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Art and Beauty

14 Inexpensive Ways to Get the Look of Real Art

By 02/26/2016February 10th, 201748 Comments


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

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  • Eileen Albright says:

    I wish you had time to visit the Dallas Arboretum while you’re in Dallas. Talk about beautiful colors!!!

  • Sue says:

    Thank you. I really agree with the need for art. However, struggled with where to find it at reasonable pricing. Truly very helpful and informative!

  • Dolores says:

    Check out ebay- lots of wonderful antique art works available for good prices..

  • Kay says:

    Great suggestions. And I agree about the current rage for word “art.”

  • Susanna says:

    Don’t go to Austin without visiting the food trucks (literally gourmet food out of a truck). Ask your concierge where to find them.

    Another must-do – Esther’s Follies – sort of like Prairie Home Companion but funnier. Austin’s version of Saturday Night Live.

    Great post by the way! 😉

  • Julie S says:

    Fantastic article! My mother has worked in art galleries for 30+ years and I’ve been lucky enough to get some bona fide high end works from her. I’ve been so stuck with what to put in our living room, though – I want one large piece, and have an empty frame on that wall instead. The thing about textile art sparked something! I took up weaving (on a floor loom) a year ago, and while I haven’t made any art pieces per se, I TOTALLY COULD. And it would be the right colors and size!! Bingo!
    Any tips for what to do with great art that doesn’t seem to suit your decor? My great-grandmother was an oil artist who has pieces in museums. I have one large oil by her that is gray-greens and cool pinks, which doesn’t work in my gray-green and yellow beige living room, and I don’t want to put it in my girls’ room because it’s too valuable. The hall already has statement art.

    • teresa says:

      Sometimes large pieces really look great in powder rooms where one doesn’t have to worry about moisture. It’s always so unexpected, as well.

  • Michelle says:

    I feel the same way as you do about “those large letters, words and quotes like “Live, Love, Laugh” or “Keep Calm and Carry On”. Not my cup of tea, but I know a lot of people love them and that’s okay with me.

    • Bert says:

      Yes, i feel the same way. To each his own, I guess.

      • mairi says:

        I once saw a sign in a cafe window which said `philosophy free food“…talk about a cheeky response to all the food rhetoric! Maybe we should apply that to wall art quotes too…time for some`philosophy free zones“

        • Mary Templeton says:

          I don’t like the large letter words and quotes either. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a three word quote on the wall just takes up precious space and is limited to – those words.

  • Great post! Such inspirational ideas on what and where to find different art subjects. I will hang on to her suggestions and use them in my designs. Thank you. This is so informative.

  • Donna says:

    This is a very good article. I am an artist and was braced for bad advice but this was all good. One other suggestion is to look in the unframed section of a gallery or art show. Often these are pieces that are on clearance because all artists eventually have too much inventory.

  • Lesley says:

    Minted and Society6 are popular new online places to look, and to discover new artists.

    There was no mention of photography and this opens up all kinds of possibilities, too. Street artists and local art fairs have beautiful choices, or rework a photo you already have! I had a picture of my daughters playing at the beach that I uploaded to the local office supply store website and printed as an “engineering print” on paper, about 36 x 40.” I used spray adhesive to adhere the paper to foam core from Michaels and trimmed the excess. Black Sharpie around the edges. I intended this $8 project to be a placeholder, but I absolutely love it, it’s original and personal. That’s what I want in my art.

    • Yes, I would agree – the only element left out of this excellent advice was the use of colorful photos as art. I did this recently, using images from vintage hotels, and as you suggested, put them in cheap IKEA frames. The Society 6 print wasn’t cheap, but overall, it still cost relatively little to get a high-end look. Another source is Flickr. Both pros and amateurs post photos of virtually every subject and will often sell them for just a few bucks. One generous soul just gave me his file for free! A cute neon sign called “Pink Motel.” I used it in a master bedroom.

  • Ann Kern says:

    Welcome to Austin! On Sunday, I’ll be walking the trail around Lady Bird Lake–not the whole 10 miles, but a portion. The trail is mostly flat and very popular. Here’s a map: If you didn’t bring your walking shoes, I second Susanna’s recommendation to visit the food trucks.

  • Good post. Various forms of art prints(e.g. Etchings, collographs) are often affordable and don’t forget purchasing original art while you travel. Outdoor markets are great for this. High schools with good art programs usually have a yearly student exhibition of student work. Some of my favorite pieces came from these exhibitions. Artists will often trade work for another products or services. And don’t forget fine craft and photography as great sources for your art fix. I am an artist so artist trades bring me wonderful art for my walls.

  • Sylvia says:

    I live in Austin and we are going to the Sherwood Forest Faire just outside of Austin on Sunday. Come join us.
    Otherwise go for a walk around Lake Austin, otherwise known as Lady Bird Johnson Lake. It’s
    beautiful and you get to really get a taste of the Austin people. I love it here. Have fun!

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    Great article. Currently I have a huge plate collection on my dining room wall. I love the comments it generates. Some folks hate it & others love it. But it get people talking.

  • Linda Fitzgerald says:

    Learn the ‘two-step’ and some line dancing while in Texas!

