On the hunt for good art for less

11 secrets to finding good art for less money

I have a new favorite place to shop. And thankfully for my budget, it’s only open one weekend every year.

The 2014 Beaux Art Festival was my springboard to decorating my new house. I made a plan last year to shop art fairs for my new décor, spent a few months saving up, and then hit the festival with my better half to see what we could find… And find things, we did.

We spent a few thousand bucks in just a few hours. But we had two good reasons for doing it this way:

  1. Although we spent a lot, we actually saved money – especially on the bigger pieces.
  2. We now have some tangible assets that help us build net worth.

I have no problem dropping that much money on art, but what you don’t want to do is blow through your budget on one piece. Here are my tricks to shopping art fairs and getting your art for less…


1. Always remember why you’re there

Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re buying at the art fair to save money. Art fairs usually sell pieces for less than a gallery, so if you can negotiate them down at the fair, you’re getting extreme discounts. For instance, the main piece we purchased at Beaux was listed for $3,500,  when it would go for well over $5,000 in the gallery.

“Since my work is at a gallery in a high-end area, there can be a lot of markup,” says artist Tali Almog. “So by buying at an art fair, you’re avoiding that markup and getting a chance to bargain.”

More on bargaining further down, but for now keep in mind that everything you do when you’re shopping at an art fair should be geared toward getting the best price.

2. Don’t shop for everything at once

My boyfriend and I focused on wall art, so we didn’t buy a single piece of free-standing metal work or countertop tchotchke. We still looked at the booths when something caught our eye, but we didn’t buy anything that wouldn’t hang on an interior wall.

Always decide what you need to buy in advance and focus on either a single type of art that you need or a single space you want to decorate.

3. Do a walkthrough the right way

Start your trip by walking around the entire fair. Don’t buy anything – just look at what’s there and grab business cards from every booth that catches your eye.

Take business cards at fairs to help plan

On most days, business cards are those things you lose at the bottom of a purse or the back of a drawer. But at an art fair, they’re the most important money-saving tool in your arsenal because they help you build a purchasing plan of attack.

It’s even better when the artist has a postcard-sized “business card” (a lot of them do) because you can jot down notes directly on the card for reference later. If the artist allows it — ask because some do, some don’t — you should also take pictures of what you like.

All of this will help you decide what to buy. Now it’s all about timing…

4. Make all of your purchases on the last day

Most art festivals run over a weekend, so if you go both days then you should spend Saturday just looking – making your plan for what to buy the next day. This way, you can go back to your house (or hotel if you’re out of town) and total up the costs to see if everything will work for your budget. Then you spend Sunday shopping.

If you’re only going one day, go on the last day. Do your walkthrough and then take all of your cards to a table in the fair’s food court to decide what you’re buying. Separate the cards for what you purchase from everything else, but don’t throw away the other cards. They’ll come in handy later.

5. Extenuating circumstances matter, so pay attention

Artists are usually more willing to negotiate on the last day, because they want to make those last few sales. But there may be other reasons for them to come down off the asking price, too. For instance: Where’s the artist from, and how do they move their art?

An out-of-town artist that does big glass work may be more willing to negotiate because it will be a pain to get the piece back to the gallery. The farther an artist has to ship stuff and the harder it is to haul, usually directly affects how flexible they’ll be in negotiating a lower price.

Find unique artwork at art fairs6. Don’t buy anything that’s not a bargain

Not every artist is willing to haggle, and some don’t even mark their pieces down at an art fair versus what you’d pay in the gallery. So if you encounter an artist that’s asking full gallery price and isn’t willing to negotiate, don’t buy that piece.

That doesn’t mean you’ll never buy it, but there’s no difference between getting it now versus getting it directly from the gallery a few months down the road. Keep their card for later, but save your art fair money for pieces you can get at a discount.

7. Put a cap on your credit card spending and be strategic

Most big-ticket purchases are probably going on credit  – and that’s OK as long as you have a plan. Presuming you’ve followed all of the advice above, you should be able to separate  purchases out so smaller items can be covered with cash while the big stuff goes on plastic.

My favorite trick at this stage is to play around with a debt calculator to see how much the purchases are going to up my bill. That way, I make sure I can afford the bills at the end of the month without creating problems for my own budget.

For our trip, we put one big piece on my card, two smaller original pieces on his — we have separate  accounts — and then paid for all of the prints in cash. Which brings up another point…

Find art to match your style

8. Not everything you buy has to be an original

Round out your décor by buying prints. Artists are usually still willing to negotiate on buying prints, especially if you’re buying multiple prints at the same booth.

When buying prints, make sure you buy sizes that will fit standard frames; otherwise you kill the bargain with the added cost of custom framing. To make things easy, here’s a list of common standard frame sizes:

• 4″ x 6″ • 5″ x 7″ • 6″ x 8″ • 8″ x 10″
• 11″ x 14″ • 16″ x 20″ • 20″ x 24″ • 24″ x 36″

Keep in mind that when you buy a standard frame, you will usually mount it with a mat. In this case, you need to go about two frame sizes up. So if you have a 5″ x 7″ print, you usually need to by an 8″ x 10″ frame with a mat. And don’t think that you have to go somewhere fancy to get your frames. I always opt for Michaels or IKEA because you can get nice frames cheaply.

9. Haggle, haggle again, then haggle some more

I don’t consider myself or my boyfriend to be expert hagglers. Truth be told, we hate shopping for cars because we don’t think either of us are good at it. But we  always haggle at art fairs.Whether you negotiate a better price on one piece, or bargain to get multiple prints at a discount, do what you can to get the price down.

Here’s what we did on the big piece we purchased…

  1. We passed by the booth once, looked at a few different pieces, chatted a bit with the artist, and took her card.
  2. Then we passed by the booth a second time to decide which specific piece we’d really want to buy.
  3. During that pass, the artist talked to us again because she remembered us. She said the listing price of the one we liked was $3,500 (which was already better than it would be in her gallery).
  4. We haggled a bit and she went down to $3,000.
  5. We thanked her, but said we needed more time to decide since we were purchasing a lot of stuff and that was still fairly steep.
  6. Then we went back again in the last hour of the last day.
  7. By this point, she knew she was going to make a sale if she could get the price right, so she came down again to $2,700 almost immediately.
  8. We offered $2,500 and she accepted.
  9. Then, since she was local and so were we, she threw in delivery and hanging (it’s a heavy 4′ x 4′ piece) for an extra $85. They delivered it that night and we got an awesome piece of art at half-price.

10. Save some stuff for later

You don’t have to buy everything at the fair – especially if an artist isn’t willing to negotiate or you find something great that’s not what you’re there to buy. So keep the cards you gathered and take them home for later.

And that doesn’t mean taking them home and dropping them in a drawer. In six months, you’re not going to remember names or specifics about the art your liked. Divide the cards up, make notes on each, and keep them organized so you can actually use them.

Art debt can be monstrous without a plan

11. Don’t buy anything else until you’ve paid off the debt

Which brings up the last and most important point in art fair shopping – don’t make any major purchases until you’ve paid off the art fair debt in full.

For us, we’d planned ahead and put the major $2,500 purchase on the credit card that had our lowest interest rate. That way, the debt ended up costing as little as possible with added interest charges.

We then reviewed our budget and made some cuts to free up extra cash to pay off the debt quickly. That big bill was paid off completely in three months and now we’re ready to buy all those great sculptures we skipped over.

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