2008 - Day three as an exhibitor at Wimbledon Art ‘Open Studios’ event . . . I am numb with cold, nauseous from too much coffee and Quality Street, and slumped in an armchair waiting for potential buyers to drift by.
For the umpteenth time my eye wanders along the works of art lining a nearby corridor. It stops at a simple but elegant charcoal nude by Sandra Roche (a fellow artist whose studio was at the farthest end of the building). I hadn’t really paid it much attention previously. But in that instance, I realised I had to have it.
…And just like that, I became a collector.
My first splurge was largely a subconscious process. Some might say a rash buy, considering I was pregnant with my first child; some would argue my priorities were a little ‘off’. I didn’t try to rationalise what I was feeling at the time, or attempt to stop myself from doing what felt right. A decade on, I have all sorts of experiences under my belt of people buying my own art, and I have added a select few paintings to my own collection. But the one that started it all has a special place in my heart – and in my house (my bedroom).
‘What if I buy the wrong painting?’
If you love it and can afford it – and you have room for it somewhere on a wall – buy it. There is no ‘wrong’. When we react emotionally to a painting, we are communicating with a creator’s feelings, sinking into their unique and irresistible rhythm of light, brushstroke, movement and colour. It’s a moment of magic, a love-at-first-sight suggestion that I recommend highly!
A gallerist recently told me that ‘a collector is investing in their own happiness’. If this sounds cliched, then like all clichés it is true. Artists often project their own emotional experience into a work, but if you’re new to art appreciation and you are worried you won’t be able to ‘see’ this, check out some alla prima artists first – I suggest looking at Haidee Jo Summers, Rod Major or Maria Rose (see my list of Instagrammers for more info), or simply search the hashtag ‘allaprima’ on any social media platform and you’ll see what I mean. Alla prima artists paint very quickly, the term alla prima derives from the Italian for ‘at first attempt’ (also known as ‘wet on wet’). How are they feeling on the day – irritation, serenity, nervousness – all gets painted in too.
What works for you
A client who recently visited my studio said, ‘I love this seascape but I’ve never been to that beach.’ To them, it was important to have an emotional attachment to the subject matter, but everyone is different. You might feel a strong pull from an abstract work where the subject isn’t even recognisable.
I started out my career as an abstract painter and I think for some, it’s difficult to see what is good in an abstract piece – it’s hard to evaluate. But, much like in a painting from something real, composition and colour harmony are important. Following on from my abstract phase, I went to the other extreme and headed towards hyperrealism, only to realise that it wasn’t for me – plein air painting allowed me the opportunity to loosen up again and sometimes I see a freedom on the canvas remnant of my abstract past, particularly if it’s really cold or I’m running on adrenalin and my brushwork is somewhat slapdash!
‘What if it clashes with my furnishings?’
It won’t. You can cover an entire wall with paintings of different colours, subjects, mediums, none of which seemingly ‘match’ one another, or the room they’re staged in. A nod to the colour in the room from a bit of one painting is a nice idea, but it’s not absolutely necessary. I should qualify that statement, actually, because I wouldn’t suggest putting up a large brightly coloured abstract near a set of chintz curtains unless you really know what you’re doing. But on the whole if you’re going to worry about anything, concentrate on getting the right frame, particularly if you’re hanging several paintings near each other.
As you’ve already spent a bit of money buying the artwork, go the extra mile and use a knowledgeable framer. You can take along photos of the room where you will hang the work, and they will be able to advise on texture, colour and characteristics of the frame.
‘What if my friends and family don’t like it?’
Buying a painting is a lifestyle choice that other people don’t get to invade.
‘It’s probably more than I can afford’
Some artists are shy about pricing, but that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to ask. All creatives love a new enquiry, even if it doesn’t result in a sale. A good pointer is to have a budget in mind before asking. If it’s more than you want to spend, be honest – a ‘thanks but no thanks’ is preferable to radio silence over email, when the artist has taken time to respond to you.
If you really want it but can’t afford it all in one go, ask if you can pay in instalments. They might say ‘no’, but it won’t be an angry ‘no’.
If the price works for you, the next step is to view the painting for real. I highly recommend this – and artists will always expect it – although I should probably tell you I bought my Andrew Farmer on spec, after seeing it on his Instagram feed. I paid by bank transfer and he sent me the painting. I didn’t actually meet Andrew until the New English Art Club private view last June – he wears the most wonderful vibrant blue spectacles. His talent is obvious but he’s a genuinely nice guy too, which makes the deal even sweeter in retrospect!
Social media – and where to look for paintings generally
Having already mentioned social media, let’s look at this first. Of course, Instagram and Twitter can be a rich hunting ground for prospective art buyers who don’t want to visit a gallery in the first instance. Galleries can be intimidating for a first-time collector, scrolling online is less so. I have made a list of some of my favourite artists on Instagram below to get you started. Art fairs and Open Studio events can be good because you are mostly dealing with the artists directly, plus with open studios you get to see them in their natural habitat. Find out what looks good and why by visiting art museums – you will learn more about your own taste and also see what works compositionally. Take photos (if permitted) to document your experience.
But ultimately, a really good painting speaks to the brain directly – it slaps you in the eye! – with no time for that inner voice to rationalise.
‘Should I buy for investment?’
Not even experts get it right every time, so if you’re going to take a gamble be prepared to take a bath.
Investment aside – and even if your painting is ‘guaranteed’ to appreciate significantly – likely it will need to be a part of your household aesthetic for a good few years, so don’t buy anything you actively dislike, unless you’re planning on storing it in the loft, or with some trusted relative you never visit!
Artists I admire and want NOW on Instagram*:
Tom Stevenson @tpstevensonart
Maria Rose @mariaroseartist
Peter Brown @petethestreet1
Haidee Jo Summers @haideejosummers
Ben Hope @benhopeartist
Michael Weller @michaelweller
Rod Major @rodmajorart
Clare Bowen @clarebowenartist
Sarah Spackman @sarahspackmanartist
Julia Hawkins @juliahawkinsart
James Bland @j.bland
Roos Schuring @rosepleinair
*By no means an exhaustive list!