Collect With Confidence: An Art-Buying Guide for Beginners

Starting an assortment of artwork that speaks to you personally is a worthy goal, but it might appear out of reach … and more than a bit confusing. Where do you start? What’s the distinction between an original work, a limited-edition print and a poster? Where do you shop for art — especially in the event that you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on one piece? We’ll tackle these questions and more in this useful art-buying manual, such as resources for collecting on a smaller budget.

Gary Hutton Design

Research your taste. Prior to diving in and creating a purchase, spend time getting to know what type of work you respond to. Make weekend dates to navigate local art museums and galleries, pick up an art magazine or flip through a stack of art books.

Are there any certain styles, colours or subjects that draw you in? Can you gravitate toward black and white photography, contemporary abstract paintings, still lifes? Notice what you adore. Assessing and celebrating will construct confidence, and of course expose you that you may never have found otherwise.

Caitlin Wilson Design

Kinds of Art

Original art (and why it costs a lot). Original work contains any artwork that’s only one of a kind: first paintings, drawings, sculptures and more. Why the high cost? To draw a parallel to the literary world, imagine if J.K. Rowling could sell only one backup of the Harry Potter series — just how much do you think that would be worthwhile?

A artist can profit only once in the sale of an original work, such as a painting on canvas; then it’s gone. Even if the work grows in value over time, it is the collector who gains. If you realize that, it makes sense for first pieces to have a higher cost compared to prints or reproductions.

Factory 20

Irving Amen Italian Landscape Woodcut – $215

Prints. A real print, although none of a sort, is still an original work of art. The artist uses any of a number of methods to create an original image on a surface such as wood, rubber, stone or metal, applies color and then creates a print on paper.

Print types include engravings, lithographs, screen prints, aquatints, linocuts and woodblock prints.

Adrienne DeRosa

Limited-edition prints. When the artist sets a limit to the number of prints he or she’ll create with a specified image, that’s known as a limited edition. Obviously, today the lines have been blurred, with artists using digital media to create original works, and also a piece could possibly be called a limited-edition print even if it had been made or reproduced digitally — that is, it’s not one of the types listed before.

Term to learn: A streak comprises all prints created from a specified work. For example, “a streak of 50” means the artist generated 50 limited-edition prints in the first slice.


Posters and reproductions. Once an artist creates an original work and reproduces it (usually digitally) without limiting the run, it is a poster, or a reproduction. Posters are a great way to explore art, as they’re so budget friendly — once you build up a bit of a collection, you could even swap out artwork seasonally.


Nice art photography. Since photos by their own nature can easily be reproduced, it is up to the photographer to limit the number of prints made with a particular image. Normally, the fewer prints available, the higher the cost.

Austin Patterson Disston Architects

Where to Shop

The basics. There’s nothing like seeing artwork firsthand, especially whenever you’re still training your eye and studying about your taste. Student sales at art schools, antiques, auctions fairs and neighborhood galleries are excellent places to start your search. Use your own judgment and don’t ever feel pressured to buy something.

Finding affordable art. The area of art buying has become much more democratic in recent years, thanks in great part to the effect of online retailers and auction websites offering well-curated artwork collections, available wherever you are and at each price point. Listed below are a few of my favorite sources.

Original works:
Enormous Tiny Art: All first works, from $50 to $500Lost Art Salon: A San Francisco gallery (with online store) selling works from well-known artists of the contemporary eraBuy Some Damn Art: An online gallery featuring a rotating collection of work in up-and-coming artists

Prints, posters and reproductions:
20×200: A massive choice of limited-edition prints and photographyEtsy: Everything under sunlight, from original artwork to prints, posters and moreArtnet: An easily searchable website that links to auctions and gallery sales of limited-edition prints and original artwork. Do not miss the monographs section, a virtual resource library. Read framable prints, posters, sculpture and more from the Products section.Explore more ways to enjoy artwork at home

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