Art Lessons

By Lesley Myrick

Cool and casual ways to collect and display art

I have lived in three states, two countries and one province. While furniture, clothing and housewares have come and gone with each move over the past decade, there’s one thing that I’ve carefully packed and brought with me every time — my collection of original art and photography.

There’s the coy female figure painted on wood panel from a Toronto graffiti artist, a gift from an ex-boyfriend. And the collaged diptych of the old-timey man and woman staring wistfully at each other — another gift from another ex-boyfriend. (While those relationships didn’t work out, clearly these guys understood my love for offbeat art!) Then there’s the Polaroid transfer of a New York City subway station sign I purchased from a local artist on the streets of Manhattan for a mere five bucks. And of course, the cut paper collage of an armadillo in a party hat, created by an incredibly talented friend in California.

None of these pieces came from fancy, curated galleries — quite the opposite, in fact. They came from local artists and friends, collected and found over time, each telling a meaningful story. I’ve kept each piece not just for how it looks but because of the feelings it evokes.

I want every element in my home, and in the homes I design, to not just look awesome but to feel awesome too. And while I haven’t heard of a sofa moving someone to tears (yet), I do think art has that power to affect our emotions. There’s something about great art that just gives me all the feels.

Displaying art pieces that speak to you creates a sense of wholeness and peace in a home. Art is not just a decorative element, it’s a piece of the puzzle. And its presence is definitely missed when a room is lacking this essential finishing touch. Prints and mass-produced art pieces have their place, but there’s something special about acquiring originals that not only look rad but have a story behind them, like the armadillo in the party hat.

I have the hardest time sourcing art for my design clients because it’s so personal. What resonates with me may not resonate with them. I like to give recommendations but ultimately leave the final art purchasing decisions up to my clients. Art doesn’t need to match a room — in fact, it’s often more successful when it becomes an element of contrast — so having art fit perfectly into a design scheme isn’t necessary or even ideal. Matchy-matchy is boring, and art is where you can have some fun and play with the unexpected.

So, if art isn’t your thing yet, but you want it to be, where do you start when it comes to collecting, framing and displaying original art? Take it from me, you can find fantastic, original art everywhere — flea markets, secondhand stores, online marketplaces like Etsy, coffee shops, local art fairs and social media. (Instagram is a personal favorite for discovering and following young and talented artists.)

There are great local galleries worth checking out too, where you will likely spend more than if purchasing from an up-and-coming artist, but I don’t think investing in art that you love is ever a bad idea. There has to be that “click,” that connection, that makes it a worthwhile purchase. You may not even be able to articulate what it is about the artwork that’s resonating with you, but you don’t need to. It’s just gotta feel good.

Collecting a few well-chosen art pieces is a great start, but then how do you frame and display them? A large painting in a dynamite custom frame will stand on its own, but what about a collection of smaller, more eclectic pieces? While some may argue that it’s a trend on its way out, I’m still a big fan of gallery walls. Grouping several smaller paintings together creates the visual illusion of a larger, cohesive wall treatment.

If the paintings, photos or prints feel a bit disjointed from one another, creating unity with similar frames can transform a hot mess of a collection into a chic statement wall bursting with intentionality and personality. Whether arranged in a formal grid or a looser parlor feel, a gallery wall can be a great solution to bring order to art-related randomness.

Formal and traditional homes tend to benefit from beautifully framed art that’s carefully arranged and hung, but sometimes keeping it casual is the way to go. In a laid-back, modern space like a downtown loft, simply propping art against the walls lends a hip and casual vibe that’s well suited to the aesthetic of the architecture. It’s a bit of a rebellious, devil-may-care attitude, which I dig.

Original art is more accessible and affordable than ever, so there is no reason to resign yourself to a home filled with Hobby Lobby prints that are a dime a dozen. Your art collection may come from unexpected places, but that is part of the story. And for me, the story behind the art is as important as the piece itself.