Buying Artwork on a Budget

When my wife and I were first married, we spent many weekends searching for art and antiques at auctions, antique shops and thrift shops. We never spent a lot of money on anything we bought and, after a few years, our New England home was full of wonderful 18th and 19th century pieces. Indeed, we found that buying antiques was actually much less expensive, and a lot more fun, than buying new furniture or artwork.

When we moved south, we sold most of our furniture. We had too much to move it all to our new home and we did not believe that the charm of 175 year old furnishings would really be appropriate for our new home in Florida. As a result, our local antique dealer visited our home one day and bought just about everything that my wife and I then owned.

Yes, we sold all of our treasures — almost all of it, anyway. We did not sell our artwork. My wife and I have always loved old canvasses. The artists need not be listed artists. We just need to like the images that they have created. My wife has always studied art and I once worked in a museum so we both like to think that we have good eyes for quality. We also believed that our art could “work” in any environment. We were correct; our home in Florida is now full of “Yankee” art works that are just as home here as they were in Boston.

If you are starting out with a new home, or if you just want to update the look of your current home, adding paintings, etchings and other artistic images to your walls can do wonders, but it does not have to cost you a lot. Here are some of the places that you can look for art, without having to pay the high costs of an art gallery.

Antique Stores

A painting that is not historically significant can still be a good painting. Also, antique store owners often do not know how to price paintings commensurate with their value. If you keep your eyes open, you can find a lot of great bargains.


Auctions have always generated great results for my wife and me. Try to find auctions that are offering items without a reserve (minimum price). I have a small collection of Wallace Nutting works, including one that I found for $5 at an auction. Its value is more in the range of $150 so I got a great deal.

Thrift Shops

There are always values to be found in thrift shops. Most readers here know that already. Nevertheless, have you ever thought to look at the dusty prints and the occasional framed canvas? You never know what you will find.

Art Schools

Young artists will often be thrilled to find anyone to purchase their works. Visit local art schools and let the instructors know what you are looking to buy. You may find that you can affordably acquire the work of a future great master!

Craft Shops

You may be able to find ways to create your own art. If you learn how to professionally frame your own projects, you may find that you can develop your craft as a photographer, painter or craftsman so that your home can become your own show room.

Do you have any artwork in your home? Where do you like to search for art? How do you learn about art so that you know what you are buying and whether you are getting a good value?

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6 Responses to Buying Artwork on a Budget

  1. We bought many nice pictures at the Salvation for pennies on the dollar.

    You are right.

  2. Bob Farmer says:

    My wife and I and we have also bought art in 2nd hand stores. Your article is right on. You’ll rarely find “investment” art but we’ve occasionally found a print from a well-known artist that was priced well below “book.” But that’s the point isn’t it? You really only buy the art that is pleasing to you when it’s not an investment.
    Good post.

  3. Ann says:

    Art fairs and thrift stores and junky antique stores can be great places to find art. I also have a painting over my mantle that once belonged to my grandfather. I don’t care whether or not anyone else likes it ’cause I do. It’s a painting of sand dunes with (I think) one of the great lakes in the background and I’ve always enjoyed water and the wild edges around it. :-)

    One of the fun things is finding wearable art, as well as art for the walls. Antique jewelry, a pendant that’s an art glass piece or a miniature painting, unique pins and all kinds of things abound. That means that you don’t even have to have walls to hang it from! LOL

    Of course, I’m rather partial to carvings and sculptures. I have a friend who keeps an eye out for Inuit art that thrift shops or junk shops don’t realize they have…. unfortunately, when I reviewed her collection, I had to tell her that half of it was cast, but she did have a couple of REALLY nice pieces that she’d picked up for a song at yard sales! There was one she’d picked up for $5 that was definitely worth hundreds.

    Like you said, go for what you like and want. Sometimes it will also be a real bargain!

  4. persephone says:

    I always think the best art is the artwork that my children did when they were in elementary school. I framed several of their drawings and paintings and mingle them with family photos throughout my house. Even now, years later, we really enjoy them.

  5. spicoli says:

    I buy movie posters at video stores. I usually pay only $2 or $3 for each one and I have several up on my walls now. They are cheap enough that I can change them every few months, depending on my mood.

  6. Gail says:

    I bought a small oil painting one day because I liked not only the artwork but it was in a beautiful frame worth far more than the $10 I paid for it. Took it home and hubby loved it too and it is now hanging on our wall. I don’t know the value of the piece, but we have a beautiful piece of art for $10, well below the price of K-mart and Walmart ‘art’. Much of our other art are pieces that either my hubby painted or I quilted or stitched. Our own work is my favorite type of art in our home.

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