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The Ultimate Guide to Buying & Collecting Art

So you’re an art lover, and you’re ready to buy art to personalize your living space, and slowly build up a collection you can’t wait to come home to enjoy. But perhaps you’re feeling a little confused about what to buy. How do you really evaluate an artwork and its worth? How do you know what to invest in, and what you’ll enjoy every day? Here are some tips to help you acquire your art collection for life.

A group of people look at art at Winged Canvas Gallery
Patrons take a closer look at the Holiday Salon Show at Winged Canvas Gallery

1. Reflect on Your Personal Style and Interests

Are you naturally drawn to traditional landscapes or modern abstracts? Do you respond to art for its ability to trigger nostalgic memories? Maybe you enjoy whimsical illustrations for their stories, or prefer the conversations sparked by contemporary abstracts. Whether you’re more of a traditionalist, a comic book/fantasy geek, a modern minimalist, or if you’re eclectic like me and like a variety of styles, the first step is being aware of the genres of art you’re drawn to. Maybe your kitchen has a fresh collection still life paintings of food, while your living room is decorated with pop icons and a painted guitar. Perhaps your bedroom is more neutral and abstract. Each room can feel different and invite a new mood!

Winged Canvas Gallery Salon Show - eclectic styles of art hung together

Tip: If you're a more eclectic art collector, you may want to try a feature wall where the art is hung together in a cluster, showcasing the variety and contrast of art styles.

2. Express Your Values Through Art

Your art collection expresses who you are. Not just to show you have good taste (because that’s important too), but as a patron of the arts, you can choose to buy art that also makes a difference. You can buy art that inspires change, art that speaks for a cause, art that advocates for freedom, art that makes you laugh out loud, or art that challenges the status quo. No matter your personal preference, your choice in art speaks volumes about your personality and values.

3. Buy Artwork You Connect With Personally

Art, unlike facts, speak to the soul. Sometimes you feel a connection to a piece that can’t be immediately understood; and in fact, you don’t really need to. If you are emotionally drawn into an artwork, it could be connecting with your inner psyche, and be healing, moving, or stimulating. A painting of a landmark can remind you of your travels 10 years ago. A bird painting can remind you of your late grandmother, who was an avid bird watcher. A pop art portrait of your favourite musician can invite the spirit of music and funky vibes to your living room. You may feel like you’re at a birthday party when you’re looking at a colourful abstract, but when hung the other way, it sort of looks like a dragonfly, which is your favourite symbol of freedom. The pieces that evoke personal connections are typically the best pieces to buy.

Two women stand holding art they bought at Winged Canvas Gallery
Two animal lovers bought these pieces (left: Claire Robinson, Meryl, right: Fei Lu, Campaign for Peace).

4. Original vs. Reproductions

You adore the piece you’re looking at. The energy keeps your eye interested, and the colours are vibrant. It sparks curiosity and has a sense of humour. You could look at it every day if it was in your bedroom. You have to have it. But the work is way out of your budget. You take a step back and calculate if the original is worth buying. Ask the gallery if they offer payment plans or if the artist has reproductions of the piece. Fine Art Reproductions range in size and quality, and come in limited edition or open edition, which leads me to my next tip...

Frida's Garden painting by Fei Lu
Frida's Garden, oil on canvas by Fei Lu, 2018 (the original painting is in the blue frame and the fine art reproduction is in the red frame. If we didn't tell you, would you notice the difference?

5. Limited Edition vs. Open Edition Prints

Limited edition means that a limited number of the artwork is printed, a decision of the artist. They are typically archival (fade-proof) and much better quality than open edition prints. After the last print, the digital file should be destroyed to prevent unauthorized copies. Limited edition prints usually come with a certificate of authenticity that is signed by the artist or publisher. Open Edition prints, on the other hand, are typically mass reproduced, or used as posters, swag, or on merchandise. These do not hold much collector value. If you are purely decorating, open edition prints can be a cheap alternative, but limited edition prints hold their value much more, proving to be a better investment in the long run.

6. Learn to Recognize Value

The way artwork is priced can also be a motivating factor to buy. Just like an equity, if you ever suspect a painting you connect with is undervalued, it’s probably a good buy.

Some factors to consider for recognizing value are:

Custom framing - if a piece is beautifully framed and ready to hang, that has value on its own. Quality framing provides protection for your artwork from the sun, dust, and everyday wear. It’s also common for custom framing to cost more than the artwork itself.

Limited Editions - when purchasing art reproductions, limited edition prints hold their value more than open edition prints. The smaller the edition, the greater the value.

Artist Signature - prints that are signed by the artist are worth more than ones with no signatures or printed signatures.

Size Matters - the larger the piece, the more expensive the artwork.

The Value in Details - the more detailed the artwork, the more time and effort likely went into it. If you’re buying a portrait or a piece with intricate details, prepare to pay a little more for the skill and extra time the artist has put into the work.

Invest in Originals - Serious collectors investing in art and hoping to resell one day should buy primarily original paintings because they are truly one-of-a-kind. Originals also preserve the process and unique touch of the artist, so they make the best investments if your budget allows. Beware of artists who paint the same piece over again, or variations of it because it sells well. Those “originals” are more like limited edition reproductions because there are multiple versions of it, therefore diluting the value of “original.”

One-of-a-kind - As a curator, when I see a concept or image is that truly original, I react with “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this, it’s really unique,” responding to the fresh style of the artist, who is choosing to make an original statement instead of mimicking a style that is proven to sell in the market. If an artwork piques your curiosity because it is truly different, it’s probably a better value than an artwork with a trendy style that is saturating the market.

Affordability - Art is a purchase to be enjoyed for life; so expect to pay fairly for it. If you adore the piece but have trouble affording the original, consider a lease-to-own payment plan which most galleries offer; or a limited edition signed print. Remember that quality artwork holds its value, and original paintings multiply the most in resale value.

7. Consider The Art’s Longevity

Ask yourself how long you plan to have this artwork. Winged Canvas Gallery recommends collecting quality over quantity and encourages our customers to buy for life. Many Patrons will commission family portraits as it will stay as a family treasure and be passed down for generations.

Buying reproductions printed on archival media also extends the longevity of a piece. Archival art reproductions last for 100+ years without fading or yellowing, and framing it using conservation techniques such as UV glass and archival mat board can extend the lifetime of the art for an additional 100 years (up to 200 years total)!

8. Support Local Artists

Artists in the Contemporary Landscapes Show 2018 (left to right): Hripsime Machkalyan, Louise Garin, Martin Hirschberg, Fei Lu, Nasim Abaeian, Nermine Hanna, Ron Stevens, Jennifer Arro, Elena Dinissuk and Vera Kisseleva

With vast global commercialization and mass production of wall decor, handmade items are becoming more popular because of their one-of-a-kind value. Art inspires us to live life to the fullest. It makes us more conscientious, and invites us to explore culture, legends, and different perspectives. Artists feel compelled to express themselves and create, and this fuels another person’s inspiration. Most professional artists create full time (not just as a hobby) and depend on their sales to provide for themselves and their families. Buying art made locally not only invests in your community, it also supports cultural diversity and artistic freedom.

Collector Jeff Dupuis and Fei Lu with her framed art print Skyward Haven

In the end, it won’t just be the art that looks good on your wall. You’ll feel really good about supporting the artist who made it too!

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