A Shocking Way to Get the Art You Want

This post is written by my design associate Irene Hill:

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In my previous life as a designer, I specialized in selecting and supplying artwork for residential, commercial and developmental applications. Basically, anyone who needed art for a space and didn’t have the budget or inclination to start a personal investment fine-art gallery.

Probably like you and me.

Most of us live in homes where we need and want art to fill empty walls and inject colour, warmth, interest and texture. And, maybe most important of all, to inject our personality into our spaces.

Art, in my opinion, is the best way to reflect who we are and what we love into our homes. Art isn’t restricted to framed prints or photographs – it can include three-dimensional objects as well as the relatively new generation of decals, available in an amazing variety of shapes and colours.

The whole conversation around personal artwork is so big I’ll be writing ongoing posts about it and giving you my best tips and ideas. I’ll let you in on the secrets of framing and how to get the most for your money. That’s because I’m Dutch and generous. I completely live up to the stereotypical Dutch trait of frugality, but my inherent generous nature compels me to give away all the insider secrets that let me be frugal but look luxurious.

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And now you’re going to benefit from those two traits!

Here’s my first tip. It’s easy to look at buying art with three criteria

  1. You have to love it.
  2. It has to have the right colours for your space.
  3. It has to be the right size. Sort of.

And here’s where my first tip comes in. The first two criteria are kind of non-negotiable. You do have to love it or why bother and it needs to have some colour relationship to the space in order to achieve harmony. But the third criterion has some flexibility.

Because if you fulfill the first two criteria you can fudge the third. If the art you love is too small, there are ways to fill up the space. And if the art you love is too big…

Okay, if you’re easily horrified, please sit down. Because my answer to this comes in the form of a confession.

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If the art you love is too big, you can crop it. That means cut it down to the size you need. I know that the prints I’ve purchased for clients have been painted by incredibly hard-working and talented artists who poured their heart and soul into their work. And then I’ve cut it up to hang in someone’s house, restaurant or lobby.

And while it may seem awful, I’ve done it. Because there are two ways to look at art. The first is you love the piece for what it is and live with the size. The second is you have a space to fill and you craft the perfect, custom-fit piece of art. To hang over your headboard (the long, narrow size is sometimes hard to find art for) or above your fireplace or some space that needs an unusual size.

What do you think? Does the concept of looking at art prints in order to cut them up to satisfy your space horrify you? Or do you think it perfectly reasonable?

Related posts:

Cheap, Yet Happy Wall Art

Cheap Placeholder Art (plus my dining chairs are done)

Baskets & Poodles

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours: It’s All in the Undertones to learn how to get colour to do what you want.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn to how choose the right colours for your home or for your clients, become a True Colour Expert.

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  1. I too am looking forward to Irene’s future posts about art.

    I’m not horrified that you would suggest cropping art, but I think it could be a mistake. If the person doing the cropping doesn’t have an eye for composition, mistakes probably will be made.

    That means what’s framed most likely won’t look quite right. The focal point might be too high or low. All the weight might be on one side. Some important detail might be sliced off, or worse, sliced in half.

    Irene might know what she’s doing, but she’s assuming others have her educated or natural eye for form and balance.

    I’m just saying that you better know what you’re looking at before doing surgery on art. I’m not speaking as an elitist coming from an “all art is precious” point of view, just as someone who has seen poorly cropped photos, truncated posters, cheap framing jobs, and the like.

  2. Great post, Irene! Go into houses all the time that the first criteria for the home owner is “it was on sale”. I look forward to your other posts on the subject.

  3. So – cutting up prints? I guess so. Although, if it meets the first criteria, (which i totally agree with), wouldn’t it hurt to cut it up and destroy the original intent of the artist? Cutting up originals??? No!

    I would encourage people to go looking for young artists, many of whom have very reasonable prices. If a particular artist resonates with you, why not commission them to create a piece in a similar style to the one you’re in love with that does fit the space?

  4. By print do you mean a reproduction or an artist pulled print? Please clarify as one is fine art and the other isn’t.

    As an artist, I am appaled that anyone would consider interferring with an artist’s work. First of all, artists retain copyright in their work even after it is sold, unless the rights have been signed away. Few artists would do that. Secondly, to manipulate someone’s work is against copyright laws and therefore illegal.

    If the work is available as a reproduction, I would recommend buying it on one of the online sites that provide reproductions in varying sizes to meet your needs.

