Selecting Artwork for the Novice Collector

Most clients of ours who have not purchased original art work before find it an intimidating and daunting task. Even entering a gallery can cause nervous jitters. I believe this is because original art tends to be a high ticket item, and clients are afraid to make a wrong choice or have little experience in the art form itself. But here’s the secret. You don’t need to know a thing about the technique, and biography of the artist before you enter a gallery. You don’t need a degree in Art History or personal experience in creating art. All that you need is to follow your instincts and look for something that moves you. There is no wrong choice if you like something. The first purchase is always the most painstaking and frightening but after you buy your first piece, you may find that collecting artwork becomes a new hobby and a passion. You will look at your blank walls and have the uncontrollable urge to adorn them with something amazing. Here are a few of my tips to help you gain confidence before taking the plunge into purchasing original artwork.

Painting by Timothy McDowell available at Newzones Gallery of Contemporary Art in Calgary.

Before shopping for art work, find out where the galleries are in your area. Ask your interior designer or friends whose collection you admire for a list of their favorite haunts. It’s also great idea to spend a bit of time researching the kind of art you are drawn to. Most galleries have amazing websites now featuring pieces from the artists they represent. Take a look at the website and see if you can pinpoint a few artists that you are drawn to. If you are looking for a piece for a particular spot in your home, snap a photograph that you can bring with you to the gallery with the dimensions noted on it. Your interior designer or the gallery representative can help you determine the overall size that the piece should be if you are not certain.

Painting by Aleksandra Rdest available at Newzones Gallery of Contemporary Art in Calgary.

Art galleries usually have a show going on – a collection of work from a particular artist or group of artists with a common theme. Most galleries carry several artists, and if you are not enamored with the pieces in the show, then ask to see work by other artists. Galleries often have a room which stores additional art work that is not currently on display so don’t worry if what is on the walls doesn’t appeal to you immediately. There will be tags beside the pieces or sometimes a price list nearby for you to review. A dot beside a tag means that the piece has already been sold. Ask lots of questions, gallery owners and representatives love it when you are interested in the art work, how it was created, the inspiration behind the piece and the artist themselves.

Painting by Ronald Boaks available through the Weiss Gallery in Calgary.

Another tip that is not well known is that most galleries will bring the art that you are considering to your home for you to look at in your own environment. They will even hang the paintings for you. Also, they frequently can work out a payment plan for you over a period of time. One more piece of insider information is that if you like a particular artist but the pieces available are not the size that you are looking for the artist can sometimes create a custom piece to suit your needs. The gallery will coordinate this for you.

When you are selecting an original piece of art, go with your gut. It should evoke a strong reaction, remind you of a time or place, intrigue you, or just please you when you look at it. Don’t worry about the painting matching your interior design scheme. Sometimes the most successful art installations are the ones where the art work is in stark contrast to its surroundings. This accentuates it and can create a really interesting tension in a room. If you are selecting a piece for a particular spot, think about how you would view it. A painting above a fireplace needs to be seen from a distance so a highly detailed piece that is best viewed up close wouldn’t be the best choice. Save the detailed piece for the powder room or hallway and go for something more graphic over the fireplace.

Painting by Charles Malinsky available through Herringer Kiss Gallery in Calgary

Artwork is an investment and its value will increase over time. Ask the gallery if the artist you are interested in has pieces in any national or international collections. Also, ask about other galleries that represent the artist. If their work is included in notable collections the value of the piece will be higher. The gallery should provide you with a biography of the artist, an article on the inspiration behind the art and a list of notable collections that the artist has been included in. Keep this information somewhere safe, and have your artwork insured.

When hanging your artwork, the center of the piece should be around 5’ off the ground. If you are hanging a painting over a sofa or other piece of furniture you may need to hang it lower then this. The artwork should be viewed in conjunction with the items around it, and too much space in between them creates a disjointed vignette.

Although beginning an art collection may seem overwhelming, think of it as an adventure. As with any high priced investment, you want to make an informed decision so ask questions and take your time to decide. Art is meant to be enjoyed and it brings people together to discuss it, appreciate it and savor its beauty. Relish the hunt for that piece that speaks to you; trust your instincts and you can’t go wrong.



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