How do You Buy Your Art?

My weekend at Printfest (the annual print fair in Ulverston, Cumbria) got me thinking about how and why people buy art. Many of my sales during the weekend came from repeat buyers and those who had saved up to come to Printfest as a highlight in their year. I also met lots of Instagram followers in real life.

It was clear that visitors really enjoyed meeting and talking to the artists, which is the great advantage of buying directly from the artist at events like this. The trick with Printfest is that they have managed to keep the quality of artists very high- through a rigorous selection process, and keeping the numbers of exhibitors fairly low. This is great for visitor and artist alike. Plus, they know their audience well, and are not trying to cater to a crazily wide demographic.

However, similar events such as open studios or art trails can be very hit and miss, quality wise. On the other end of the spectrum, the large art fairs (often at racecourses) are not so rigorous about their selection of artists’ and are often attempting to cater for the ‘everyman’ art buyer (an impossible task). I’ve come to believe that though both these ways of buying art definitely have their place, a well curated and passionately run gallery can also be a brilliant way to buy art (such as Little Buckland Gallery in the Cotswolds, run by Arabella, who is an artist herself and ‘only shows art she likes’ and Cambridge Contemporary Art, run by Nathalie with verve and skill).

Never having had much in the way of funds, I have been creative about where I buy art. Looking around me, I realise I have bought art from music festivals, online, art trails, open studios, charity and house clearance shops, artist studios, as well as commissioned pieces and wonderful gifts. My most smug purchase was a beautiful and intricate etching by the renowned etcher Phil Greenwood, found in a charity shop for £35.

A couple of years ago my New Years resolution was to have a ‘year of art’, in order to prove to my reluctant mind that art is worth investing in, as one of the most useful and beautiful things we have- not whole altruistic, as it was to loosen my thoughts about people spending money on my own art too.

I spent money on exhibitions and buying art, and even commissioned a piece directly from an artist – a first for me.

Much of what I bought was small and on paper- which is a great way to buy art when you’re starting to collect art (check out open studios like the one at Spike Print Studio and print fairs such as Printfest, Hepworth Wakefield Print Fair, ‘Paper, Ink, Print’ in London, and Winchester, Liverpool and Chester print fairs are all good). I also screwed up my courage and approached a young (er) emerging artist who I saw exhibit in Bristol, to commission a piece. This was definitely a cheaper way to get an original piece of art, and I hope gave some support and encouragement to an artist just starting out.

I also bought online, again a first for me. This is much easier to do with more graphic works on paper as you get a good sense of what you will receive from the screen image, but it can still work with larger pieces too. This is another way to buy direct from artists (with all the money going to them), and can feel more gratifying than buying from a gallery. The trick here, for the artist, is to convey their trustworthiness and approachability. I bought from an artist who I’d been following for some time on Instagram, getting to know her process and work, plus I’d had looked longingly at her website several times. I felt I had a connection to her and her art, even though we hadn’t met.

Lockdown was certainly a catalyst for buying artwork online, not only did people become much more online savvy, and willing to buy all sorts of things online (there was no other way!), but they had extra cash and wanted to fill the walls they were looking at every day. It was certainly a good nudge for me to sort out my online shop, and though I went down some blind alleys to start with (Etsy etc), I feel I’m pretty much there now.

Turns out it’s quite addictive, this buying art business. And also made me realise, that you don’t have to spend a large amount both to get a beautiful piece of art or to support and encourage artists (every little purchase adds up, as I know from my own experience).

Obviously, I’m biased, but I do say, if you love it, and it’s within your budget- do it. However you buy, you will feel great and buying original art will renew your faith in the world.