  5. Hmmm…I’m afraid I can’t endorse this cropping business unless it’s a crummy piece of wrapping paper or a page ripped from a magazine. Any artist would be crushed and/or PISSED to find their original stuff tampered with so brutally. And I actually think it’s disrespectful to the artist’s effort. But for cheap stuff, go for it!

    And while I’m being a purist, I must say that I agree with your #1…loving the piece is vital. But MUST it match the space? Uh…no. In fact, there is ALWAYS a way to add art to your home that doesn’t match. It’s rather a cheap trick to match the art to the room. But building a room AROUND the art…that’s how beautiful rooms are built, in my opinion.

  6. Composition is so important to me. I would be upset if anyone would crop my work to fit a place. There is always another location. Put my work in the bathroom (I actually hang my work in the powder room) but why buy my art if you are going to mess with it. I am shuddering. I think you should love it and I never worry about the colours if I like a piece.
    Suzy

  7. My mother gave me some invaluable advice about art. She said, “If you LOVE it and can afford it, you should buy it.” Never has failed me. I love and subscribe to the idea that building a room around “that” kind of art is always best. Enjoyed the post!

  8. Cut it. Crop it. Paint over the areas that have a clashing color. Add more touches of a certain color if needed. Divide it into two or more separate pieces. Do whatever it takes to make it and your decor look good. It’s not a painting by Rembrant.

    Also, NEVER tell anyone what you did to it.

  9. Yikes, the idea of cropping scares the bejeesus out of me! But I hem & haw about purchasing art that then deciding o crop it would throw me off the ledge. I like to buy items, sometimes they go right up but sometimes they sit in my closet until the space calls for the print. I’ve also seen people use a large frame with a mat that’s been cut into a smaller square so only part of the print/fabric shows. I wasn’t aware of the artist copyright issue.

  10. Take the time to find the right art for the space and definitely something loved. Treat art as you would a friend.

    There is an artist that actually paints this way. Part of his painting drifts off his pieces. But, the average person would not understand the balance of his individual art piece and why it works well. They are not cropped, not a mistake. His balance is important to the visual. A great deal goes into understanding this balance before any artist places the first stroke.

    Even a cheap poster would be seen as cut down. This is slightly akin to the latest craft of taking books apart or covering them with plain paper. I don’t care if they are old, out of date, or the subject matter went nowhere. Cutting a book or a piece of art hurts a place in my heart.

    I have never been a fan of the 3 piece framed art which supposedly is one piece separated into 3.. A fad which showed up a number of years ago…from somewhere.

    The mounted calendar pages or pages from an artist’s book is another problem too. None of which has the complete piece. These are always cropped to fit the calendar size or book page(s).

    Do not cut art. Wallpaper and fabric would be my only agreement.

  11. Yikes! I hope that you’re referring to reproduction art posters. Otherwise keep looking for the perfect piece… it’s part of the journey.

  12. Not sure about cutting and cropping real art but taking a poster and dividing it and creating a triptych (sp?) or something might work. I must disagree with #2 because I say never buy art because it matches…buy it because you love it. My living room is gray, mustard, black and beige and my primary piece of art is a large Blue Dog by George Rodrigue and it looks perfect. Why? Because it is so me and everyone expects to see it in my home and no one notices that there isnt an ounce of red white and blue in my living room.

  13. As a designer who has also spent some time with a brush in hand; if you are going to so seriously tamper with someone’s artistic expression – paint it yourself…

    I’m afraid I too am somewhat horrified. Choose a different piece or a different location if it’s not right. Someone else will buy that lovely piece and give it the respect it deserves. Rembrandt, and nearly all other, now uber-famous artists were not famous in their time. How do you know you aren’t tampering, and therefore devaluing, a future Rembrandt’s work?

    As a designer how would you feel if someone looked at your work, which you have painstakingly and carefully considered, and said ‘hey I like this part but let’s cut off this bit here, and that is totally superfluous, oh, and let’s take this entire design and cram it into this room over here’.

    Sorry Maria, on this one, I think this is really terrible advice!

  14. Wow, how liberating. As an artist, I can see doing this, depending on the piece. If I can make a “frame” out of paper or scrap wood and lay it on the piece to figure out which spot of the size I need would work, yes! If someone did this to my fiber art pieces, I think I could live with it.

