements and choose art with color palettes that either blends in with the other decor or stands out in remarkable contrast. We’ll look at color in much more detail in an upcoming installment in this series.
Format: size and shape
In art and photography, the “format” refers to the size and aspect ratio of the picture, which, in turn, determines its overall shape. The aspect ratio is not a fixed measurement, rather a proportional relationship between width and height. For example, a 2:3 ratio indicates two units on the short side and three units on the long side, where a “unit” could be any unit of length measurement. Along with color, the aspect ratio is one of the most important design specifications for any piece of artwork.
Before selecting art for a specific location, take the time to make some detailed measurements or refer to the plan and elevation drawings for the space. Depending on the interior design scheme, you need to specify artwork that correctly fills the wall spaces you have allocated. In some designs, tightly packed artworks with little space around each piece may be appropriate; in other scenarios you will want to leave ample space around each piece.
In general, whether you’re using one or more artworks on any given wall space, you should try to match the shape and orientation to the available space for the best effect. Simple examples are using a wide, horizontal piece on a wide (or square) wall and using a vertically-oriented piece on a tall, vertical wall. In simpler terms, try to match the format of the art with the orientation of the available space (but of course, there will be exceptions to this rule).
Style: Subjects, themes and motifs
Another key decision to make pertains to the style or type of art that fits the design. If you’re decorating your own home, obviously your personal tastes should prevail. For a designer putting together a commercial interior, your personal tastes should always be secondary to the needs of the client. Of course, every project can (and should) carry your distinctive, signature influence, but that overall influence is where your personal tastes should end when you’re sourcing materials for a client. What matters most is what matters to the client — and often, their customers.
With this in mind, when considering art for any commercial design scheme, it’s crucial to only consider styles that will resonate with the guests occupying the space. Always remember that in any public space, people are in transit through the building and will only occupy the space for a limited amount of time; the effect the artwork and your interior design will have are not the same as when you’re decorating a home.
This is why most artwork specified for pubic and commercial interiors is decidedly non-provocative. Especially with hotels and resorts, the main goal is to put the visitor at ease and make them comfortable. Placing art that is aggressive, risque or provocative should be done with utmost care, and only in properties whose business models support the type of clientele that would appreciate it. Abstract art is a good choice for interior design schemes in which the art plays a non-provocative role.
Specifying art for a hotel
Hotels and other hospitality properties have recently developed the desire to feel like a home away from home. The staid, spartan interiors of the 1970s Motel 6 have been replaced with lush, welcoming spaces, even in budget properties. In luxury boutique properties, the feeling of comfort and personalization is especially important. So choose art that feels like that which might hang in a home.
So when you’re specifying art for a hotel you need to choose subject matter that is comforting to the guest. What constitutes comforting depends not eh guest; a hoot. in mid-Town manhattan might have different art than one in the Maldives.
Choose a style that
1. goes well with the overall design theme and motifs,
2. meets the expectations and desires of the guest, and
3. can be economically reproduced and implemented within the design budget.
In my next article in this series I’ll discuss subject and theme in much more detail.
The “medium” of the artwork refers to the materials (and sometimes techniques) used to make the art. Oil, watercolor, pastel, charcoal, pen-and-ink and photography are examples of common mediums. “Mixed media” refers to an artwork made using multiple materials, for example, a combination of watercolor, pencil and collage. My artwork is often mixed media, incorporating a digitally printed photograph along with acrylic paint applied by hand over the surface of the print.
If the art is a reproduction, the medium might be a lithograph, serigraph or giclée. (A giclée print is a high-quality, archival inkjet print).
The artwork medium is a major determining factor in its cost. We’ll look at mediums in much more depth in a future installment in this series.
Framing and finishing
Nearly all wall-hanging artwork is finished to some degree. Unless you’re using thumbtacks to attach a print to the wall, you will need to choose a method of structural support and hanging hardware. A common, traditional method of finishing prints is using mat board (called the mount in the UK) and a sheet of glass encased within a wood or metal frame. You’ve certainly seen many pictures framed this way. However, there are myriad other ways to finish a piece of artwork, and some art looks great with very minimal framing. One example is the “gallery wrap”. This is currently a very popular finishing method, where a printed canvas is wrapped around a wood or metal stretcher bar and hung without a frame so the edges of the print are visible. This method is both visually attractive and cost-effective.
As with the medium, the type of framing and finishing you specify will have a huge effect on the project budget. In fact, a high quality frame can often cost much more than the artwork contained inside it! I will also thoroughly cover framing and finishing in a future article.
You’ll need to determine who will perform the artwork installation. If you’re an interior designer, you will also need to specify the method of installation (based on the available hanging systems) and identify any potential challenges pertaining to the installation, with regard to construction, electric and plumbing, wall surface finishes, etc. Don’t forget to include installation as part of the budget. You can learn more about artwork installation in a future article.
Don’t short-change your design
You should specify wall art with the same care you use for all other elements of your interior design scheme. Like lighting, floor covering, window treatments and accessories, the artwork you choose can dramatically support your design theme and elevate it to higher levels of success.
Stay tuned to Light+Colour for Part 3: Subject Matter and Theme
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