Art of any kind is one of the most personal purchases you can make for your home. Unless you are a collector focusing solely on the value of an artwork, you will most likely be buying something because you feel a connection to it. Art may move you, make you smile, or remind you of a favourite place. It could range in value from a £12 Ikea print up to an original painting or sculpture by an established artist – and stop at all points in between.
How to build an art collection
Anyone who has ever studied away from home will have experienced a hall of residence, and the horrific sight of four bare, white walls. I addressed this problem by buying posters sold on campus and in the local Athena shop (long gone, sadly) and Blu-tacking them to every available space on the wall. Ikea is probably the closest contemporary equivalent to Athena, stocking a good selection of prints and frames. It is an excellent place to start your student art collection.
- High Street art
Moving into your first home, you are usually greeted by – once again – bare walls. This is a good opportunity to look for framed prints by unknown artists in high street stores, which helps you to explore your tastes as well as learn how to position artworks on the wall. Good quality, affordable, framed art can be bought from Laura Ashley, Next, M&S and John Lewis, and bargains can be found in the home sections of supermarkets.
Above: the latest art collections from Laura Ashley
3. Print and photography – numbered editions
As I became a little better off financially, I discovered that numbered editions of photographic and lino prints are a good way to acquire pictures that I liked. You can buy these directly from the artist or from the gallery that represents them. Many galleries sell online, too. Commercial galleries are an excellent place to explore a wide range of artistic styles: Sign up to receive emails from those that represent the type of artists you like: you will get invitations to private views.
There are many excellent photographers who specialise in coastal landscapes so if you visit somewhere you like, visit small galleries displaying their work. Often photographers will also sell prints directly, which can be even better value, especially if you are interested in buying several pictures.
- Original art
Buying an original piece of art is the next step up on the ladder. Art schools’ graduate shows and The Affordable Art Show are excellent ways to see contemporary art at prices that won’t break the bank. Once you have invested in one artist’s work, you may choose to continue to buy from them and build a collection or – like me – you may flit from artist to artist, buying what you love with no gameplan. Typically, prices go from hundreds up to many thousands depending on how established the artist is (new artists ‘ work will be at the lowest point of the scale, clearly) so is a very serious purchase. Take your time and don’t feel pressured (a good gallery will never pressurise you to make a purchase) and if you need time to think, ask the gallery or artist if they will reserve the work for you for a few days.
Displaying your art
Unless you have an extremely neutrally decorated home, or a taste for very neutral art, the colours in your art purchases will go better with some colours in your home than others, so consider this when deciding where to hang them. The colour of the walls on which you are displaying your art is also important. It is worth looking at which colours the major art galleries such as the Tate use for their permanent collection as well as temporary exhibitions: often the backdrops are quite dark. Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe is a favourite of mine: it seems to offset most art really well.
Light is also an important factor, as north-facing rooms have a colder light than south-facing rooms, but that northern light will depict the colours in your paintings more accurately. Watch out for direct sunlight falling onto paintings for large periods of the day as this can cause fading as well as making it hard to see the picture. In dark rooms and corridors it may be necessary to illuminate individual paintings. Traditionally this was done with lights attached over the top of the picture frame, but a more modern effect is created with the use of individual ceiling mounted spotlights.
There is something aesthetically pleasing about grouping pictures. The number of pictures you group together will depend on space as well as how many pictures you have in the first place, but as a rule of thumb, trios of pictures are very harmonious as are four pictures of the same size, set out as a square. But a more informal melange of pictures grouped loosely together can also look excellent in a more casual environment. Galleries will have people standing around holding paintings in different positions in order to get it right: enlist friends and family with strong arms to help you to plan your layouts. In terms of what to group together, you may have works by the same artist that are part of a set, or are related in some way. If not, you may wish to group paintings of the same size, or that have a colour or a theme in common.
It goes without saying that a tiny painting will look lost placed in the middle of a large blank wall, and a large one will look awful if the edge of it is hidden behind the curtain because you didn’t measure the wall before buying the picture. If you live in a small flat, be aware of the space limitations: although a large picture can make the room seem bigger, it doesn’t work if the picture is cramped or obscured by furniture. It’s also worth thinking about the height of the person most likely to be looking at the pictures (is it you, someone else of a different height, or both of you?) and place the paintings accordingly. When hanging pictures in a children’s room, you need to get down to their height (literally!) to see what they see.
- Where to avoid
If you have any art of value, it is best to avoid anywhere damp, such as poorly ventilated bathrooms. Similarly, direct sunlight should be avoided because it can fade both originals and prints. Valuable purchases also need to be protected from children, who can so easily knock pictures if they are hung within reach. Apart from that, art should go wherever it looks best, whether it’s your bedroom or the downstairs loo!
Displaying art in a rented property
Many renters are faced with strict tenancy agreements that forbid so much as a picture pin being knocked into the wall. If you are renting an older property with picture rails on the walls, you have a ready-made picture hanging solution. If you don’t have picture rails, here are a few ways you could display your pictures:
- Small, affordable table-top easels can be bought from art shops and can be used to permanently display smaller works on chests of drawers, console tables and so on. You could make a feature of a larger painting by displaying it on a full size easel.
- Screens and room dividers. Some folding screens have spaces on them on which to mount photographs, others are suitable for hanging small works on to them. Others are works of art in themselves.
- Propping paintings up on shelves is a popular option in contemporary interiors. If your shelf doesn’t have a lip at the front, make sure you secure the painting onto the shelf, to stop it slipping off.
- The floor. This is another popular option, which works well for large paintings and mirrors. Again, you must secure the picture to stop it falling over. This option is best avoided in areas of heavy footfall, where children and dogs are running around.
Copyright Olivia Fawkes 2015.