  15. Personally, this idea had never occurred to me and I love the OUT OF THE BOX thinking that might have me look at even my nephews painted art from another point of view. I have lots of frames in my house to fill and this is yet another way to approach it.
    Maria

  16. I know you’re trying to be supportive of your assistant’s post, Maria, but you better check with your nephews first before you chop up their creations 😉

  17. Interesting what passionate responses this post stirred up! I think Irene’s ideas about accessorizing with art relate so well to Maria’s post about “rules” in interior design. My view, as a professional designer with over 35 years in the business, is as the old saying goes: “situations alter cases.” If you know what you are doing and do it with a sure hand, you can do just about anything! You need to satisfy your client and the needs of the project first and foremost.

  18. As an artist I find the idea of cropping a piece of artwork absolutely horrifying but as a designer I know that function follows form. So I am on the fence on this one. I completely agree with Kay – if you are sure you know what you are doing and you can do it with a sure hand, you can do just about anything. Just don’t go hacking up an artist’s work because you like the colours in the piece! Great post Irene – enjoy your writing and I look forward to reading more from you!

  19. Hmmmm…I found this to be an unusual post as I would never mess with an artist’s piece of work. It is not as if it is an Ikea take off, this is art. I am not impressed, not at all.

  20. My opinion is that you should leave an original piece alone; however, I see nothing wrong with altering a reproduction print for your home. A master chef wouldn’t expect a home cook to make his published recipe exactly as written, down to the last seasoning. When I cook for my family I remove or add ingredients for our taste. If I were to buy a designer dress, why shouldn’t I alter the length and remove the sleeves if it looks better on me that way? And, as a musician, I wouldn’t expect someone to play my songs note for note, beginning to end if they were sitting in their living room. Even if a person were to play a recording of one of my songs, and they only wanted to hear the chorus, not the verses, each time they listened, I would have no problem with that. Now, public places are a different story. You would need permission from the artist to play the song at all, let alone change it. But I think it’s fine to make changes in the privacy of your own home.

  21. Well, judging by the comments, this post certainly lived up to its “shocking” title! I’m with you in that I love how “out of the box” thinking challenges me to take a step back and view the situation through a different lens!

  22. I don’t have a problem with it. In fact…I’ve done it!
    My husband bought me a painting I had admired at a local gallery when we were first dating. I had it hung in our bedroom for years. When I re-decorated the house recently, I wanted to place it in a new spot that required a smaller frame. So I had it cropped & reframed. I still love it and the new frame gave it a new look.

  23. Wow Irene! Great job on this post! I am in total agreement. Once you buy it, it’s YOURS to do with as you like. I have done it before with a poster. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future. Hope you had a great workshop! I miss you!

  24. Art is not an “accessory” to match the decor. This is as tacky as filling bookshelves with matching volumes of books the owner has never read. Anyone who knows better is rolling their eyes when they see this in an interior.

    • I totally agree Lisa. A piece of art should be brought home because you love it.The art should stand on it’s own, and if it happens to be ‘color coordinated’ to a space, it should be only by coincidence, not because it was chosen to ‘go’ with the sofa or the bedding.
      Also, great point about the books, all of it well said.

  25. Lots of good points. What type of “art” you are buying? When you are trying to fill Ikea frames to make a grouping – it is probably the only way to make things fit. Conversely, one would never alter an original work by a collectable artist unless, he or she is the artist. I prefer to see fewer, exquisitely framed well executed pieces in a grouping. Much more inviting to contemplate the “art”.

  26. Well, I suppose that in some circumstances this could be doable, but I can’t say I *like* the idea.

    I always tell people not to be afraid of leaving empty expanses of wall if they haven’t yet found the right thing, and to wait until they have.

  27. I agree with most people here–cropping a piece to fit the space is OK for a reproduction, but not for an original. Vintage and antique prints should be left whole. Change the frame, the matting, but respect the original. Take a copy photo of the original or make a high quality scan and a digital print at a specialty printer, and alter that.

    Even found art from the thrift store deserves respect, and you never know, that unappreciated piece might be something valuable. Seen it many times on Antiques Roadshow. If you must alter or restore a piece, do as little as possible to preserve it, use acid free materials, and consult a professional. At the very least, add a barrier layer that can be removed to separate overpainting from the original. If at all possible, ask the artist to make the alterations/repairs if you must.

    Besides, you might move or change your decor and then the piece is permanently mutilated.