How to build an affordable art collection you'll love on a budget

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By York Avenue

For some, the prospect of building and compiling an art collection can seem intimidating, overwhelming, or downright impossible - especially if you're trying to do it on a budget! Welp, I'm here to tell you that finding art to adorn your walls is actually an easy and fun process that can be done in an affordable way. Art is an essential component in any space, and the pieces that I've put on my walls add so much personality, color, and happiness to my tiny abode. Here are my tips for building an art collection that you'll love:

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How to build an art collection you'll love
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How to build an affordable art collection you'll love on a budget

Tip #1: Peruse blogs (that should be easy!)

Start simple: peruse blogs, online magazines, and home tours. That is where I've found a ton of my favorite art, or sources that led me to my favorites (see the bottom of this post for a list of my favorite resources!). The picture above is from Alaina Kaczmarski's home tour on The Everygirl.

(Photo: York Avenue)

Tip #2: Get eclectic and creative. 

Collect from different sources so that your collection looks eclectic and unstudied/unstaged. If you buy from all one resource, your collection can look flat - mixing is the best way to achieve a more effortless, stylish vibe. Don't forget that you can (and should!) frame unconventional items like postcards, greeting cards, even a cutout ad from a magazine (talk about budget-friendly!) In the above photo from her Instagram, you can see that Sarah Tolzman framed vintage Kate Spade ads and hung them over her bar (mixed with inexpensive art from her print shop) - and I think we can all agree it looks absolutely perfect. If you feel like it, peruse flea markets and thrift stores to find vintage prints for a steal. And side note: You can get frames just like those at places like Pottery BarnWest Elm, and Ikea, for not a lot of money.

(Photo: York Avenue)

Tip #3: Make it personal. 

As you can see in the photo above from my home tour, I framed a poster that reminds me of a really special experience - attending the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met with my Mom. So in between the prints that you get because they're pretty, and the other things that you get because they look cool or whatever, throw in some really personal pieces or something that represents a special memory. These types of pieces add warmth, personality, and uniqueness to your space, while also giving you a little happy boost when you're reminded of the story or memory they represent. It's all about making your home a happy haven, and this is a great (often inexpensive) strategy for achieving that.

(Photo: York Avenue)

Tip #4: More than just "cute."

Try not to get a piece just because it's "cute." I read this bit of advice on Darlene's blog, and it really resonated. I see a lot of art (and other decor items) where my initial thought is "oh, that's so cute!" but I don't always get those pieces. That's because there's a good chance that they won't stand the test of time - I'll get sick of them sooner rather than later. That's not to say that that hasn't happened, where I've bought something and grown tired of it. Tastes change, and a collection can't be static - you will get sick of some things, inevitably, and find others that you want to sub in, which is totally fine! Though a lot of the things that I like/buy could be called "cute," I try to only buy things that have something else going for them-that speak to me in some way or that I truly LOVE. Which brings me to Tip #5...

(Photo: York Avenue)

Tip #5: Staying power.

Before you buy a piece, try to think about if you'll love it at LEAST a few years from now. Even if something is inexpensive, you don't want to buy things that are going to be disposable. You're aiming to build a collection that really represents you and your style, and that will stand the test of time. (Photo above is from Alex Yeske's home tour on Design Sponge - which you should check out if you haven't, it's awesome).

(Photo: York Avenue)

Tip #6: Make something yourself (or have it made for you). 

Now granted, I cannot utilize the first part of this tip, as any attempts I make at painting/drawing end up appearing to have been crafted by a drunk person and/or a six year old. However, I'm lucky to have a sister who is artistically inclined, and who gifted me that gorgeous gold, pink, and black painting above (photo is byKate Ignatowski from my home tour). But use your strengths! I'm into photography, so if I had any wall space left I might consider printing some of my better photos. If you want something one-of-a-kind but you're not artistically inclined, you can always commission a piece, which yes, can be pricy, BUT, is totally unique and I think, worth it (see this post). If you have a favorite quote, there are lots of sellers on Etsy who will happily turn it into a one-of-a-kind print for you at a good price. Poof, you have something totally unique (and probably meaningful as well)! 

