Buying art can be a rite of passage. That first time you invest in a piece that isn’t a thumb-tacked poster from your college bookstore feels like, “Yes, I’m an adult now! I am an art collector!”
But, as our taste in art evolves, we’re also introduced to fine art price tags. Perusing through avant-garde galleries feels oh so chic—and it often comes with an equivalently chic price tag. Original art can run from a few hundred dollars well into the six figures, and that’s not always in the budget (someday, right?).
So, how do you get a gallery-worthy art look on a thrift store budget? We asked six design experts for their tips, tricks, and unconventional hacks to get an investment art look on a shoestring budget.
1. Understand There’s No Limit to What Is Considered Art
DIY expert, author, and design consultant Jessica Nickerson takes creating art into her own hands—but she’s not picking up a paint brush.
Nickerson says, “Unexpected, everyday items can be turned into budget-friendly, large scale art with a bit of imagination. Last year I completed a makeover on a half bathroom. I bought a large, secondhand canvas and wrapped a shower curtain around it for a more modern, updated look. From there I ‘framed’ it using stained pieces of lattice from the hardware store.”
“I’ve also used an antique door and woven rug from Facebook Marketplace for budget-friendly wall art. What’s better large-scale art than a woven rug? There’s so much texture and character. Look for a 5’x8’ rug, then attach it with nails to a 1x4 piece of wood screwed into the studs in the wall behind.”
2. Scour Sites Like Etsy for Original Oil Paintings
DIY and design expert Hannah Hamburger has stunning art with a timeless feel and much of it is original. She says, “I love to search for oil paintings on Etsy as a way to purchase original art on a limited budget. Many times, shipping is free even if it’s international so don’t limit yourself to U.S. sellers. The paintings are one of a kind for less than a few hundred dollars––many under $100! Landscapes and still life paintings are always winners, but I have a soft spot for portraits. Frame your find with thrifted frames, or splurge for custom framing, and your art will stand out as one of a kind.”
3. Find Motivated Sellers
Kevin Billings, of Dexter and Plaid Interior Design Co., uses captivating vintage paintings in his designs, including oil paintings and portraits that tell a story, particularly when grouped together in eye-catching gallery walls—but he’s not paying premium prices.
“Finding vintage art has basically become a part-time job for me now. It’s a such a thrill. My biggest sources have been thrift stores and Facebook Marketplace. You’re always going to find the best deal on Facebook Marketplace as most people selling items there are looking to move things quickly so they’re pricing to sell. Also, with the option to have items shipped, there’s more opportunity to find art pieces not just in your general area. I hope to one day have a larger budget but for now, I’m happy hunting for the best deals!”
4. Frame Book Pages in Affordable Frames
Dana Dore, a New Jersey-based blogger and multi-hyphenate designer, advises getting creative with what you frame. Grab old coffee table books from a thrift store or book sale, peruse Etsy––remember, art doesn’t have to be conventional “art.”
Dore says, “Craft stores, Target, Walmart, etc all have good frame assortments with affordable prices. Filling the frames with old book pages, downloadable printables (from Etsy), etc is a cost effective way to fill the frames with consistent or themed art. When using frames of different sizes, the possibilities are endless in terms of where frames can be sourced. Thrift stores, flea markets, and Facebook Marketplace offer endless options for inexpensive frames.”
5. Stick to a Common Thread
Matthew James, of Brooklyn Art Boy, sticks to a common thread with his art so he rotate pieces throughout his home and yet they all feel intentionally collected––a key to looking as if you’ve invested significantly in your art.
He says, "I’m a firm believer that art shouldn’t be constrained to a singular space and should be able to move around your home. Whenever I’m sourcing new art for myself or others, I try to find a commonality among each piece whether its composition, colour, style, subject, etc so there’s freedom to swap and move the art from room to room or on a gallery wall. By having a common thread through the artwork, it can make your space feel more cohesive and intentional—especially if you’re on a budget! For my apartment, most of the art has some connection to nature (i.e. landscapes, florals, etc) and can be moved around fairly easily since each piece compliments one another."
6. Work the Facebook Marketplace Algorithm
Natalie Wong, an interior stylist in Los Angeles, CA and an avid Facebook Marketplace buyer, takes the secondhand approach to sourcing original art. “Secondhand shopping platforms like Facebook Marketplace are great places to search for original art. Search terms I use include: large art, wall art, original art, oil painting, original painting, abstract art.”
And, she notes, it’s all about allowing the algorithm to get to know you. “Save/bookmark items you like—even if they’re out of your price range—because then Facebook will get to know your interests better and start suggesting similar items to what you're looking for. If you’re creating a gallery wall with smaller pieces (or just looking to fill a small space like a powder room), these are much easier to ship, so search for sellers outside of your area offering items that they’re willing to ship.”