14 Inexpensive Ways to Get the Look of Real Art


Image from Horses and Heels
Image from Horses and Heels

I’m currently in Austin, Texas at a Mastermind group (working on something I’m creating for all my True Colour Experts this year) at the Omni Hotel downtown! Then I leave for Dallas to lead my Specify Colour with Confidence™ event next week.

What should we do on Sunday in Austin? I would love your comments, we haven’t made a formal plan yet!


The cool view from our hotel room

My design assistant Tricia Firmaniak was in Vancouver last week (for my Vancouver training) and I got to know her a little more in person which was so fun and I discovered that she’s also a mad scientist (just like me). One of the reasons she is soooo good at distinguishing undertones (she handles all my on-line colour solutions) is because she’s been a painter for 20 years (see her artwork here) however not every painter can take their knowledge mixing paints and translate it to wall colours as well as all other design related surfaces.

When Tricia first sent me this post to read, my feedback was “Hey make it a little more personal so we can relate to the bossy art snob that you are, haha”, so she did and here it is:


I am a painter and I am loyal to the craft and to the careers of my fellow artists. So let me be clear, by far the best thing for your space is a powerful, authentic piece of original art.

That said though, I know that most of us live in a reality where large pieces of original art have an unattainable price tag.

Mary Nelson Sinclair from Elements of Style
Mary Nelson Sinclair from Elements of Style


Let’s face it, the vast majority of us don’t have the budget to collect contemporary art. Or historical art. Or even rhetorical, ironical or questionable art. But we all have walls, and if we don’t want to feel like we are living in an asylum, we need to adorn them.

I think this is where a lot of designers and decorators fall down. They neglect the art. It is my belief and creed that a space is not complete without art. This is why so many designed rooms feel staged or like a picture in a catalogue. The designer formed a lovely setting but forgot to add the soul.

From Planete Deco
From Planete Deco


Disclosure: I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to art. In my years as a gallerist and an artist, I have acquired, traded and been gifted many beautiful pieces and they are crammed into my tiny 900 square foot bungalow. So really, if you want to know my best advice for collecting art, become an artist!

Then when you need to change up the dining room, you can just whip something up in the studio 😉 When I am in a productive period, my tiny space has paintings on every surface so that I can study them while I do life’s mundane little tasks like cooking and cleaning.

Making art is such fulfilling adventure, there is always something new to try. And something new to hang on your wall 😉

So find your inner artist, I believe we can all create art. Approach it with a sense of discovery and play. Don’t expect to be born whole. It’s a learning curve, embrace that and keep trying until you make something you enjoy.

Anything you make will be vastly more interesting and authentic than something from a store.

For obvious reasons, I am not a fan of “canned art”, and I have never seen a piece of it with soul.


Truly, I can only condone them as place holders.

But I am not a snob either. So I want to share a few ideas for filling the need for art so that you can avoid thinking that canned art is your only option. So here are some creative ideas from outside the big box.

First, check out student art shows at your local art school. At a university or art college near you, there is a fresh new crop of talented graduates selling off their art to pay their tuition, and it’s totally cheap people. I remember the thrill of selling my first few pieces at my student shows. Young ambitious artists are supported and validated and you get a REAL bonafide piece of art. It’s a win win.


From Design Sponge
From Design Sponge


Try art rental. Did you know that many large public galleries offer art rental programs full of excellent quality works from local artists? Yes they do. This is a great way to try on some art for size AND support your local art scene and institutions. The rates are surprisingly affordable and they often have rent-to-own type plans.

And I should mention, you’d be amazed how many commercial galleries will honor very reasonable payment plans, allowing you to take home that forever piece now. I’ve worked in a gallery for years, and most often I felt like a match maker. I really wanted to find the perfect person for that special piece 😉

Or, get an art subscription. Really. An amazingly creative woman from my town created a wonderful and affordable art subscription, Papirmass. Every month you receive a curated little print of an illustration or painting in your mailbox. How handy is that? You can check them out here. And they fit beautifully into Ikea frames. The ones I use are here.

Clare Celeste for Papirmass
Clare Celeste for Papirmass


Online sources for art are exploding. And because of this, prices are often very reasonable. I was planning to do a compilation of the best online resources for original and reproduction art for all of you, but I discovered that Emily Henderson did an amazing job of it over on her blog, you really should check it out here.

Here’s one of the best tricks ever: extra large mats with tiny images and skinny frames. This is one of my favorite ways to get mileage out of small pieces. Symmetrically arrange a grouping for a high end look.


From Emily A. Clark
From Emily A. Clark


This is an especially great way to break up strong wall colours and add some layered contrast and light. Plus it makes those tiny images look super special. Stay away from heavy frames that will overwhelm them though.

Which brings me to gallery walls of smaller pieces. We all know this one. There is a reason this is an enduring classic. It is a great way to create interest, rhythm and scale. And it’s so much better than scattering too-small pieces all over your room which just creates clutter. Clutter bad. Gallery wall good.


From Coco Lapine Design
From Coco Lapine Design


Display colour plates from old art books or magazines that are falling apart anyway. I have a series of great full page images from BorderCrossings (an excellent Canadian art magazine) that have yet to be framed and hung. And some sweet little Paul Klee colour plates in frames. Fashion plates are fun too. You can really showcase your interests and create a grouping that inspires you.

