Curating Your Art Collection Without Busting Your Budget

Decorating on a budget is not easy.  Sure, you might do some great DIY projects, maybe find some decent furniture on Craigslist, but if you really want to make your place look great without spending a whole paycheck (or five), it takes a lot of work.  Fortunately, even if you have to live with a dingy 5-year old sofa that may have at one point belonged to the mother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (too soon?), here are four simple and affordable ways to invest in your own personal style.

Use your own photos

Why spend money on art when you have plenty of your own photographs just waiting to be framed on your wall?   I remind you that photographs were invented before the Facebook photo album, and a special photo will be a great conversation starter with your guests.  If you worry your pictures aren’t ‘artsy’ enough, get them printed in black and white! Snapfish is a great affordable service to get photos printed, and you can even order prints of your Instagram masterpieces on Shutterfly.

Maps, postcards, old records, anything flat you can put in a frame

If you’re like me, you’re always finding a cool postcard you bought on vacation but never sent, or the ticket to that epic Dashboard Confessional show you went to in high school.  Rather than sticking it back in a drawer to be rediscovered in another five years, throw it up on the wall to break up all of your fabulous photographs.  Old maps are a particular favorite—both affordable and pretty!  Never been anywhere?  Fake it with the $3.95 map wrapping paper from Paper-Source!

Affordable art prints and photos are easy to come by if you’re looking in the right places

I like to shop around, but most of the sites below feature several different mediums (prints, photos, text graphics, even actual paintings) so if you don’t have the time or patience for scrolling through 40 pages of options, you would do well at just one of these.  The more affordable pieces from these sites do in fact still cost some money (many items in the $15-40 range, depending on the size), so I try to only purchase things I really love and would want to look at every day on my wall.  Minimalist and fan-made movie posters are a personal favorite that look nice and reflect my true passions.

  • 20×200 (  Run by a gallery owner in New York, they have a great stockpile of photos and prints by up-and-coming artists.
  • Society 6:  Not only do they deal in art, but if you find a design you like, you can get it printed on t-shirts, mugs, pillowcases, phone cases, and more.
  • The Working Proof:  Art for a cause—15% of each sale goes to the charity of the artist’s choice.
  • Etsy:  A perennial favorite for all things, art included.  Perhaps pay tribute to the cinematic classic I mentioned earlier with this!

Don’t be afraid to create an original painting yourself!

I know the canvas–and-paint section at the art store can be intimidating, but delve in, and make your own masterpiece to hang on your wall. It’s easier to splurge on something when it’s half off, so double-check for coupons before you go in to your favorite craft store. Even if you don’t see yourself as “creative,” geometric patterns in a good color scheme look just as nice as a detailed landscape—and you still get kudos for having an actual painting on your wall!  Too shy to go it alone?  Try out Painting with a Twist (or any of the similar BYOB painting classes across the country) with a couple friends and a bottle of wine, and come home with a beautiful painting as well as some new memories (aww).

In all, I think the key to curating an art collection while not over-spending is to make every piece you own individual to you.  Whether it’s meaningful because you made it yourself or just because you love it, I guarantee that a piece of art with personal meaning that also looks great will justify any cost.  Now please, just promise me you won’t hang all of your beautiful acquisitions and discoveries with painter’s tape and thumbtacks. *

*Before you even try, I direct you to Michael’s (they almost always have a coupon for 50% off on their website) or Aaron Brothers (they have a buy one, get the second for 1 cent sale on frames and canvas in January and July every year).

Photo by Michelle White

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