Getting Schooled

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Getting Schooled With An Art Consultant and Artist

Buying Art Shouldn't Be Scary!

Nothing reminds us of our travels more than original art from local artists at our destinations. But buying art may seem like an intimidating thing if you have never done it before. If you are an avid collector then you have developed a sense of what you like, quality and value. But what about for those newbies to the world of collecting original art?  It can be a pretty overwhelming venture to invest in your very first piece.  So we reached out to Dominique Steffens, art consultant and artist, who has helped many an art neophyte pick out a new treasure and bring some art into their home.


Meet Our Expert: Dominique Steffens was born in Dortmund, Germany. Her infatuation with art began as a small child, she grew up in an art collector’s home and has visited most art collections and museums in Europe and North America. She landed in New York City in 1993 as a radio producer for ARD Public Radio. After moving to New Orleans in 2011 she focused on her lifelong passion of ‘living with Art”. For the last 5 years she has worked very successfully as an art consultant for a contemporary gallery with a modern focus, helping seasoned collectors and those who have never bought a piece of original art. Most recently Dominique has taken the leap and has flexed her artistic know how and curatorial eye to create compelling pieces herself.

She now paints full time and is here to drop some knowledge for our intrepid travelers who want to make the leap into the world of art collection.

A lot of people would like to buy original art rather than some mass produced IKEA print but are afraid to start. Why do you think it is intimidating?

Starting an art collection should be as easy as starting a shoe collection -look around, try some for fit and get what speaks to you! If a painting does not tickle you the right way – it is just not the right one for you. The good news is – there are art consultants out there who can answer all your questions and can give advice – you just have to ask. A good art consultant or gallery owner can answer all your questions, provide background details and – most importantly – can make the process fun and interesting. Buying Art should be fun and educational, not terrifying or intimidating.

If you get attitude – move on; always bring a friend along and come back later or the next day with fresh eyes to make sure it is “the one”.

How can someone start to build an art collection?

There are two kinds of art buys: Impulse buys (a color, motif, cuteness….) and the planned one (need a long narrow piece over the couch / trying to pull in a color, make a boring wall more exciting or wanting to invest in works by an established painter)

Start by having a budget idea – a size idea – an idea of what you would like the painting to do for you (inspire, soothe, brighten, decorate…)

See as much as you can – in Museum exhibits, galleries, even fashion magazines. You school your eye and develop your art taste naturally.

If you are serious about building a collection – stay away from fashion items and colors – more abstract or classic paintings will keep your interest longer.

Does it have to be expensive to be good art?

Absolutely not. It has to be ORIGINAL – no prints or ‘giclees’ please (fancy word for a print on canvas that has been touched up a bit with a brush – usually way overpriced)

There is nothing like original art – and if you are willing to look a bit further you can find great local art at reasonable prices.

Beware of buying online.  It is hard to judge quality and get a true impression from a digital image.  If you are familiar with the artist and have seen pieces in person before, it is one thing.  But if this is your first encounter, make sure you can buy “on approval” that means if you don’t like it in person you send it back.

How is art priced? How do we know what something is truly worth?

The price reflects a lot – an original and one-of-a-kind artwork is higher priced as say a print or giclee. Oil paintings are usually more expensive than acrylics because the paint is more expensive and harder to work with and takes a lot longer to dry and be finished. On the flip side – oil paintings usually have more bold and saturated colors and a velvety luxurious sheen plus they keep longer if cared for well.

You don’t pay for the material and time spend alone – you pay for the idea and uniqueness as well.

At galleries you pay for their expertise and expenses – they curate and select for you. Best point – you can always negotiate!

How can you tell quality apart from crap?

YOU must like the painting you want to buy – not the seller or the artist or your friends… So that is very subjective. Quality pointers are – how well is it executed, how original is it (have you seen something like it before?) Is it gimmicky? If you are looking at prints or photos – look for a low number of a limited and closed edition.

I like to see the back and sides of the artwork – you can tell a lot about the quality of materials used.

