Last week, I kicked off a brand new blog series, The ABC’s of Gathering, with A is for Art, a post full of tons of inspiration on how to decorate with gathered (vintage, thrifted, found) art.
>> Catch up on it here if you missed it!
But I decided I couldn’t let the subject rest there. Hopefully after finishing that post, you were all fired up to go gathering and search out unique art for your own home! So it only made sense to follow up that post with some practical tips on where and how to find vintage art…
Personally, my tiny budget has so-far dictated that my vintage art finds come from local thrift stores. I have a closet full of pieces that I’ve brought home for a few dollars each, just waiting for their moment to shine!
I’ll be honest – they aren’t all gems. Sometimes I don’t make great judgment calls and bring a piece home only to go, “What was I thinking?!” Thankfully, I’ve usually only spent the price of a fancy cup of coffee, so I don’t beat myself up over it too much, and I can just turn around a donate the piece back to the thrift store later.
So as you can imagine, I’ve grown a little more discerning over time, although it’s still hard to stand in the middle of a thrift store and make snap judgement calls.
These are some of the things I go over with myself when I’ve snatched up a piece of art and I’m trying to make a decision.
Vintage Art Shopping Tips:
Not all vintage art is good – just like not all good art is vintage.
Is it an original? I just love buying original art, not that there’s anything wrong with prints. It’s just that if it’s an original painting, I’m much more likely to pull the trigger. To determine if it’s an original, I touch the surface (have you ever been fooled by those vintage “paintings” with fake brushstrokes?) and get up close (like, inches away looking for tell-tale printing dots.)
Avoid “signature blindness.” Okay, so it has a signature – whether it’s an original oil painting, watercolor, signed and numbered print. Don’t get so excited over that penciled or painted name that you forget other considerations like, “Is it actually good?” and “Do I even like it?”
Google the artist. Sometimes I feel a little self conscious, hugging a piece of art to my chest while I stand in the middle of an aisle and pull out my phone, but a quick Internet search on the artist’s signature can help you decide whether you’ve found something really special or not. Honestly, this is a step I typically do after I’ve found, fallen in love with a piece, and brought it home. (Remember my Forrest Moses lithograph story?)
Do an “across the room test.” If you feel you can safely set the piece down (gotta watch out for thrift-find-snatchers, yo!), lean it up against as empty a backdrop as you can find and take several steps backward. Sometimes a little distance (literally) can help you decide how you really feel about the piece. Can you visualize it in your home?
Remember, thrift store lighting & settings are usually unflattering. I remind myself of this fact when shopping for clothes, too! Throw a great piece of art in a pile of junk and it might not jump out to you initially – that’s why I recommend a blank background for the “across the room test.”
The flourescent lighting in many thrift stores is also pretty awful for making judgement calls. Try carrying your art to a window so you can view in natural light! So many times, I’ll feel just “so so” about a find at the thrift store, but when I get it home and view it in a different setting, I fall in love.
When in doubt, text a friend. Yep, I definitely do this! Just last week I texted Cassie a picture of a painting I was debating over and her feedback helped me decide not to pull the trigger.
But ultimately, listen. Whether the piece you find is technically good, by a known artist, old as dirt… What really matters is that it speaks to you. I’ve ended up donating back pieces I bought just because they had a signature, or were originals, because they just didn’t fit my vibe. So unless you are shopping to resell, who cares if the artist was well known or if something similar is $200 on Etsy? All that matters is whether the art you just found makes your heart sing!
Now. As I mentioned, I’ve found all my vintage art at local thrift stores throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
A) I live in an area with many thrift stores within driving distance
B) I live near some older, established neighborhoods that tend to donate cool, old things to these thrift stores
C) I have the time and inclination to visit multiple thrift stores regularly (usually weekly, often twice a week) and I enjoy digging through many unexceptional pieces to find a diamond in the rough.
However, I realize that my situation/location/interests might be vastly different than yours. I can’t just say, “Hey, you too can have these same results – you just need to visit thrift stores more frequently!”
The good news is that thrift stores are only one of many sources for finding promising vintage art! Here are some other places well worth a visit in your quest for the perfect piece of art.
(Today’s post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, it doesn’t cost you any more and helps keep The Gathered Home running. Read more about affiliate links here.)
shopgoodwill.com. Have you ever visited Goodwill’s online auction site? Some of the best Goodwill donations don’t actually make it onto the floor of your local store – they get pulled aside and photographed for online auction. You can browse over 3,400 art listings here, or search for items from stores in your area (where you might be able to pick up your purchase, instead of paying for shipping) right here. It’s an auction format, so final sale prices can be unpredictable.
Antique stores, vintage shops. These will most likely offer a much more curated selection of art than the bargain bin at a thrift store, but naturally, what you save in time and effort, you’ll make up for with a higher price, since you’re getting the benefit of the dealer’s experience, effort, and eye.
Flea markets. Confession: I’ve never been, although I’d love to visit some of the ones Emily Henderson frequents! Expect prices to vary widely based on location and vendor, but in general I would anticipate paying higher than thrift store prices, lower than vintage retail locations.
