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Why is Picking Out Art So Hard?

by Nathalie Peña

Fantasizing about the way I would decorate my future apartment was a constant mind game I played. Now that I’ve lived in my own space for close to a year, I have yet to fill up my walls with art that speaks to who I am – or at least livens up the place. It’s lately felt like a chore to find something quirky to make up for empty walls while not stressing over spending too much money or time “wasted” finding the perfect items. So who better to take advice from than those who make art or write about design for a living! Blob Sculptor of Lotta Blobs, Shantelle Hyslop, painter and pattern maker, Uzo Njoku, and design writer, Sarah Lyon, have some noteworthy pointers to take the intimidation out of picking out art. 


How would you describe the process of picking out art? 

Shantelle Hyslop: I find it exciting! I’ve always loved discovering new artists and merging artwork I’ve collected over the years. Sometimes it doesn’t work straight away, but I think that’s part of the fun.

Uzo Njoku: It depends on how you see your home. Is it your sanctuary or for entertainment? Knowing the answer to that changes your perspective on the art you want. If your answer is “sanctuary” you may want art that’s more emotional. If your answer is for “entertainment” you may want a statement piece.

Sarah Lyon: I personally really enjoy selecting art pieces, and it’s usually a gradual process. I may come across some great new prints online and place an order for several but generally assemble a gallery wall over time, incorporating finds from vintage stores or travels into the mix. Selecting art definitely doesn’t need to be a rushed activity; taking your time choosing pieces that feel just right will alleviate some of that pressure!  

One of my biggest hurdles when decorating my apartment is finding art that gives some personality to my space. What kind of feelings do you think art can bring to a space?

SH: I’m a real firm believer that your living space affects your mood and outlook on life. Even if you don’t want to spend the time and energy fully kitting out your home, I think it’s important to keep it light and clean as the space around you is a big contributor to your mood. 

SL: I think art is so wonderful in that it can instantly shape the mood of a space or invoke a particular aesthetic. Portrait art, for example, is a great way to add a traditional touch to a space, while abstracts are great contemporary accents. If you incorporate pieces that are personally meaningful or sentimental, they will automatically add personality to your apartment. It’s always enjoyable to feature art that tells a story or reminds you of a special trip or occasion. It will bring you joy on a day to day basis but is also an automatic conversation piece!

If someone is starting off with an empty wall, any advice on the first step to filling up those walls?

SH: I’d say find a piece of artwork or decor you really love and use the colors from that piece to inspire the rest of the surrounding space. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a blank canvas so having a starting point will always help!

UN: Try to create a central theme. Which art goes well together? When you look at art, look at multiple pieces at the same time to see what would go well together to create harmony in your space. Most people think they should put art in the most obvious walls. Explore places your eyes don’t gravitate to right away. That can really change up a space, especially if the artwork has more subtle colors. 

SL: Plan out your space and determine how you would like to fill it. If you already have a handful of pieces on hand, lay them out on the floor and play around with their arrangement to determine which artwork looks best where. Spread out color schemes and orientations to create visual interest. Once you’ve determined a layout, cut newspaper in the shape of each frame and tape it to the wall to help guide you with the installation process. Making extra nail holes isn’t the end of the world, as they’re easy to patch up with spackle, but you’ll want to have some sense of direction before you begin hammering. Not into the idea of a gallery wall? Filling an empty wall with one oversized piece, such as a beautiful abstract, is another go-to tactic of mind and can add so much life to a room.

What have you learned about art throughout your experience as a blob sculptor?

SH: Art is ever-changing and can always be approached from different angles. I feel like you can never get bored of it and if you do then you just need to shake things up and find a new perspective!

What have you learned about picking out art throughout your experience as an artist?

UN: Most people think to put different art pieces together that they should have complementary colors. But when I started playing  around with colors, I saw that it doesn’t have to be. For example, dark teal, light pink, and mustard yellow can go well together. 

What have you learned about art throughout your experience as a design writer?

SL: Just how many amazing resources there are, especially for affordable art! Beautiful prints don’t have to be expensive by any means. There are so many great shops offering digital downloads, and you can often find great originals on Etsy or at vintage shops for budget-friendly prices, too. You can certainly add a unique piece or two to your home without paying an excessive amount of money.

What do you think when folks say that picking out art is a never-ending process?

SH: Yes I totally agree! I think it’s good to move things about in your space every once in a while to help you feel refreshed. That doesn’t have to mean throwing everything out and starting anew, I think simply rejigging your decor can do a lot!

UN: I had a big issue with a gallery in Nigeria that put up a bunch of art with no rotation. Rotation is very healthy for galleries. It’s healthy to do the same at home during a change in seasons for example. You don’t have to throw your art away, but put it away and bring it back out the following year. It makes it fun for your space to always change pieces around. Switching out the frames can also make a difference and be more affordable. 

SL: I agree that our styles are always changing over time, and that’s why I often prefer to frame my prints myself so that it’s easy to swap out art pieces, and I always like leaving a little extra space on a gallery wall in case I come across the perfect picture to add. You can never have too much art and you will always find someplace to put it, so don’t let a lack of space hold you back if you spot a must-buy piece!

Who are your favorite artists / resources to buy art from – or even to just admire?

SH: I really enjoy shopping at concept stores and discovering independent brands. I could spend many hours browsing those stores! I also really love artists I find while browsing on Instagram. There’s so many creatives online. We are always spoilt for choice!

UN: IG pages like Juxtaposition and other spaces that show the artists and the importance of buying directly from the artists (to avoid exploitation and directly support the artists).

SL: I love supporting independent artisans on Etsy and have found some amazing vintage pieces that way. For more affordable pieces, Society6 and Minted are great resources. I also love Vintage Supply Co. for pieces that look antique but are extremely wall-friendly and can be printed at home!

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