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The Experts’ Guide To Starting An Art Collection

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Hi friends,

I’ve always loved art but I didn’t start collecting it until more recently. Like many people, I felt a little intimidated by the thought of walking into an art gallery not knowing if the pieces I admired would be anywhere close to my budget.

What caused me to hedge on buying my first piece of art, though, was also the issue that I felt I’d be committing to any piece of art I invested in for the rest of my life. For some reason, the thought of buying a high-quality sofa didn’t feel nearly as intense, even if it was the exact same price as a painting I was eyeing. In part, the artwork would be more of a reflection of who I am than a sofa. But I also knew there would, should, or could be a different emotional attachment to a piece of art. It felt more like I was committing to a relationship than to a purchase. What if I wasn’t as happy with it as I thought I’d be? What if I wanted out? What if a time came when I just couldn’t look at that painting for another day?

Altogether, that’s a lot of pressure to place on a decision to buy the first piece in my art collection-to-be, so I put it off. But eventually, I realized that (just like relationships, sofas, and really everything else in life) we all have to start somewhere.

So I bought my first piece. Then another. And another, and voila! I had an actual grown-up art collection from all over the world.

In an effort to make it easier for you to start your own collection with less emotional turmoil and hand-wringing, I spoke to a few professionals in the art world to get their expert advice on how to get started.

Here’s what they had to say...


Advice from an art advisor

An artist and professional art advisor gave me the following advice for budding collectors:

  • New collectors are often best served to work with a professional to get them started off in the right direction.

  • If you are starting on a tighter budget and have an interest in emerging artists, look for open studios, art fairs, graduate studio tours at local art schools, group or solo shows, and even social media postings to find pieces that intrigue you.

  • Even if an artist you find on social media isn’t selling pieces there, you can direct message them to find out what they have for sale (they may be gallery represented and so unable to sell directly to you themselves).

  • So much depends on your budget and your goals for your collection. Take time to think about the kind of art you want to live with and look at every day, as well as what you can spend to get started.


the owner of professional art framing preparing an eccentric artwork on canvas
Gordon of "Gateway Art & Framing" in Wilton, CT

Advice from a professional art framer

I spoke with Gordon, my own personal framer, of Gateway Art and Framing in Wilton, CT, and asked him what to look for when shopping around for a frame store.

Here’s what he said:

  • First and foremost, ask if the gallery is insured. This serves to protect both the framer and you, in the unlikely event that a piece you bring in is somehow damaged or goes missing.

  • Next, look closely at the quality of the framing on display in the shop. If you see flaws in pieces there, walk away. If all looks to be top-notch, try out their work with a small or less expensive piece first before trusting larger, better pieces to them.

  • Last but not least, make sure they do archival framing. This refers to the use of materials and methods that promote the long-term health of a piece of artwork that’s being displayed. Archival framing protects the piece by controlling environmental threats to its well-being, such as humidity, temperature, light, dust, etc. For example, the glass used should be UV-resistant or museum-grade. If not, direct or indirect sunlight could penetrate the framing and begin to discolor the piece, thereby decreasing the value of the artwork, not to mention destroying its original beauty. The type of matting used is important, as well. Regular mat boards can actually burn paper artwork such as lithographs, serigraphs, multimedia, etchings, etc. Archival matting has the correct pH balance to avoid these damaging effects.


Advice from me

In addition to curating my personal art collection, I also frequently help my interior design clients start or add to collections of their own.

Here are my two cents on the matter:

  • Even though buying art is partly an emotional decision, just as with designing an interior, when starting an art collection, the first step is to set your intentions and goals. I find that taking the time to step back from the emotions and making a plan really helps in making confident art-buying decisions and less buyer's remorse later. So do you want a collection of mixed media pieces or only paintings, only photography, etc.? Are you more drawn to colorful pieces or subdued palettes, or both? Where will you be displaying the art? Do you want to be sure the piece you collect look good together or is that less of a factor because you want to display them in different rooms?

  • Next, you want to define a realistic budget for your first few pieces at least. Do a little window shopping to get a read on price ranges for artists you admire, mediums, and sizes. This step alone will give you tons of insight as to where to start. For example, you could opt to invest in a smaller piece by an artist you adore whose larger pieces are out of reach or you could go for a big piece you love with the intention of purchasing from a pricier artist later when you have more to spend.

  • That said, if you’re starting with a healthy enough budget, I highly recommend hiring a professional such as an interior designer like myself or an art advisor who can help you create a plan and find the right first pieces for your collection.

  • When it comes to finding a great framer, my number one piece of advice is to ask your network. Friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors who collect art are likely to have insight into local framers. What you ultimately want is to establish an ongoing relationship with a framer. That way, you’ll not only know they can be trusted to handle your art with care but that they also know you and your existing collection so they’ll be able to make informed suggestions about the types and styles of frames that will work for your new purchases. Many client/framer partnerships start by getting a single item framed and over the course of many years, an entire art collection is handled under that relationship. Incidentally, I also recently learned that in some cases, framers might keep a handful of frames in stock for quick framing. I was able to get a few pieces finished by my framer in just two days this way versus the usual 10-14 day turnaround time!

  • While I firmly believe you should love any piece you buy (ideally, it should give you goosebumps every time you walk by it!), don’t forget that art is an investment and should be treated as such when you’re looking to make a purchase. If you need proof of this, just watch this video of Eddie Murphy talking about the duplicate of an Ernie Barnes painting that recently sold at Christie’s for $16m. Murphy owns the original, which he purchased years ago for $50,000. Now that was a smart buy!

  • If at all possible, meet the artist. I purchased my first art piece simply from having a long, insightful conversation with a quirky artist at a local gallery. I walked in after having pizza next door because something caught my eye in the display window. It just so happened that the artist was there for the day talking to patrons. His work made me feel a rush of excitement. The colors! The technique! After learning about his personal journey and why he created the artwork, I just had to own the piece!

Building an impressive art collection takes time. Start slowly, make a plan, and keep an open mind about where you might find the best pieces for you and your collection. Above all else, have fun on the hunt! Enjoy perusing galleries and art fairs, not to mention meeting artists and other collectors. And if you want help getting started, just reach out. I can point you in the right direction.

Happy collecting everyone!

anpil lanmou (lots of love),

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