A Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Art Collection on a Budget
No longer a hobby reserved for oligarchs and Leonardo di Caprio, art collecting has become affordable, accessible and a deeply satisfying way to spend your hard-earned cash.
Whether you're looking to create the perfect gallery wall in your home, or you've just discovered an amazing new artist you'd love to invest in, it's worth putting some time and thought into how you're going to build your art collection.
Dipping a toe into the art world, famously intimidating though it is, doesn’t have to be daunting or overwhelming. We spoke to Emilya Colliver, an avid art collector and the director and founder of the online art hub Art Pharmacy, for insider tips on starting a collection on any budget.
3 simple steps to starting an art collection
1. Do your homework
Step one: slow down. (Yes, we know you haven’t even started yet.) Collecting art is a game of delayed gratification. It can be hard to resist the urge to build a complete collection straight away, but your bank account and your eyes will be better off if you take time to research, plan and budget for your collection. It’s better to have blank walls than a house full of impulse buys.
While you don’t need to have a degree in art history to dive in, doing your research is essential. Try to familiarise yourself with the basics (mediums, styles, artistic eras) to understand which art you like, love and can’t bear to look at for more than a few seconds.
Remember, the research process should be fun! Art is inherently social, so go to galleries, art fairs, exhibition openings, scroll through social media, talk to artists you like (and let them know you like them), and chat with gallery owners or staff about the artists they represent and the pieces on display. “It’s a good idea to do your research on an artist,” says Colliver. “See what their exhibition history is: have they done solo shows? Have they won any major prizes? Look for unique pieces that have an impact in some way."
You should also ask about the series, the materials, how it should be framed or displayed, the work condition, whether it’s been owned before, and the price. You’re not going to buy yet, but getting a feel for price ranges will help you set your budget. It will also help you see that the value of art is not always dependent on price: you shouldn’t avoid a piece you love because it falls below the perceived cost of “great art”; likewise, don’t project value onto a piece you don’t really love just because it’s expensive.
2. Crunch the numbers
Colliver recommends starting an art budget and purchasing slowly. Buying art can quickly become addictive, and you run the risk of spending a chunk of money on something you’ll get sick of in six months. “Decide how often you want to add to your collection and set aside money each month,” she says. “I would start setting a yearly budget of $500 upwards to put towards art. In 10 years you will have 10 amazing pieces with a great story.”
Keep in mind that buying directly from artists or online galleries can be cheaper as there are no overheads involved. High-end galleries usually charge more than up-and-comers, and previously owned works being sold through an auction will also usually be more expensive. Don’t forget to factor in insurance, shipping and framing.
If you fall in love with a piece that is above your immediately available cash reserve, programs such as Afterpay and Art Money let you pay it off in interest-free instalments. There could also be tax breaks that you can use to your advantage.
3. Buy what you love
When it comes to buying art for your collection, don’t buy what you can live with: buy what you can’t live without. “Buying art you love will always be a good investment,” says Colliver. Her hot tip is to start small, whether that’s literally smaller pieces, lesser-known artists or smaller galleries, and build from there.
Don’t disregard photographs, drawings, limited-editions, sculptures and art books. These can all be cheaper than paintings and make your collection a varied and eclectic one. But “always try to buy original artwork rather than a print”.
“The great thing about buying art that you love is that it is with you for life,” says Colliver. “For six months, it might look great on your bedroom wall, and then you realise there is a certain hue in the piece that works well in the kitchen to match the tree outside the window. You can dive into your aesthetic idiosyncrasies: your collection is yours to create.”
Where to buy affordable art
Instagram is the obvious choice for artist hunting. You can start with the commercial galleries and then narrow your search to specific artists who are selling pieces directly from their websites.
“Get talking to the artists,” says Colliver. “Often, they have many pieces that are more affordable sitting around in their studios.” Artists also often offer discounts when you buy directly through them, and a personalised experience adds immeasurable non-fiscal value to the piece.
2. Graduate shows and art fairs
Be discerning: it’s better to buy a piece you love from an emerging artist than something not so appealing from a well-known artist. “Supporting local and emerging talent will be more accessible,” Colliver adds.
Art school graduate shows and art fairs (such as Sydney Contemporary and The Other Art Fair) are great for exposing yourself to new artists. Who knows, the artist you strike up a conversation with and buy from could be the next Yvette Coppersmith or Del Kathryn Barton. Graduate shows are especially great for finding incredible artists before they find gallery representation. Support an artist early in their career, and they’ll remember you forever.
3. Online galleries
Finding artists online can be overwhelming, but there are some great hubs out there that help you discover artists and compare artworks and prices. As mentioned before, buying art online can be significantly cheaper than from a gallery (and is also great if the idea of speaking to an expert is daunting).
Art Pharmacy is designed to help connect first-time buyers with new and mid-career artists. Colliver and her team collate emerging talent in one place and makes it easy for collectors to peruse an artist’s collection or view all available works at once, making the process more accessible for both sides.
4. Go thrifting
We’ve all heard the stories about someone paying $3 for an unknown Carravaggio or Van Gogh painting in a garage sale. Keep your eyes peeled next time you’re at Vinnies: even if the painting doesn’t turn out to be famous, you might still find something you love.
5. Hire a professional
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by choice paralysis, you could hire an art advisor or consultant to help source pieces for you. These professionals are trained to spot the pieces you’ll love and can liaise between artists and galleries for you. You’ll have to factor them into your art budget, and their fee structure can range from a retainer, an hourly fee or a commission.
How to care for your artworks
“Always use a professional framer,” advises Colliver. “It always adds another layer of professionalism and protection for the piece. You’re often able to select the exact stain or wood to set off the piece perfectly.” Make sure pieces are framed with UV-protective plexiglass, and even then, don’t place works in direct sunlight, or they could fade.
Above all: if you love the piece and it fits your budget, buy it. “Always, always trust your gut — you have to live with the artwork!” says Colliver. “Choose the piece you instinctively love; there is a reason something inside you resonated with that work.” In summary: Life is short; buy the artwork.
Looking for affordable art? Make sure to check out our collection of exclusive arts and prints here.
Liked this? Here are 8 emerging Australian artists whose work you can still purchase for less than $1000.