    Enjoyed the article and even pinned a few of the pics to my board ‘Artsy Fartsy.’

  • Elaine says:

    Great article Tricia – many of us could use more meaningful art. So many good ideas from everyone.
    I have very willing affordable grandkids…great place to start:)

  • s wheeler says:

    Stubbs Gospel Sunday Brunch, if it is still being done…get reservations tho.
    Great food and a fabulous sound to start your morning!

  • Darlene says:

    You’re in Austin, LUCKY!! #1 is to eat BBQ – hands down some of the best in the U.S. Franklin’s is nearby your hotel and has been getting rave reviews for years. Next, I would suggest South Congress with its quirky stores and gourmet food trucks … Amy’s Ice Cream is a big hit with my family 🙂
    I guess I like visiting Austin & its food, cause I’m a California girl!!

  • anne says:

    Tricia, it is a pleasure reading your articles. They’re always thoughtful, well-researched, well-written and full of ideas. I’m an artist and both of my daughters are, as well. Christmas rules are ‘If you didn’t make it, don’t gift it!,’ so we all “exhibit” each others’ work in our homes. One of my daughters is on Society6, with her prints and drawings. That site is not curated, so you have to scroll through a lot of…er…stuff…to get to good work, but quality art is there if you have the patience to search. Thanks again for the article!

  • Martha says:

    Great post. Can’t afford large canvases but I made my own art with a small one.

  • teresa says:

    Loved this article. As another artist, I think you hit on so many hidden sources. Another trick is framing high-end or handmade cards.They can look fabulous and usually I buy them when traveling so they have meaning, as well.

  • Liz says:

    Great suggestions in the article and the comments! I’ve used several of them before and learned new ones. My rule of thumb is to only hang things I really love that make me happy. It might be original art, photos, mirrors, plates, a fabric wall hanging, or…gasp…a couple of cheap and colorful fun “paintings” I love from Pier 1 that are perfect for their location. 🙂

    A great place for reasonable and beautiful fabric wall hangings is Novica. They promote work by individual artisans worldwide. I ordered a gorgeous 4×6′ piece from India for well under $100.

    Another idea I used above my TV is a very high quality wall “sticker” mural. I had an original painting fall down and didn’t want a repeat…bad for both the painting and the TV! This company has collections of unique and beautiful stickers by artists. Some are rectangular like paintings and come in small to very large sizes.

  • Jane says:

    Ditto what Darlene said about South Congress. Try brunch at the Snack Bar ( They usually don’t get busy on Sunday until 11.

    Or go kayaking on Town Lake. The weather this weekend should be awesome for that! Check out Congress Avenue Kayaks or the Texas Rowing Center. They are both on the Omni side of the lake.

    Welcome to Texas!!!!

  • Lynnfromthepnw says:

    I really agree with this point of view. I found great pieces at street fairs and student shows. It doesn’t need to break the bank – it just needs to resonate with you. Art that is personal makes a house a home and reflects the stages of your life.

  • Great ideas, but frankly, I prefer prints of paintings from the past. I’m not into “modern” art, and can’t find new stuff I like. The artwork in my house comes from prints that I’ve had framed, even posters. I think it’s more important to have art that resonates with you.

    I’d like to find new, original artwork, but it’s just not my thing. I see photos in shelter magazines of traditional homes with wild stuff on the walls, and I think it looks terrible. Also, some newer stuff tries to be “shocking”. Although I’m an activist in real life, I want to have beautiful and serene images in my home. From a Feng Shui POV, violent, scary, or bizarre images are a no-no.

  • Angela Taylor says:

    I have purchased three large photographs on canvas in recent years as I needed to cover a large wall in my new home, and I have to say they work very well for me. I consider these photographs art, and they give me so much pleasure. All the art was done by local artists/photographers, and at a reasonable price. As Tricia said, art comes in many forms. The watercolours that I painted before my children came along are hanging in my bedroom, where only I get to see them;)

  • Well done Tricia! I could not agree more about using original art. Great suggestions for places to find it at affordable prices. I think its worth holding out to get the real thing, rather than decoration for the wall.

  • Walking Lady Bird Lake is a must! Climb the steps to the top of Mt. Bonnell and check out the gorgeous view at the top of Lake Austin and the 360 Bridge. You have to get in line at Franklin’s at 7:00 am in the morning if you want Franklin’s BBQ, the line goes around the block! Check out Lake Travis if you have time. The quirky shops and food trucks are fun on South Congress.

  • Carol says:

    Great post, Tricia! Brilliant suggestions and excellent points.

  • mrsben says:

    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-

  • Deb Bruna says:

    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 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.

  • Jessie says:

    Try out Canopy and Laguna Gloria in Austin!

  • Cindi says:

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

  • Ellen Rush says:

    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.

  • Maria D says:

    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.

  • Carol says:

    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

  • Maria Killam says:

    Thank you everyone for your suggestions on what to do in Austin! You’re awesome! x Maria

  • Cheryl Covelli Austin Texas says:

    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 !

  • M says:

    Thank you for the great post and resource Maria!

  • 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.

  • Angela says:

    I love this post. I feel so inadequate when it comes to putting a nail in the wall and what to buy.

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