Half of my old mates from art school have abandoned their paint brushes in favor of a loom. Fibre art is HUGE right now, and I’ve been seeing all kinds of tribal, folk and Bauhaus inspired designs. These add texture and warmth as well as graphic interest.


From Etsy
From Etsy


Of course you can always use a  large mirror as a place holder. We all know this one because it works. Get a good sized one with a pretty frame and watch your room expand and brighten (you will of course one day buy a piece of art for that spot though, right?)

This one below is cleverly layered with smaller pieces of art to anchor the grouping and add scale. ( I think I’d keep that one just as it is, it’s perfection!)


Francois Helard's Apartment from Domino
Francois Helard’s Apartment from Domino


Kid’s art. Kids are genius artists, give them large professional quality papers and let them go for it. Then pick your favorites and frame them properly in nice frames with wide beveled mats. You will be amazed how gorgeous they can look. (Is it weird that I am often envious of my six year old’s drawings?)


From Style at Home
From Style at Home


Of course there are always great finds at vintage and thrift shops. Take a cliched murky still life or landscape from the 70’s paint a large colour block on it or stencil a graphic pattern over top, and voila! Conversation piece.


From My Domaine
From My Domaine

Frame collector’s items, textiles, even wallpaper samples. Make friends with a good framer, she will be full of ideas for displaying your collected curiosities. Use large mats or deep box style frames to showcase beautiful odds and ends you have collected for a personalized look.

Display your plates and platters. Our Grandmothers did this, it’s time for a revival of this practice. That platter collection is too pretty to sit in the buffet.


From Life as Mama
From Life as Mama


Baskets, instruments, surfboards, you name it. If you love it display it.


From Lush Home
From Lush Home


Kilims and rugs. Many cultures use rugs to insulate and adorn walls. It’s an excellent way to add colour, pattern and interest to bare walls. Try one as a stand in for a headboard. Or over a credenza. Layer it up. Put a grouping of framed and matted pictures over top of a hanging rug.


From Topista
From Topista

OK, but I do have an alternative art pet peeve, and that is those large letters, words and quotes like “Live, Love, Laugh” or “Keep Calm and Carry On”. I guess they feel a little trite. Just not for me. Ditto with the cluster of empty frames thing. It’s just too…post-modern vacuous, or, BLANK.  It’s OK if we disagree of course 😉

So much better to try something creative and unexpected. The options are endless!

Ideally, we will all create an art budget, a little savings account to one day purchase that forever piece instead of a place holder. So stay tuned, I will be back soon with some advice for finding it 😉

Thanks Tricia! This post is full of awesome information!


If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.

PS. Follow me on Instagram here.

Related posts:

Why Colour is not Always a Personal Choice

The Minimalist Way to Inject Colour: Before & After

How to Hang a Gallery Photo Wall



leave aREPLY

  1. Such an excellent and informative post, Tricia. IMHO, artwork can come in many forms. That said; in one of my spare rooms I have a grouping of pen and ink haute couture fashion drawings that my son did a number of years ago when he was a student and they are my favourite of all the artwork that I do have. In summary, check out to see if there is a budding artist in your family and don’t be modest about displaying their work … ☺. -Brenda-

  2. I have four beautiful oil paintings that I found in thrift shops over the years. One is over my fireplace and it is really fabulous. I have also purchased some giclees from artist Sue Gouse of Savannah, see her fabulous work at suegouseinspirations.com. I can’t afford her originals, but she makes giclees in many sizes of her popular work. Not cheap but well worth it.
    My late mother-in-law took oil lessons and she painted four beautiful works for us, one is of my son playing on the beach when he was a toddler. This was such a wonderful hobby for her and now that she is gone, the beautiful work she created for friends and family remains.

  3. I agree. My house is filled with my own abstract paintings and ceramic sculptures, so is very colorful and unique.

  4. Thank you for such a thoughtful post on ways to find/display original art. I really like your suggestions on display, purchasing art as well as an invitation to get creative! Visiting local colleges and supporting artists in the community is such a win win. I agree that big box art is quite souless.

  5. My house is filled with photos that my husband and I have taken on our travels. I enlarge them, play around with colour, and voila – personal art picesl People always comment how beautiful they are, and they always remind us of the lovely places we have been over the years.

  6. Check out Mozarts for coffee on the lake. A
    really nice view and good coffee.Hard to find
    parking on Sundays tho. Better luck on the weekdays.Worth the effort. I also like the Whole foods store on 6th street. Its headquarters. We are
    a bunch of foodies here, can you tell???? LOL

  7. Cheryl Covelli Austin Texas

    Maria I’m just now reading your post, so sorry I missed you! Let’s connect next time you’re here. Hope you enjoyed your stay, there’s no place like Austin !

  8. Inspiring post, indeed! Great ideas, many of which I use myself as a photo stylist and house stager. I would like to suggest, however, that the gorgeous collection of baskets on the wall is not inexpensive solution. One could buy a lovely piece of original fine art for the same price.