Inexpensive Home Art

Related Articles

Decorating Your First Apartment on a Dime

Obtaining Artwork

We are decorating our first house and would like any "Dollar Stretcher" tips on how to obtain artwork. Thanks.
Margie L. in Raytown, Missouri

Helpful Ideas

"Art" is a very broad term and prices can range from pennies to millions. The first thing to do is a "walk-through" of your home to identify how many pieces of artwork is needed/wanted. Second, you need to set up an art budget and a timeframe for purchasing. Third, you need to decide (based on your budget) the quality of the artwork you want to obtain. The basic categories are original art, etchings, lithographs, photographs, prints, and posters.

Although many are of the opinion that you are better served by spending on "original" art and building a collection over many years, others are more interested in buying quickly for decorative purposes. If money is tight, look at posters as a first option. But remember, the cost of framing is very high relative to the price of posters. If you are handy, you can buy the frames and glass and put the frame together yourself. I have several pieces of work that are lying on a table in the basement because I never got around to putting the frames together.

The best bargains are found at garage sales and next at flea markets. Generally, they are already framed and ready to hang. The quality may not be top. No, you won't find an original Picasso but the price will be right.

There are several print art companies that sell over the Internet. Go to for an online catalogue. Also, if you start out with poster art, you can have your home nicely decorated in a relatively short time period and gradually replace the posters with higher end artwork.

If you are handy with a camera, you can take some nice photos, have them enlarged and framed and have your own "original" work on display.

Also, don't forget that in lieu of framed artwork, you can cover a bare spot on a wall with a shelf to hold some ceramics or dried flowers. If you have a colorful quilt that you're not using on the bed, hang it on a wall. If you have a corner that looks bare, hang a mobile that you purchase or make yourself. It may not be art, but it can be colorful and attractive and add to the overall decor of your home.

Using Calendars

My husband and I purchased a home 9 months ago that is much bigger than the town home we previously rented. We needed a lot of framed pictures to put on the walls. We are very frugal, and certainly weren't going to go out and buy pre-framed artwork for $20 or more each piece.

So we did a very creative thing my husband first thought of for decorating our town home on next to nothing. They sell beautiful wall calendars everywhere from places like Wal-Mart to bookstores. We prefer the nature scenes, but there are other styles, too. We have actually found some of our best finds at bookstores, especially when it isn't coming up on a new year since they are often on clearance. You can also use old ones left over from previous years. Even when the calendars are not on sale, they are usually between $9-15 for what will potentially be 12-16 beautiful pictures.

Now, the frames can be a challenge - to find nice ones, inexpensively. But don't give up; they are out there! We have gotten a good deal at Bog Lots, and also (once again) Wal-Mart. Try to pick matching frames so at least the pictures you hang in a particularly room will match, if not throughout the house if you have similar wood stains. We find that cherry is often the most stunning. Once you have the frames and the calendars, you'll need to take care of that hole at the top of the calendar pages. Often it is very hard to find frames the exact size of these beautiful calendars. Look at your pictures before you go for the frames and figure out what dimensions will work with your pictures without ruining the scenes. Often we have found that hole is often not even visible after we fit the picture. But to disguise that hole so it can't be see, go to the back of the calendar to the page with the small snapshots of the pictures for the whole year. Use the corresponding snapshot and line it up behind the hole in the picture until it is hardly visible and attach it with tape to the back. Once it is in the frame then it won't be visible at all. Trust us! Our home looks like we paid big bucks for literally dozens of beautiful nature photographs and they are all just a few old calendars and some frames that we paid about $3 for each! If you price pictures and wall hangings (nice ones) you'll know that this is an unbeatable deal!

Let Your Imagination Go Wild

  1. Go to a used book store/garage sale/thrift store, etc. For less than $5 you should be able to find an old 1940's or 1950's magazine. Either frame different full-page ads as individual works of art or use it as source material. Cut out the different elements and make a unique one-of-a-kind collage...very Rauschenberg or Ellsworth Kelly. Vintage fabric can be framed in the same way.
  2. Press any large leaf from a houseplant between sheets of paper towel and put some old books on top as a weight. Within a week you'll have a very unusual item to display in a glassless picture frame as is or use it as a base for a collage or in lieu of a photo mat. Center a postcard or photo in the middle and you're off & running with some cool, very "naturalistic" decor.
  3. Lucite/acrylic shadow box frames can be purchased inexpensively at home stores or for pennies at a garage sale. Small dolls, cake decorations, old party decorations, sea shells, buttons, odd bits of rusty metal or even silk flowers can be displayed within its confines, very Joseph Cornell. A great way to bring textures and interest to a flat surface.
  4. Think unusual. An old metal snow shovel detached from its handle can make a great magnetic memo board, an old window screen can display fresh flowers straight pinned to dry in place. Very shabby chic. A gift paper cardboard tube filled with plaster can be the base for a sculpture. It's your home and art should reflect what you love. This ain't a dress rehearsal. If it makes you smile, then let yourself enjoy it.


