Become a confident collector

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In the previous post, I talked about the reasons why you should collect original fine art. If you’re new to collecting original work, this guide will help you to begin to feel confident in your own tastes.

The wall was framed
Creative Commons License photo credit: Leonski

It all starts with looking…

Educate your eye

The best way to start trusting your own tastes is to look at plenty of art.

So go to a bunch of different galleries and just look around. You can start with public galleries or commercial galleries where the work is for sale. I used to find commercial galleries intimidating because I knew I didn’t have the money to buy anything. Now I treat them like any other shop (although I do still get horribly embarrassed if you have to ring a bell to get in). Affordable art fairs can be a fun way to see a lot of art at once.

Just remember, you’re under no obligation to buy anything and the more galleries you visit, the less scared you’ll become of them. Get a feel for prices but mostly get a feel for what you like.

If galleries feel super-scary, you can start by looking at art online. Many artists now have websites (although not as many as I’d like!) and there are plenty of online galleries where you can see a wide variety of art.

Make a list

Start keeping notes on artists whose work you’re drawn to. I have a mental list of artists who’s work I want to own (oh Rachael Nee, one day you will be mine!). Even if you can’t afford their work right now, it’ll help you get a sense of the sort of thing you like. If you want to be geeky, collect images of the art you like in a programme like Evernote.

Analyse your own tastes

When you see a piece of art you love, try to work out what qualities drew you to it.

Does it remind you of a particular time in your life or a special place? Do certain subjects or colours appeal more than others? Are you attracted to a particular type of media? Does it give you a certain feeling? For example, I’ve noticed that I often buy works that have a melancholic quality to them.

Sometimes there’s no pattern and you can’t gauge why you love one piece of art and feel ‘meh’ about another but often you’ll see a pattern emerging. Maybe you’ll discover that you like traditional watercolour landscapes. Or perhaps contemporary, slightly abstract portraits do it for you. You may love strongly graphic works in stark black ink or perhaps brightly coloured art influenced by comics is more your thing.

When I considered my own collection I was surprised how often human figures appeared because my own work is not at all figurative. Apparently what I like to make and what I like to buy are not the same.

Read about art

You don’t need to be an expert to start collecting art; all you need is a bit of spare money! But a bit of art history knowledge can help you feel more confident in your choices. You don’t need to spend a fortune, your local library should have a selection of art books and there are plenty of places online where you can read about the art that’s being made right now.

Get to know some artists

Follow art blogs, read art websites, go to local art trails and chat to the artists. Familiarity with artists and what they do makes buying art easier.

Hopefully you’ll soon realise that most of us aren’t scary, inaccessible and weird. Many collectors get a thrill from having a relationship with ‘their’ artists and it can be part of the reason that people buy art.

Join mailing lists

If you find an artist whose work you love, join their mailing list even if you’re not in a position to buy from them yet. It stops you forgetting about them and you’ll get invites to their exhibitions and news of upcoming events.

Signing up for mailing lists for local galleries ensures that you get invites to their private views. These can be intimidating. However, private views can also be bizarrely reassuring because there are lots of other people there, so the focus is not on you and you can look at the art without feeling pressured to buy.

Take a friend, it’s less scary and you can run away to the nearest pub if it all gets a bit much. If you’re in a city, the smaller artist-run galleries almost always attract a funkier crowd than ‘blue-chip’, more traditional commercial galleries in the posh parts of town. Beware of the wine, it’s often cheap plonk.


OK, you’re ready to buy…

Start Small

Small works will usually be cheaper than larger works, although it does depend on how well known an artist is – a small piece by an established artist can be more expensive than a large piece by a relative unknown. Small works are generally easier to install than large works, less expensive to frame and they can be easier to live with.

Set a budget

People often think that original art is beyond their means but the price range is huge. Drawings and prints are usually cheaper than paintings. Watercolours are usually cheaper than oils. If you buy smaller works by less well known artists, you won’t need to spend a fortune.

The most expensive piece in my collection cost about £240 and most of what I own was under £70. My own work starts at £15 and currently everything in my shop is under £100, which is just stupidly low for original artwork. It won’t be that price for ever but right now, I’m still building a collector base, so I’m cheap as chips!

If you feel scared about making a big mistake, setting a budget can take a lot of the fear out of art collecting. Some collectors have a specific savings account that they use for their art purchases. Although if you see something that you simply must own, many galleries have payment schemes to let you spread the cost.

Buy direct from the artist

I think one of the reasons that people are scared of buying fine art is that commercial galleries often have a bit of an ‘attitude’. A lot of galleries are friendly but it can be like walking into a very expensive boutique – you instantly get that ‘I’m too scruffy’ feeling!

If this is the case for you, find artists online and buy direct from them. It feels a lot less ‘grown-up’ and scary, plus the majority of the money goes directly to the artist, so prices can sometimes be lower. This does depends on whether the artist has a gallery or not – reputable artists won’t undercut their galleries but a self-representing artist like me can charge lower prices because I’m not shelling out half of the purchase price to a gallery. When you buy from a gallery the split is usually 50/50 or sometimes 40/60% with the artist getting the lower amount. Bear that in mind next time you think that art is too expensive for what it is!

Don’t worry about investment

Buying art for investment purposes is a mugs game. Certainly individual artist’s prices can skyrocket but it’s a total gamble. Buy what you love and don’t worry about long-term value: the worth is in the joy you get from it now.

Although it’s worth considering the appreciation and depreciation potential of a piece of art, your core criteria should always be how you feel about the work. Do you want to live with it? Can you imagine looking at it every day? Does it intrigue you? Do you think you might get bored with it? Do you want to know it better? Does it move you?

Trust your instincts

At the end of the day, I find the best way to buy art is to wait until you fall head over heels in love with something. I won’t buy unless I have that ‘oh, oh, I NEED it’ feeling.

Make the leap

If you’ve not bought original art before, find something you love that’s in your budget range and just buy it. Congratulations, you’re now an art collector!

Coming soon: Where to buy art



Do you buy original art? How did you start? If you haven’t bought art before, do you think you will in the future? Do commercial galleries scare the pants off you? Share your art buying thoughts and experiences in the comments.


I am an artist & purveyor of obsessive projects based in Hebden Bridge, England. My work involves the accretion of large numbers of small objects - pins in fabric, knots in string or hundreds of envelopes - to make sculptures that deal with fragility, loss, repetition, obsession and time.

2 thoughts on “Become a confident collector

  1. Thanks for the Rachael Nee link – intriguing work and new to me. I don’t buy art I just swop it if appropriate. (I do try to sell too no doubt too cheaply).


    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    Hi Lesley, you’re welcome – Rachael is doing very interesting things with soot, I’ve been following her career for several years now. Swapping is a very common way for artists to build a collection – much of my meagre collection was acquired that way.


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