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Starting your art collection

Learn how to decorate your home with artist-made works

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Nothing completes a room like a piece of original art. It will cost more than a reproduction found in a homeware store and it will take you time to discover what styles and mediums resonate with you, but decorating with art turns your home into a place that is uniquely yours.

“The very first step is to experience it,” says Christina Parker, owner of Christina Parker Gallery in St. John’s, N.L. “Don’t rely on the computer screen. See it for real. Too many people make bad choices going to online auctions with no experience of what art actually looks like. Art is always more powerful in person.”

Visit commercial and public galleries and see what’s getting space and what you like. The curators are there to help. They’re happy to talk about the various kinds of media artists work in and the differences between acrylic, oil, and water-based paints, plus give you information about individual artists you may enjoy. Knowing a bit about the person who created a piece gives you a more personal and visceral connection to the piece itself.

If you’re looking for something to fill a particular space, bring along measurements and photographs. Gallery staff can tell if a particular piece is too big or small or otherwise unsuitable.

Read lots on the subject. That will help you to both learn about art and what appeals to you. Eventually you’ll have an idea of what you like and don’t like. But leave yourself open to something unexpected. You may start out thinking you prefer representational art and then fall in love with an abstract piece.

Prices for art run the gamut and often quality work can seem expensive, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to lessen the hit on your wallet.

Becky Welter-Nolan is the executive director of Visual Arts Nova Scotia. She suggests first time buyers on limited budgets start with art prints.

A print could be a lithograph, etching, silk screening, or photograph. “The key is that the artist has been involved in its production. The paper is higher quality and the piece itself will have more depth and interest than, for example, a Klimt downloaded from the Internet and printed on cheap paper,” she says.

Buying locally saves the expense of having something crated. It also lets you see the work in person before buying and get familiar with the artist. “It’s easy to contact an artist and ask about upcoming shows or new work,” says artist Cathy Driedzic. “Any artist would love that.”

If you see a piece in a gallery and decide that’s the one you want, don’t try to make a private deal with the artist, Driedzic says. Although the gallery may take up to half the selling price in commissions the artist cannot sell a piece privately without risking their relationship with the gallery.

Buying smaller pieces, skimping on the frame (which you can upgrade later), and focussing on emerging artists are other ways to economize. Most art schools like NSCAD University in Halifax and Grenfell College in Corner Brook, N.L., hold sales of student work.

Watch for pop-up shows. Craft markets and designer craft shows feature mostly local artists from whom you can buy directly, saving the commission. Craft Nova Scotia holds
three designer craft shows per year and there’s a pop-up Etsy Market in St. John’s, N.L., every year, for example. Gallery fundraisers, usually around the holidays or in the spring, feature quality works by local artists at affordable prices. Attending an art auction can net you a good deal and an adrenalin rush, if you don’t get carried away.

Commissioning a piece can also save money and give you something deeply personal at the end.

Remember, you’re buying art to make your life and your space more enjoyable. “Don’t be shy,” says Parker. “Trust your own instincts and have fun.”

Start your search

Try these local galleries to discover emerging and established artists.

Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John’s, N.L., is an artist-run centre for visual arts. It actively encourages emerging and established artists with diverse perspectives.

The Struts Gallery and Faucet Media Arts Centre in Sackville, N.B., is entirely artist run and focuses on contemporary art. Check the centre’s event list for art auctions and artist lectures. 

Peer Gallery Co-operative in Lunenburg, N.S., is a non-profit organisation that promotes contemporary art and provides gallery space to recognized visual artists.

Lorimer Gallery in Charlottetown, specialises in painting and sculpture that speak to Canadian and Maritime culture, Inuit sculpture, and jewelry.

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