Poster and Varnish for a Work of Art

I just found out about a great decorators' secret. Applying clear varnish over poster prints! I commented to my friend about her beautiful dining room painting and she confided that it's really a poster brushed with clear varnish to make brush marks. It had a beautiful ornate gold frame, which is an expense, but you might find one at an estate or yard sale. It really looked like an original work of art.

Another idea, frame pictures from art books. I bought a Currier and Ives book for $15 off eBay and in it were over 20 color and 40 black and white prints ready to be cut out and framed. Not bad for $15!

Great Ideas on a Budget

I have done really well with artwork at Thrift stores, Garage sales, Estate Sales, and auctions. I just recently bought a matted, signed and tagged studio print with a nice and heavy frame from a garage sale for $3, I got many other of similar quality at garage sales for under $10. Value on these is upwards of $200.

I have also I have gotten other semi-valuable at Estate sales and Auctions for a fraction of the price if I would have gotten at a gallery. I have spent less than $100 on one painting and another limited addition print that are valued at $1000 and $2500 each.

The best part of the prints and paintings is that they also have investment value while I am enjoying them. When I move or tire of them, I can cosign them with an art dealer and make more money than what I invested in them.

Another option is using other items as artwork that are not necessarily paintings and prints. I used 2 oriental fans bought at an import dealer on vacation for $8 a piece. I nailed them into the wall with 10-Penny nails to secure them. They take up a large wall and only cost $16 to decorate a large wall. Normally, It would have required many pictures or an expensive grouping to decorate a wall this size.

I also have an Oriental room divider, or screen (bought at auction for a fraction of value) mounted on a wall as picture. I have it mounted with museum hangers. I also have the bottom supported with a crude box because of the weight. No one sees the box because it is behind the couch and the screen rest just below the bottom of the couch. It takes up another large wall at a fraction of what the cost for designer style pictures. Again, this has investment potential.

I have also seen other objects used as wall decorations that weren't originally intended as ornamental. I have seen quilts supported by poles and quilt hangers. I have seen cookie cutters suspended by loops and C-hooks. I have also seen people frame some of their collections, like stamps, lace, or memorabilia and hang it up in interesting and creative ways.

Children's rooms have lots of room for creativity. You can hang their stuffed animals up instead of using pictures by securing coat hooks to the wall and just hanging the animals on the hooks. This is also a nice storage solution. You can frame pictures of their favorite characters by removing the pictures from books often bought at garage sales for nearly nothing especially if there is damage to a book but it still has good pictures in it.

Shop home improvement for great prices at

If you are crafty, you might try painting a mural right on the wall yourself. It sounds a lot harder than it actually is. Most cartoon characters are composed of very simple and easy to replicate lines. Use an artist's pencil to draw it up on the wall. Have a good eraser and be prepared to make some mistakes. Acrylic paints come in all colors and cost around $1 a bottle. You can just match up the color you are looking for right to the bottle. It is basically as simple as filling in the lines of a coloring book, after you have the picture drawn on the wall.

Last of all visit local new home models. Professionals on a very strict budget decorate them. You can get some really nice ideas from the homes and it is free. Best of all the new homes are likely to represent what are currently popular trends in your area. Be creative and flexible. Look at things differently. If you see something you like, try and find a nice way to display it and make it artwork of your own. Only decorate with things you absolutely love. Most of all enjoy your new home.

Check Out Art Schools

I am an art student, so I frame a lot of stuff I have made myself, or things my friends have made. Every semester art schools have end-of-semester sales where students sell their artwork cheap. This is a great place to find a wide variety of work.

Also, frame things you wouldn't normally think of, like kid's drawings and sheet music. Anything can be considered art, and if you find a nice-looking cheap frame, you can really make your walls look eclectic and unusual. You will be the envy of all your neighbors!

Prints Off the Net

One of the least expensive wall treatments I have tried is to download black & white sketches from the internet, print them on some quality paper, mat with black mats, frame in white frames and then group them together. This is really effective when your pictures are in themes. I did 6 different 8x10 pictures of elephants, pen & ink style prints, bought the mats and frames at Wal-Mart (those inexpensive ones for the cardboard pictures they sell) and the total cost was under $20. It looks great! Happy decorating!

editor's note: please be careful not to take any copyrighted material!

Take the Next Step

  • Stop struggling to get ahead financially. Subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist And What You Can Do About It for FREE!

Stay Connected with TDS

Little Luxuries

to the Dollar Stretcher newsletter and get a copy
of our ebook
Little Luxuries:
130 Ways to Live Better...For Less
for FREE!

Your Email:

View the TDS Privacy Policy.

Debt Book