Does it have to match your decor?

Absolutely not. If you want to decorate – buy inexpensive prints or reproductions that will complement your decor and when you redecorate you exchange the prints.

If you want to collect art – you go for the emotion- the expression – the originality – and it will become the focal point of the wall / space / room. The artwork will stay with you way after you have changed the decor.

You don’t want your original work of art to blend into the background – in the best of cases the painting that you buy will be an expression of your personality.

To frame or not to frame?

Anything goes – No right or wrong here – especially contemporary artworks can stay unframed for a clean and modern feel. The sides should then be painted/neat, look for a deep canvas (1.5 inch deep or more).

You could just paint a maybe 5 inch wide border around the unframed artwork right on the wall to “frame it” with an accent colored strip of paint.

The good news is – you can always change a frame – much like dressing up the art. This will change the feel of the artwork – often you can emphasize, “pull out” certain colors or shapes by your choice of frames. Framing is an art – and there are experts to help you along. Same idea here – look at lots of museum and gallery frames or thumb through an interior design book and get inspired.

When building a collection does it all have to be of a similar style?

No – a common thread can be interesting though when placing them on one wall… maybe a color touch that is similar – or repeating a shape – something that makes sense for you. As a child I started to buy an art post card at every museum store we visited – and since I was very much into ballet they all had a ballet theme. A sculpture, painting, drawing, photo…. Think of collecting along these lines.  Once you have found a style or young artist that intrigues you – it can be fun to follow an artist and to try and collect one piece from different times of his/her creative phases.

But there are no rules – mix and match – cluster or separate – it is all up to you.

What are some resources people can use to educate themselves?

I am not a big fan of art history lessons… You will not like a painting better just because it is important or was hard to paint. A few “googles’ on oil vs. acrylic paintings, watercolors and drawings should do the trick.

Check out some art books on different styles – see as much as you can and ask questions.Follow a glam magazine like “elle decoration” on Instagram – look at Pinterest posts, visit art galleries and museums and exhibits in your city and when you travel. Many artists also have studios that are open to the public which allow you to meet the artist and see their work as a whole.

Where should people look for art – does it have to be a gallery?

Art is everywhere – Try Art Markets and Fairs, Artist Studios, Art Cooperatives – even the exhibits of Art Schools at the end of their school years. By not having to pay the gallery share and buying directly from young artists you can get a great price while supporting someone who is putting their artistic vision out there.  That is something to be proud of.

I found a piece I love, now what?  How and where do I put it up?

It might take a bit of time to find the perfect spot for it.

Consider where you get to see it longest – maybe an image of the beach to take you away by the desk where you pay your bills? A conversation piece would work great in the living room – in the dining room you want a painting that you don’t have to be very close to since you are sitting down … Where does the painting get the best light?

Paintings don’t have to hang – use them on a mantle or in a bookcase. You can hang a small painting over a large mirror for extra drama.

The rule of thumb for installing the artwork is – the center at your eye height (so lower over the sofa or in the dining room where you sit down mostly). Always use a proper nail – heavier artworks, especially when framed, should be installed by a professional.

How do I take care of it?

There is not much to do once your painting is on the wall.

Protect your artwork from direct sunlight – make sure it has been varnished.

Never touch the artwork with your hand. Artworks do not like moisture much.

Should I look at Art as an investment?

If you would like to invest in art then go with dead artists who have established secondary markets. A “live and kicking’ artist might be successful now or in the future – but there are no guaranties on the value return. Styles change, tastes change and the artist can create an unlimited number of future works. So art as an investment is as much a gamble as the stock market is. Art is only investment if you plan on selling it. It is better to look at it as an investment into your quality of life.  You are bringing the energy and creativity of every piece into your house.

Art is beautiful and personal and precious – start collecting – give it away as a gift and pass it on to your children – there is nothing like it.


You can check out Dominique’s artworks on facebook, Instagram (#artbydominique) and Pinterest My paintings

Thanks for looking!

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