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Guide to Buying and Collecting Art on a Budget

Updated on October 4, 2011
A print by Etsy artist Leefee.
A print by Etsy artist Leefee. | Source
A print by artist and photographer, Leefee.
A print by artist and photographer, Leefee. | Source

Art Collecting Is Fun — and Affordable!

I love art, and have been known to salivate in museums, galleries and at silent auctions. My eyes, and my taste, both tend to be bigger than my budget. I was sure I was destined to be an unrequited art lover, one who covets from afar but never wins the prize.

It turns out that the Internet and savvy entrepreneurs have taken on that once rarefied art world, opening it up to people like me. You see, up-and-coming artists, even those already in the collections of major museums like the Museum of Modern Art and SFMOMA, still need to make a living and you can't eat critical acclaim. They may have some success, but they want to win wider audiences, so they are turning to innovative new companies that are helping them gain exposure while helping art admirers like me graduate from framed posters of works by Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, Ansel Adams or (insert name of whatever poster hung in your college dorm room here).

You do not need to live in a world of posters, framed Ikea prints or billowing tapestries any longer! There is affordable, original, unique artworks to be had no matter your budget.

Original affordable artworks and high quality art prints are available in your own, offline world, too. I best know the San Francisco scene, since this is where I live, but certainly the local art scene here has similar counterparts in other cities around the world.

A drawing of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco made with an iPhone app, purchased at 20x200.
A drawing of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco made with an iPhone app, purchased at 20x200. | Source
Print of a drawing purchased at 20x200.
Print of a drawing purchased at 20x200. | Source
A photography print purchased at
A photography print purchased at | Source

Online Resources for Affordable Art

This fast-growing website founded by New York City gallerist Jen Bekman is committed to connecting art collectors and artists, without letting money get in the way. Every week, it offers email subscribers two new pieces — one a work on paper like a painting or collage, the other a photograph. Many of these are by already famous artists like William Wegman, and many of the artists have works in museum collections. Past works remain available for sale until they sell out.

The name of the company refers to the business model: artists create a new work available only through 20x200, and 200 8"x10" editions of that work are available for $20; 500 11"x14" editions are available for $50; 20 16"x20" editions are sold for $200 each; 10 20"x24" editions are available for $1,000 and just 2 editions that are 30"x40" are available for $2,000. The site also has frequent sales, and you can search the site by color palate, subject theme or artists. Each print has a numbered certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

This website offers original works by global emerging artists — paintings, digital works and photography — all for under $250. You also can buy more expensive works, if they fit within your budget. Bascially, Zatista connects web surfers and would-be art buyers with the artists themselves; it's an online art gallery. And because it is online, it has a vast selection. You can browse by medium, by subject matter, even by color. And what may be the coolest feature is the "virtual room," which allows you to see what the work you like might look like hanging on a wall.

Zatista has a free, no-hassle return policy, which removes some of the terror from buying art online. Also, all the works are original, not prints of originals, so if you are buying a painting, you are buying real brushstrokes.

This isn't the easiest site to search, but Etsy is home to hundreds of artists and artisans looking to create a web business and an audience for their works. Think of it as an Ebay for the crafty and gifted. Etsy is full of amateur and budding photographers, painters, sculptors and the like, and with a little hunting, anyone can find something original and which they love.

This is an art sales site brought to you by National Geographic, and it's a fine place for folk art, folk paintings, and the like created by artists from all over the world. Again, you can search by style, color palate — even size of artwork. Novica also sells home decor, jewelry, sculpture, tapestries and more.

This foundation started by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and others back in the 1950s is devoted to all things photography. While not so cheap as many places on the web, many of these works are by famous photographers and there is a section pf the site with works under $750.

Creativity Explored

See the description below.

A drawing picked up at the annual SFMOMA Artists' Warehouse Sale.
A drawing picked up at the annual SFMOMA Artists' Warehouse Sale. | Source
A painting purchased at an Open Studios at Hunters Point Shipyard.
A painting purchased at an Open Studios at Hunters Point Shipyard. | Source

Where To Buy Affordable Artworks in San Francisco

Open Studios

Several weekends every year, San Francisco hosts Open Studios. On these weekends, usually put on by neighborhood, the city's working artists — some known, some not — open up their homes and studios to the viewing, and buying, public. Every Open Studio weekend has maps of the locations of participating artists, and one of the biggest weekends is when the old Naval Shipyard at Hunters Point holds its Open Studios. Several of the (condemned) buildings there have been converted into studios which artists rent, and quite an artistic colony has cropped up in the southeast corner of the city. Other Open Studio weekends take place in Noe Valley, the Castro, Potrero Hill, the Marina — truly, this city has artists living in every corner.


Every May, SFMOMA has ann annual artists warehouse sale in Fort Mason. It sells works for 50% off their usual retail price. SFMOMA's mission is to support contemporary workign artists, not just the dead famous ones with works hanging on its walls, so it has an artists gallery that has regular shows by emerging artists, many of whom the museum is also collecting. These artists all contribute works to the sale.SFMOMA also has a biennial art auction. While the bigwig collectors show up to bid on the main auction items created by household names in the modern art world, there's always an extensive silent art auction. Here you can sometimes pick up a steal — provided you can afford an expensive ticket to the gala.
In fact, silent auctions are often a wonderful way to find affordable art works.

Creativity Explored

This nonprofit helps adults with developmental and other disabilities develop and deepen their artistic talents, as well as to sell their works. You would not guess to look at the artwork available at this Mission District gallery that these artists are in any way disabled. Creativity Explored also sells artwork online.


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    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for the comment, yenajeon. You are right: art can be VERY expensive. Doctoring posters into collages and unique, personalized artworks is a great idea! I also have posters I've cropped and framed myself, but not quite as creatively as it sounds like you get.

    • yenajeon profile image

      yenajeon 6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the resources, I love art. BUT, it can be extremely expensive. What I like to do? Buy cheap but cool posters, cut them up the way I want to and frame them together. You get a cool art effect that's cheap. Rated up!