Think fine art is out of your reach? Think again. We asked Tess Standa, a specialist at pioneering online auction house Paddle8, a few questions about how to find your style, and start building a covetable collection — and she generously provided plenty of tips that are truly able to catapult you from art novice to bona fide collector status. And once you’re ready to get started, head over to shop Paddle8’s picks … inspired works of art that’ll feed your inspiration, and jump-start your collection.
How do you find your art style? Does it follow your design sense? Fashion? Cultural interests? How do you know if you’re a modernist or a classicist? Help!
Like shopping for clothes or decorating your home, discovering your art style starts with visual research. Living in New York, we’re lucky to have a wealth of art resources at our fingertips. Take a weekend and go to the Met, the New Museum, and MoMA to see which collection rings your bell. Are you, respectively, traditional, edgy, or solidly modern? Notice which mediums you’re drawn to—do you find yourself beelining for photography or gravitating towards sculpture? If you live outside of a cultural capital, a trip to an old-fashioned bookstore can be equally illuminating. Flipping through Grove’s Dictionary of Art is the art-world equivalent of perusing back issues of Vogue. And just like your wardrobe is filled with high and low, what you have on your walls can span the spectrum—from garage-sale steals to gallery finds—as long as it speaks to you.
Once you find your style, how do you go about actually starting your collection? Give us some tips on getting it right from the start, do you don’t get discouraged.
It’s simple: collect what you love. You can’t go wrong starting with a work by an artist who you have always admired. If a Picasso painting that you’ve pined for at a museum is out of your price range, a Picasso print can be an accessible alternative. An artist print is a work that an artist produces using methods like printing presses or printers that allow for multiples of a work to be made (a print edition size can range from two prints to thousands). A print or edition by a blue-chip artist—someone who has been featured in museum exhibitions and has a healthy resale record—can be a stellar foundation around which to build a collection. This is your “investment piece”—everything else will look better next to it.
Once you’ve discovered what you like, be sure to gather all of the information you can. A gallery or auction house should always be able to provide a condition report (which tells you about any creases, flaws, or signs of wear) and provenance (where the work came from or has been exhibited).
And, like style, your art taste may evolve over time! One perk of buying a work by a recognized artist is that it will likely retain its value should you want to refresh or refine your collection. You can always consign your piece to be sold at auctions (think a consignment shop for designer clothing—even though you’ve tired of those Prada flats, someone else will be thrilled to give them a second life!). While most auction houses focus on trophy pieces, Paddle8 is a resource for collectors looking to both buy and sell at the $1,000 to $100,000 price point.
Remember that now more than ever you don’t have to be a jet-setting millionaire to own a work of art: you can find a stunning work for under $1,000, access an entire auction house from your iPhone, and purchase with a click of a button.
And once you get your new masterworks home… how do you frame and hang them so they look great in your space?
At Paddle8, we love to mix and match, creating unexpected dialogues between artists, periods, and mediums. A salon-style hang (in which works with mismatched frames, various dimensions, and styles are hung in a group) can be a dramatic way to showcase the range of your collection. On the other extreme, a single work of art against a brightly colored wall packs quite the visual punch. And don’t forget that you don’t always have to hang—leaning works, too! Think about replacing your stack of coffee-table books with one small piece lying down.
Framing is a smart way to set the tone for your collection. And don’t be hewed in by a work’s dimensions: use framing to play with scale by experimenting with a large mat for a small work (but keep in mind that the cost of custom framing can be steep. Our sneaky trick is to visit the local flea market and pop out a mirror or work of art for the frame!). And, if you want a museum insider’s secret, you can buy cheap birch frames by the pack. It’s an easy and affordable way to unify and elevate the presentation.
And, don’t forget, a level is your best friend! A $10,000 piece can look like a garage-sale cast-off if it’s hung unevenly.