Tips and tricks to help you navigate the journey of putting art on your walls. Or shelves. Or tables.
The dining room of this Healdsburg, California home features one large piece of art, which brings a hit of color to the otherwise neutral palette. Image by Haris Kenjar.
Last month’s Seattle Art Fair was an annual reminder that our walls need to be filled and we deserve to be surrounded by beauty. Local galleries are a fantastic, year-round resource, but art fairs allow us to explore various styles, discover new artists, and see different mediums up close—all in one place. As a designer, clients often ask me to assist with curating their art collections. Over the years, I have honed my process of planning, selecting, and purchasing art for a wide range of styles and budgets. Many of these techniques apply to anyone looking to add unique works—from paintings to pottery—to their living spaces.
When it comes to buying art, I often spend as much time pregaming the shopping as I do making the actual selections. The following tips will keep you on track, prevent overwhelm (galleries and art fairs alike can cause decision fatigue!), and help you choose pieces that best work with your space.
If you can't decide between pieces, a gallery wall allows for the display of multiple artists, and styles, for a big visual impact. Image by Vivian Johnson.
At the beginning of your search, check out events like the Seattle Art Fair (or visit their website to see a list of participating galleries from previous years). You will see galleries from all over the world and get a good sense of the large variety of art, artists, and price points. While at the fair, collect business cards or QR codes and create a list of favorites to serve as a reminder later. You may also want to follow the galleries on Instagram—creating an ‘art’ folder is a helpful reference once the fair or event is over.
I take a lot of photos as I go through the booths at large art fairs. Generally, I start by taking one pass through the venue to see everything, and then I go back through again at a slower pace, skipping the spaces that don’t resonate with me. I take pictures of the art I like and closeups of the tags next to them. Make sure they have the gallery info. (Surprisingly not all galleries list it on the tag.) This prevents me from feeling too bogged down by trying to remember detailed information, and it is a great, easy-to-access resource for later. I employed this method during the 2022 Seattle Art Fair, and six months later I acquired a piece I had seen for a client.
Art integrated into shelving units, as seen in this home office, brings a personal touch to work-focused spaces. Image by Vivian Johnson.
Another pre-shopping tip I always recommend is measuring the free walls in your space and taking some time to think about what you’re looking for. Do you want one large piece? A few smaller ones to create a gallery wall? Maybe a series of three to four coordinating pieces to make one big statement?
A pared-back gallery wall creates a dramatic moment in the corner of a room. Image by Haris Kenjar.
While it’s great to look at everything, it’s important to have a clear budget and an idea of your goals before you head out to shop. Emerging artists often have a more approachable price point, but perhaps won’t be a long-term asset in the same way that some more established artists are. Galleries clearly understand the need for transparency in pricing, and you’re not offending anyone when asking.
The good news, your art does not need to match your decor, but it’s great when it coordinates. Bring swatches from the key pieces of furniture in the space [you're designing] to compare as you view the art in person. You can also bring a video of your space to share with the gallerist. They don’t display all available art in a show or their gallery, so they may have alternate suggestions based on your space.
Bringing swatches from key pieces of furniture in your space can help guide you as you shop for art. Images by Caitlin Jones Ghajar.
When you find a piece you love, mock up the size on your wall in blue tape and live with it for a couple of days to make sure the scale feels good to you. We do mockups in AutoCAD (a 3D modeling software) for our clients, but the blue tape is just as effective. During non-fair times, galleries will often hold a piece while you consider it for a couple of days. That said, if you love it, buy it. Many artists will take commissions, but, rarely, they will never repeat a piece, and it can take between six and 12 months for a commission to arrive.
Think beyond the expected. Don’t just consider what needs to go on your walls. A great way to add art—particularly in smaller spaces—is via small-scale paintings or hand drawings framed in thick frames that can be stacked on shelves between books. Ceramics also add a lot of detail—setting them on your tables or curating a vignette in the kitchen is a great way to add an unexpected moment of color or texture.
Try layering art such as ceramics in unexpected places, for example, in the kitchen. The open shelving in this Piedmont, California project doubles as storage and display. Image by Vivian Johnson.
Art can evoke emotion, make your dreams and wishes come to life, and fill your spaces with vibrance and texture. Following the steps above will ensure that you not only enjoy your new art once it's installed but also find the journey of curation a joyful process.
Caitlin Jones Ghajar is the founder of Seattle-based Caitlin Jones Design. Founded in 1999, the studio offers a comprehensive range of interior design and home renovation services.