DESTINATIONS
EXPERIENCE
DESTINATIONS
EXPERIENCE
You don’t need deep pockets to add art that will personalize your space. Photo of Sentral Michigan Avenue by James Baigrie.

The Designed Life: How to Start Collecting Art — Affordably

BY LIZ SHELDON
We all have that friend — the one whose home is filled with unique, eye-catching works of art, each one seemingly with its own personal story behind it. Maybe they’ve got the kind of dough to buy works from big galleries, or a nose for sniffing out emerging artists. But what if you’re not that person? 
For many of us, the idea of collecting art can feel intimidating, not to mention costly. But starting your own personal collection is actually pretty easy — and it doesn’t have to break the bank. And remember: The more unique and personable the art on your walls,
the more appealing your place
will be to potential homeshare guests. “Each piece of art you bring into your space represents your history, your story, your point of view,” says Claire Redwine, Senior Design Manager at Sentral. “You want it to feel as if it’s your home.”

6 Top Tips for Aspiring Art Collectors

We spoke to Redwine and other art and design professionals for advice on demystifying the art-buying process and tapping into your own internal muse, so you can build an affordable art collection that
reflects your personality
. Here’s what they said.

1. IDENTIFY WHAT YOU'RE INTO

Visiting local museums and galleries is a useful (and fun!) way to define what you like. Photo by Pauline Loroy.
Getting started might feel overwhelming, especially if (like most us) you lack the terminology or background knowledge to describe what you like. Start by noticing the styles and mediums that speak to you: Visit a local museum (like the
Art Institute of Chicago
, near
Sentral Michigan Avenue
, or Los Angeles’s
The Broad
, close to
Sentral DTLA 732
and
Sentral DTLA 755
), and note the genre and era of pieces that jump out. Do the same flipping through some art books and participating in a local gallery walk. (Try the
Wynwood Art Walk
in Miami, held the second Saturday of the month on the streets surrounding
Sentral Wynwood
, or Seattle’s
Capitol Hill Art Walk
, held second Thursdays and convenient to
Sentral First Hill
and
Sentral SLU
.)
Now think about what you gravitate toward: Do you like art that’s abstract, figurative, or somewhere in between? Are you drawn to art that makes a statement, or has a sense of humor? Do you enjoy photography or sculpture more than paintings? Artists are inspired by each other, so whether you’re into
Alexander Calder
,
Jenny Holzer
, or
Auguste Renoir
, you’ll be able to discover artists working in similar veins today. You should also think about your personal priorities, like buying work from female artists or artists of color, and use those to narrow down your search.
Consider collecting your favorites on a Pinterest board. The site’s algorithms will help you understand what you like. “I’m a big believer in pinning,” says Redwine. “It reveals to you what your tastes are — and that’s not something you should ignore. Drop in things you like and you’ll start to recognize your own point of view.”

2. DECIDE ON A BUDGET

It’s boring, but true: You should determine what’s financially feasible before you start shopping. The truth is, art prices can be bewildering: Unlike say, cars or jewelry, they’re based less on the cost of the materials than on subjective criteria. That said, the larger or more labor-intensive the piece, the more the artist might charge. Knowing in advance what you're comfortable spending — $50? $500? $5,000? — can keep you from making an impulse buy you might regret later. Remember: Art is very rarely returnable, and you don’t want something hanging on your wall that brings up feelings of regret later.

