Charlie and I began dating in the summer of 2000. A few months into our
relationship we went to an art show, the annual School of the Museum of Fine
Arts student and faculty sale, and bought a piece of art together. It was $300
and we split the cost. We’d fallen in love with this large painting on paper
made by an alumna at the school and we couldn’t leave without it, even
though we weren’t yet sure we’d fallen in love with each other. We hung the
piece in his apartment and each of us fretted privately about who would get the
painting if we broke up.
Our first jointly purchased piece of art. It’s called “Tilting at Windmills” and it’s by SMFA alumna Louise Weinberg.
13 years later that piece is still hanging in our house where we look at it
every day along with the dozens of other pieces of original art we’ve bought
together since then.
When new guests come into our house they look around and just keep looking.
There’s a lot to see in here. We have our walls painted white and we’ve
collected mid-century furniture with understated clean lines so that the
paintings and sculptures that make up our art collection are the focal point.
If you’re interested in furniture like this, then check out stores like HomeAccents II furniture.
I think for many people collecting original art can be scary. How do you
know what to buy? And where to go? Is it worth the money, and how much money
are we talking about anyway? I’ve put together some tips to help an aspiring
collector get started. Bringing original art into your life will improve the daily environment of your home. And it just may spark your own
First, a note of reassurance. Yes, you absolutely can have a house full of
original artwork and have young children. Our kids are 2, 7,
and 9 and they’ve been surrounded by art, much of it hung low enough for them
see and reach, since they were born. There’s original art in each of their bedrooms. In our house we have rules about respecting
art. We just look and don’t touch. And that goes for the art they make as well
as the art we buy.
The kid’s table in our family room, with two paintings right above. One is by my aunt, Judith Mensh Ryan, and other by William McCloy, bought at a huge fire sale of his work in Connecticut while visiting my in-laws.
Okay, so how do you get started? Here are ten tips for
beginning an art collection:
1. There are no rules. Don’t get too academic about things. This is your
house, your money, and your taste. You can hang anything you’d like anywhere
you’d like. Free yourself from rules you’ve read about decorating or art history
or whatever. Just jump in. A lot of the work of building a collection is
developing your personal aesthetic. What are you drawn to? Charlie and I share
a love of abstraction, modernism, simplicity, and pseudographica (text that
looks like words, but isn’t). We don’t always agree, but it’s thrilling when we
2. Don’t buy for value. Buy what you like. I’m not talking about buying a
Picasso here. The kind of collecting I’m referring to isn’t about trying to
find a treasure that will grow in value and become part of your estate, or
working through an agent to find pieces by a particular well-known artist. I’m
talking about buying beautiful original art that you like. You’re the one
who’ll see it while you’re eating your oatmeal each morning.
This is our biggest piece. It’s called “Yoder” and is by Joshua Goode. We bought it from him in his studio when he was in grad school at Boston University. We lived right down the street and he carried it to our apartment, up three flights of stairs!
3. Buy big stuff. I’ve found that people are afraid to commit to a large
piece and instead buy lots of little tiny things. It’s hard to hang lots of little
things well. A big canvas makes a statement and fills a space. Get over your
fear and commit to something big and dramatic.
4. Consider a canvas. You’ll save on framing costs.
5. Find an affordable framer that knows what they’re doing. Framing is
an art form in and of itself and unless you’ve been trained to do it, you’re
better off leaving it to a professional. A bad framer can ruin a piece you’ve
spent good money on by using glue, poor quality glass, or a cheap matte that
will fade over time. Develop a relationship with a good framer who understands
your style and will be able to help you choose a frame and matte that shows off
your piece. We use a framer in an industrial part of Waltham that is among the
scroungiest retail setting you’ll find, but their quality is amazing and the
prices can’t be beat. It’s worth every penny.
6. Hang it low. I’m 5’2”. Charlie is 5’10”. Here’s how we hang art in our
house. He holds the piece up and says,
I say, “Move it lower.”
He says, “Now?”
I say, “Lower.”
This goes on a while until he reaches a breaking point and refuses to go any
lower. Then it’s perfect. Art should be at eye level. Eye level is low. Buy
good quality hangers and get out the level. Don’t be afraid to group things
together or stack pieces one above the other. We have to stack now because
we’re running out of wall space.
7. Go directly to the artist. Where do you find and buy affordable art? From
the artists themselves. Wherever you live, whether it a small rural town or a
bustling cosmopolitan city, people around you are making art. Go see them. Here
in metro Boston many towns have open studio weekends in which artists invite
the public to visit their studios to view and purchase art. Check out the
colleges near you. Most colleges have some kind of art program and many have
student and faculty shows and sales periodically throughout the year. We’ve
bought fantastic student artwork and some of those students have gone on to
enjoy very successful careers as artists. And bring your kids. It’s fun to see
how art is made!