Craigslist. I haven’t made an art purchase via Craigslist yet, but I have come across some wonderful pieces in my browsing! (I’m still lamenting a vintage giraffe oil painting I pined over for weeks but never pulled the trigger on.) Some searches to try: “oil painting”, “original art”, “vintage art.”
Etsy. Oh Etsy. A budget destination? Not always. But definitely one of the best places to shop for vintage art. I could (and recently did) spend hours just browsing the vintage oil paintings section! You don’t even need to leave your couch, although you’ll probably need to pay shipping. You’ll find prices that range anywhere from Goodwill to 1st Dibs, aka $ – $$$$+. But if you’re staring at a blank wall and want some gorgeous art NOW, you can’t beat Etsy’s enormous selection + curation (27,000+ in the “vintage painting” category.)
eBay. eBay actually has even more listings than Etsy (34,000+ for the search “vintage painting”). I personally find the navigation on eBay a little daunting, but it looks like there are definitely some good deals to be had if you’re willing to devote some time to digging.
Chairish.com. Think of it as a swanky vintage shop: all the pieces on Chairish are tightly curated, so as you can expect, the prices reflect that. However, you can shop from vintage dealers across the nation, who have put in the hours scouring estate sales so you don’t have to. You can bank on hopping on and finding something special!
Another lengthy post, I know! Can you tell I’m passionate about my vintage art?! Tune in tomorrow for one more “A is for Art” post – I’ve pulled together some of my favorite online vintage art finds and I’m so excited to share them with you!
Catch up on related A is for Art posts:
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cassie @ primitive & proper says
these are great tips- i have definitely not always used my best judgement…. but i love art, so it’s so hard!!! i am pickier now though just like i am with all vintage finds after years of experience!
Yes, I have definitely gotten pickier over time! Forcing myself to go through and donate things back has really helped me learn 🙂
I have always found the best vintage art at my local auctions and estate sales. Love your tips
Oooh, I can’t believe I didn’t make an entry for those! How do you find out about your local auctions? Any tips?
You have give some great tips — I just bought a piece this weekend at an estate sale — just because I liked it. I did not know Goodwill had the online thing so I am going to check that out.
The Goodwill auction site is a dangerous discovery, isn’t it? 🙂 I haven’t pulled the trigger on anything there yet, but it’s easy to spend hours browsing!
Love this! I just did some major thrifting over the weekend, although didn’t manage to snag any art. I’m guilty of tricking myself into thinking I like something more than I do just because it’s my favorite piece in the store, or it’s better than what’s next to it. Trying to work on that. I’m ALSO trying to work on not getting distracted by dust, ugly frames, or yellowed matting. I can get rid of those things – it’s the art that matters. And I had no idea that Goodwill has an auction site. Soooo dangerous – can’t wait!
Oooh, I can’t wait to see your finds in the #thriftscorethursday feed! I totally feel you on the looking past ugly incidentals issue – it’s why I’m much more likely to take a chance on thrifted art than risk leaving it behind and regretting it! 😉
I’m tempted to pretend that I didn’t just see mention of an online Goodwill anything! LOL, thank you for sharing this, great tips even for us experienced thrifter. You’ve taught me something new which I love.
Right?! Goodwill online & thrifting without leaving the house – amazing! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Dee & thank you for sharing your art finds on Instagram – I loved seeing them!
Never knew about the Goodwill site! Time to figure out what speaks to me !
Oh good – I’m glad I was able to share it with you! Have fun shopping! 😉
These are such great tips! I find buying art at thrift stores *really* hard. A lot of times I feel like I legitimately don’t know if something is good or not. I think I can be influenced by my desire to find something good and so I’m more likely to try to talk myself into it. Thankfully my husband is very discerning and decisive. It’s always good to have that person who can make an unbiased call. I had no idea about Goodwill’s online auctions, so I’m definitely going to dig into that! Art makes such a huge difference in a home and virtually doesn’t devalue. If you find something you love and can reasonably afford, it’s almost always worth it.
I’m so with you on sometimes wanting to find something good so much I talk myself into it – I know that well! Thank goodness for a second set of eyes 🙂 Love your approach to gathering art – you use the pieces you find so beautifully in your home!
Great tips! I have a hard time not going home with thrift store oil paintings, even when they’re not very pretty. I’m working on it!
Me too!!! But your gallery wall is proof that you find pretty fantastic ones and put them to good use 🙂
AWESOME post!!! I LOVE vintage art… Hey, thanks for the Goodwill Auction Site info, I had no idea! I just have to say – I am flabbergasted that you have never been to a flea market! Flea markets are probably my favorite go-to places for foraging vintage items!
It seems like various vendors have their ‘things’ that they curate, and they raise prices on those items which they know are valuable to thrifters, BUT lots of times they’ll have items they seem unaware would be loved and treasured, and that is where the deals are had!!! Promise you will go to some flea markets…I think you would LOVE them!!!
Thanks Julie, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and were introduced to a new treasure hunting site!
I know – I really need to remedy the lack of flea marketing in my life, but it just seems like something that wouldn’t be very fun to do alone and my husband has ZERO interest in spending hours combing through vintage finds with me! I’ll do my best to wrangle up a local girlfriend or two though and find a good local one! 🙂