3. GO LOCAL — OR HIT THE ROAD

Follow or subscribe to the email list for some small local galleries, shared studio spaces, and art collectives. That way, you’ll be in the loop for studio sales and auctions where you can see the work of many different artists in one place, and often snag something you love for an affordable price. “Open artist studios are happening all the time,” adds Redwine, pointing to examples like
Canopy in East Austin
and
Denver’s RiNo Arts District
. “You get to actually interact with the artists, which brings you closer to the work. A piece you buy directly from the artist will always speak to you — you’ll never forget that moment.”
Letterpress and ceramics studios also frequently hold sales for their members to sell pieces. Local art schools are another great way to unearth pieces by artists early in their careers -— you might just pick the next
Helen Frankenthaler
or
Ryan McGinley
. But even if your purchase doesn’t end up being worth millions, if it brings you joy, that’s a win. 
Artwork you pick up while traveling becomes part of your personal art journey as well — even if it’s just a poster from a museum you loved. “I have a Van Gogh poster hanging in my house that I imposed myself onto by getting crafty with gold and silver leaf,” says Redwine. “You can discover what you love simply by making the piece of art your own.” 

4. GET SOCIAL AND SCOUR THE WEB

One-of-a-kind artworks can be found just a few clicks away. Photo of Sentral Michigan Avenue by James Baigrie.
If you find an artist you like, follow them on Instagram to keep up with their work. You can even slide into their DMs to see if a work they post is for sale. Even if they don’t have prices listed on their website, it never hurts to (respectfully!) message them and ask how much their pieces cost. You might be surprised! Just don’t try to negotiate — creative work is time-consuming and often represents the artist’s livelihood. Prices too high? Say thanks and keep them on your wish list. 
There’s no shortage of websites offering art at prices that are quite reasonable. The site
20 x 200
specializes in prints at all sizes and price points from a huge variety of artists, even recognizable names like William Wegman and Hilma af Klint.
Tappan
is another great source for discovering both up-and-coming and established talent. It offers a special curation of pieces under $300, and a strong offering under $1,000 if you’re feeling a little more flush.
Shop Baia Online
has a similar price spread, and is specifically dedicated to the work of Black artists.
Women Who Draw
is a database of professional artists and illustrators who identify as female; while mainly geared towards commercial commissions, almost every artist there also offers personal work on her own site, making it a wonderful tool for discovering contemporary creators. 
Just remember, while some sites can ship framed prints, you may want to set aside some funds to get a custom frame that fits your style — and the costs of that can vary quite a bit.

5. GO VINTAGE

Don’t overlook flea markets and vintage stores for art shopping. One person’s trash could become your next treasure. Photo by Nikola Duza.
Art often gets overlooked at thrift shops and estate sales, but they’re both fantastic places to find hidden gems (pro tip: they’re also great resources for affordable frames). Curating a collection can be a fun way to bring your own creative perspective to your home, and it gives you something specific to hunt for while thrifting. You might fall in love with amateur paint-by-numbers pieces or Art Deco sculptures. Something that feels a little random on its own can have an interesting impact when grouped together. Or consider framing something unexpected, like vintage playing cards or someone else’s funny family photos. There’s inspiration to be found everywhere. 

6. FOCUS ON QUALITY AND TAKE YOUR TIME

A key tenet of any art collection is that it’s made up of pieces you have a connection to and that will stand the test of time. There’s nothing wrong with investing in a neon sign of a trending meme phrase, but is it going to resonate the same way 15 years from now? No matter your price point, look for materials and compositions that can go the distance. Collecting methodically will also leave you with the time and budget to take care of your pieces properly, like investing in a quality frame or hiring someone to hang your paintings properly. You don’t want to do irrevocable damage to your beloved new discovery.
Ultimately, just trust your gut and have fun! “Don’t second-guess your instincts,” says Redwine. “If you see something you love, go ahead and buy it, even if you don't have room for it at the moment. If it resonated with you, you’ll find a home for it eventually.” Also, try not to let other people’s opinions interfere with what speaks to you. Art is personal, and your collection should be a reflection of your interests and tastes. Your opinion is the only one that matters here. 

READY TO SHOW OFF YOUR BUDDING COLLECTION TO THE WORLD? OUR HOMESHARING PROGRAM LETS YOU OFFSET YOUR RENT WHILE YOU’RE VISITING YOUR NEXT ART FAIR (OR JUST HANGING ON THE BEACH)!
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