Cultivating A Collection: How to Buy Original Art on an Entry-Level Budget

Courtesy Rewire Media, April 2018

By Rachel Crowell

Forget common myths about collecting original art. You don’t have to be wealthy to start cultivating a collection that matters to you.

Some art collectors choose pieces based on how much they’ll appreciate in value over the years. But purchasing “good investments” doesn’t have to be your goal.

“You should be buying art because it moves you emotionally and gives you some kind of fulfillment you didn’t have beforehand,” said Mark Sublette, founder of the Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson, Arizona, and a lifelong collector of art and other objects.

The emotions certain art pieces evoke motivate collectors to buy them, he said. For Sublette, the pull of art was so strong, it guided his career transition out of the medical field 26 years ago.

After he was offered a sports medicine job he “had always wanted,” he was worried he would “get stuck in that role.”He craved something more, and decided to focus on his passion for collecting instead. Now he advises clients on building their own collections.

Here are some of Sublette’s tips for getting started:

Seek inspiration

Collecting starts with “knowing what you like and what you can afford,” Sublette said.

Before making your first purchase, go into research mode. It’s time to find artists you’re drawn to. A simple internet search could lead you to them. You might find your next favorite artist on Instagram (your “Explore” tab is great for this), then peruse their Etsy shop to see what you can afford.

You can also use Google and YouTube to find and research artists, as well as more information about art collecting. Sublette’s own YouTube channel includes insights on framing your artbuying online and more.

Also, attend local art walks and fairs. There, you might find art for your collection, or make meaningful connections with local artists and galleries.

Make the most of your money

You don’t have to have millions of dollars to start building an art collection. But how you allocate your art collecting budget matters.

Let’s say you have $100 to buy art with. You have a decision to make here: Do you want to spend that money on several less expensive pieces or one to two more impressive ones?

Choose quality over quantity, according to Sublette.

But what about covering the white space on your walls? If you’re just looking to fill space to avoid visual boredom, that’s decorating, not collecting, he said. If your goal is to build an art collection that you’ll be proud of, focus on finding artists whose work you enjoy.

Avoid the ‘good investment’ trap

When you’re thinking about what art you want, as a general rule, it’s best to leave moneymaking prospects out of your decision. It’s difficult to predict how the financial value of art will change over time, Sublette said.

With emerging artists who are still experimenting with their styles and working to grow their fan bases, it’s “impossible” to make such predictions, he added.

There is one area where you can improve the chances the value of a piece will hold or increase. When you find artists you like, choose iconic pieces that best represent their body of work. For example, if a particular artist paints both nature scenes and portraits, but is best known for their paintings of mountains at sunset, a mountain painting would be the better buy.

But don’t buy work you dislike, even if it is iconic. There’s always the possibility that popular pieces of today will plummet in financial value tomorrow.

If you look for art that strikes an emotional cord within you, that value isn’t likely to go away.

“I buy things that intrigue me,” Sublette said.

Ready to grow your collection beyond the first piece? “You don’t have to collect thematically,” he said. “An eclectic collection, I think, is a more interesting collection.”

Be choosy about your source

It’s safest to buy your art from a gallery or directly from the artists themselves. Either way, there’s a guarantee that the work is authentic.


I can’t underscore how important galleries are in this whole puzzle,” Sublette said.

“For a gallery to put an artist on their walls, that means they have some belief the artist has value,” he noted. This becomes especially helpful if you’re looking to buy art by emerging artists.

Gauging the value of art made by emerging artists can be difficult, because they are “using art to try to find themselves,” but if you buy art that “gives you pleasure” and “think long-term,” you’re likely to be happy with your purchase, he said.

Buying art at auction can be expensive and comes with substantial risks. (Sublette also advises “buyer beware” when it comes to purchasing art from sites like Craigslist and eBay.)

He’s seen “fakes and frauds” come through auctions, even ones held at well-known auction houses. Besides authenticity, there’s also the question of past damage to the art. And that damage often isn’t detectable without the use of a black light.

Check with your insurance company about whether your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance will cover your collection. If not, art insurance policies exist. Also, keep photos, certificates of authenticity and receipts for each piece in your collection.

Happy collecting!