This is our latest aquisition. It’s a vintage piece from the late 1960s, clearly strongly influence by Louise Nevelson. We bought this at ModHaus in Dorchester while looking for some end tables. The artist is unknown.
8. Buy it when you see it. We were at a show a few years ago and both of us
were really drawn to this incredible portrait done in pen on a gnarled piece of
driftwood. We turned around for a moment to discuss whether we should get it
and when we turned back it was gone. Someone bought it from under our noses!
Another time we visited the studio of a man who made geometric assemblages that
were so incredible we were totally enthralled. But they were a bit over our
price range. We hemmed and hawed and left without one, but we still talk about
them longingly. Lesson learned: go with your gut and don’t hesitate.
9. Keep all the documentation. Save the receipt, the artist’s business card,
and the label from the back of the piece. Every now and then a
particular artist does rise in prominence and your piece may become valuable.
Other times you’ll change your mind and want to sell a particular piece. In both cases it
helps to know how much you paid for the piece and when. We sold a big canvas on Craig’s List last
year for $50 and we don’t miss it.
This pink and white piece on masonite with antlers hangs above the fireplace in our family room. We bought it at the SMFA sale a few years ago. Pink was new for us.
10. Don’t try to match your decor. Art doesn’t need to match furniture, or a
paint color, or the carpet and upholstery. Art needs to move you. Don’t go to
the gallery looking for a particular mauve or yellow stripe. Go with an open
mind. That being said, if you have certain dimensions you need to work within,
that can be helpful.
Visiting artists’ studios together as a family connects us to the artist and the art in our home. Our kids have met many of the artists and seen where the work
was made. Bringing it home is exciting for all of us. Once it gets here, we inevitably
we have to take something else down and move it. That move leads to another and
soon we’re shuffling everything. It’s good to move stuff around periodically.
When you come down to breakfast the next day the house will look new.
Building an art collection takes time. It’s like a wonderful, endless
treasure hunt. And it does take a bit of money, but not a lot. Charlie and I
don’t buy each other holiday gifts. Instead we pool the money we would have
spent on each other and buy a piece of art together. When we’re sitting together we glance at the wall there’s something interesting for our eyes
to rest on. Through the ups and downs of everyday life as a family we’re surrounded by things of beauty and that makes all of our lives richer.
Linda Hicks says
So smart to go canvas to avoid framing costs of works on paper….but if the piece you love is on paper, you bite the bullet.
Your artwork is lovely and it looks like you have a beautiful home. I just received my order of “Stufffed Animals” and quickly flipped through the pages. I’m anxious to read it cover-to-cover as it looks like your instructions are very complete. Just what a beginning stuffer needs! Thank you & have a good day.
Great post! We used to buy art when we were DINKs (double income, no kids) but haven’t done so in ages. You are inspiring me to get back at it!
Thank you so much, Deanna. I hope you really enjoy the book!
We call that time in our lives, "when we were single." We were together and both working full-time, but had no kids. It seems like another world now!
My husband and I have very different tastes in art, so if we both like something we buy it! Early in our relationship I was looking for something for over my fireplace. We found something we both liked, but it didn’t go with the color I had painted that wall. When we went back to the consignment store a few months later and it was still there, he bought it for his house with the agreement that if we ever got married it could be in our joint living room, and that’s where it is today.
Kim Werker says
I love this so much, Abby. Thanks for writing it all out. Now I want to take a photo tour of our house, too. Hm, maybe I will…
Thank you for the inspiration! I’m always changing my mind about painting our walls certain colors. Using your tips and buying art I like will certainly help me in creating a space I love!
I think that piece was meant to be yours! A great story.
You should, Kim! I'd totally read that!
I truly think no matter what color your walls are painted you buy art that you love and then figure out a space for it. It doesn't have to match. In fact, it might just be better if it doesn't match.
This is such a great post – I’m sending it to friends who don’t see your blog. I always paint white or off-white with white molding, but I do think that trying different paints is like trying weird hair – with a little time and effort you can always change it back.
I have to tell you that I was ecstatic when I opened your book and found – oh, wow – the crab! He’s always been my favorite of your pieces.
The crab was one of the first patterns I knew I wanted in this book. I love him, too! I hope you'll make him. And I like your analogy between paint colors and weird hair!
As an artist it’s always useful to know what potential collectors are thinking about. If only more people could write about art in such a friendly, useful way.
As for #10, I did make a painting that matches my chair, but I swear it was an accident!
It's great to hear from an artist here! Thank you for your comment! And we certainly do have things that happen to match one another in weird ways. We've got a ladder-theme going on in our home office. I'm not sure how that happened, but I do like it!
great advice! thank you