(Photo: York Avenue)

Tip #7: Mix high and low. 

Get one or two expensive pieces, and others cheaper - it's all about mixing high and low. As you can see in the photo above, I have one original painting in my apartment which I am utterly, absolutely obsessed with. It's a focal point, and to me it was worth every penny (definitely a splurge). Many of my other pieces of art cost anywhere from zero dollars to 20 dollars to 50 dollars...it's all over the map. But having one really showstopping (probably pricier) piece can sort of trick the eye into thinking that all of the pieces are that good. One great thing in a room elevates all of the things. Or to put it another way, as I read in a book recently, "a rising tide lifts all boats."
(Photo: York Avenue)

Tip #8: Something classic. 

Don't be afraid to get a print of a classic that some might consider cliché. After reading Girl With a Pearl Earring and loving it, I went ahead and bought myself a print of the Vermeer painting on art.com. This was before I had a blog and before I ever fathomed that my apartment would be seen by anyone on the Internet, so I didn't think twice about it....and to this day, I still love it on my vanity. I just think it works there. And ultimately, that's what matters - that you love it. Oh, and you never know, some people might not even recognize that it's a print of a famous painting. Case in point, the person who saw this in my apartment and said "is that Lady Gaga?" *insert cry-laughing emoji*. 
(Photo: York Avenue)

Tip #9: A mini collection. 

Make a collection within a collection. I wound up amassing a little mini collection of NYC art pieces, because I just constantly seem to be finding NYC based art that I love. Did I set out to collect New York City art? Nope. Just go with what you love and a little micro-collection might emerge. If you find yourself with just a few pieces of art and you're at a loss for where to go from there, try using a piece that you already have as a jumping off point to create a collection within a collection. Having a consistency in your art through a mini collection also clearly says "I care about this thing." Which is kind of cool, since it helps your space to represent what's important to you.
(Photo: York Avenue)

Tip #10: Framing.

Professional framing can take an inexpensive piece of art from "meh" to WOW. Framers are like hairstylists though - the level of talent varies. Do your research, talk to different people, and get yourself a good framer who knows what they're doing. Now as we all know, professional framing is
anything but budget-friendly, so shop around for the best price. And try to keep in mind that if the print cost you ten bucks, then you can at least feel a little better about splurging on the framing. If you don't want to go the professional route, read this post on how I managed to achieve a custom-framed look for my belovedGarance Dore poster, but for a fraction of the price of professional framing.

If you want to skip professional framing altogether, as mentioned above, Pottery Barn, West Elm, and Ikea sell great, simple frames that should work for a lot of different pieces of art (I'm partial to the plain black or white wooden gallery frames). Another option is an online service like Framed and Matted (I've never tried them, but seems like an interesting concept). I even bought two custom frames on Etsy way back when, which worked out pretty well for me. You can also find cool vintage frames at flea markets and thrift stores, and if you want to really stay budget-friendly, I've gotten perfectly fine frames at TargetKohls, and on Amazon.

(Photo: York Avenue)

Tip #11: Something quirky. 

Don't be afraid to get something a little cheeky or quirky. It adds personality and life to a space! In my favorite design book ever, The Perfectly Imperfect Home, Deborah Needleman writes about her friend Rita Konig's LOVE poster as an example of a touch of quirk in decor, which you can see in the photo above from her home tour on The Selby. It's a quirky, bold little piece that just adds a certain something.

(Photo: York Avenue)

Tip #12: Take your time!

Don't rush it! This goes for all decorating - finding what you love takes time, both in figuring out your taste and in sourcing items. This is in the same vein as not buying every piece of art at the same place - similarly, don't try to build a collection overnight. It will feel more layered and authentic if you collect over months or years. Each piece will be different and have more meaning because it will remind you of where you were at the time when you chose it - physically, mentally, emotionally. An overnight collection would be flat and boring. You want your space to feel alive, vibrant, and representative of your life. Also, your taste may/will change over time (even if just in subtle ways), and if you take your time collecting, your art will be more representative of your true taste.

(Photo: York Avenue)

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