WALL ART: HOW TO CHOOSE THE PERFECT PIECES FOR YOUR HOME (& WHERE TO FIND THEM)
Choosing art for empty walls. *Panic!*
Whilst it’s an undertaking I love for its endless possibilities – art works wonders as both design catalyst and finishing touch for all interior undertakings – for most, it’s the stuff of nightmares! The art world can feel frustratingly foreign and exclusive. It’s easy to feel bamboozled!
It’s all about the thinking space – working the blank wall. Interior design at Sarah Mailer Design
Where to start? Which walls ? Where to look? Oversized statement or giddy gallery wall?
If those questions have ever whirred around your head, this is your holy grail. I’m here to offer advice, ideas and some much needed clarity on the subject of art in the home. Given the sheer breadth of this topic, I feel a two-parter emerging. This installment will focus on what (and where) to source according to style and budget, giving you direction to sail through the process with confidence. Next time, we will explore scale, hanging configurations and framing.
Repetition is always pleasing to the eye. Kylie Jenner’s bedroom sitting area displays eight Damien Hirst prints. Interior Design by Martyn Lawrence Bullard, photographed for Architectural Digest
CHOOSING WALL ART: THE BUDGET
There is a general consensus held that ‘real’ art is desperately expensive – and exclusive. I like to challenge this perception. What is ‘real art’ anyway? If you’re talking an original Monet then yes, that’s a pricey flurry of paint. Incredible to own – a treasured piece of history – but not necessarily a realistic purchase for mere mortals.
Claude Monet, Boulevard des Capucines, 1873-4, oil on canvas
‘Real art’, however, goes way beyond elusive old masters. It is not limited to the ‘next big thing’ on the collector scene, red dots and the auction hammer. It really is a matter of perception – and personal response – how you feel about the piece.
When choosing art for your walls, anything qualifies. From children’s drawings to exhibition posters, fresh-from-degree-show offerings to old dress patterns or a framed display of matchbox cars, there are options at all price points. In truth, the power is in the selection, edit and display.
Less is definitely more at this private residential project by YAM Studios
If you’ve already visited the art fairs, browsed online or just can’t commit, keeping things blank short term isn’t all bad. Bare walls can even be a ‘thing’ in their own right. It’s certainly good enough for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West at their self proclaimed ‘Minimalist monastery’, designed together with Axel Vervoordt. Apart from the odd sprinkling of Anish Kapoor, the architectural forms are largely left to do the talking – gotta love that thinking space!
Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West’s Minimalist Monastery by Axel Vervoordt.
Often, the most awe-inspiring architecture needs no support act. The high ceilings, beautiful furniture and an impeccable lighting scheme do the talking and adornment can be considered surplus to the design. It really depends on what you’re looking to achieve.
Primrose Hill Private Residential by Carden Cunietti
Unfortunately, not all houses were created architecturally equal and for many, a little wall adornment goes a long way. So, where do you start?
CHOOSING WALL ART : CONSIDERATIONS & BRIEF
Artwork perfectly completes this guest cloakroom by Sarah Mailer Design
With all creative undertakings, I recommend starting with a brief. This is a clear statement of requirements for the project or task. It really helps when sourcing art. Before you begin your search, consider the following;
#1. The space – What is the size of the wall or gap you wish to fill? Will you opt to display multiple pieces casually – called the salon hang or gallery wall – or focus on one statement piece?
#2. Budget – Do you have the spend available to commission artwork, should you focus on selecting a pre-existing original or focus on a print (or poster)?
#3. Personal style and preferences – Do you prefer a totally abstract painting or something more representational? A portrait or figure, landscape or still life? Something typographic, a collage or graphic piece? Do you want to tie all the colours of the space together or choose something more independent of the scheme? Try to block out everyone else’s options here. Focus on what you respond to!
#4. Presentation – How will it be showcased? Will it need framing? An acrylic box? Do you want to keep the raw box canvas edge on show? Hung from a picture rail or wall-mounted?
Once you’ve established these factors, particularly budget and scale, you can set to work sourcing.
Oversized framed photography is the perfect piece in this private residential project by Robert Stilin
WALL ART: WHAT TO CHOOSE
The statement piece vs the eclectic salon hang. The simplified abstract or busy print?
When considering what type of piece to choose for your walls, the space in question will likely lend itself to a preferred outcome (we will look at this more closely in the follow-up post). Cues can also been taken from your personal style. If in doubt as to how to define this, look at what you wear – this is often a great indicator of your preferred aesthetic and attitude.
Paring it back with a large abstract at Sarah Mailer Design (This one is painted by me)!
If you identify as pared back and curated sartorially – often with manicured hands and perfect blow-dried hair – you may lean towards multiples of the same frame/size for the gallery wall, completing the look with a wide mount for welcomed ‘breathing space’. For that large, statement piece or perfectly hung triptych, you may prefer to go totally matchy-matchy with your decor.
The artwork was carefully co-ordinated to complement the formal dining room interior, which I designed at Sarah Mailer Design
Essentially, this means to showcase key colours from your interior scheme within the artwork. If you’re commissioning, you may choose to share samples of fabrics and finishes with the artist, along with paint swatches. This ensures that everything ties in perfectly.
If you’re starting with the artwork, you can carefully pull out its colours, reinforcing them in the soft furnishings and accessories. For some, this is all too much – too forced. But it’s really about what you respond to when it comes to your home. A half-way house is always a winner – meaning a colour nod with some casual deviation.
A Surrey private residential project by Stephenson Wright
Like a pattern clash outfit? Do you casually layer up colours and feel uncomfortable looking too ‘done’?! If this is you, it’s likely you’ll want to keep things less formal in your home too, so abandoning the aforementioned approach is key.
Choose art for the love of it rather than for co-ordination. For the true eclectic, embrace a mix of oversized line drawings and loose landscapes with oversized photography and still life miniatures in gilt frames.
-Queens Park Private Residential by Studio Duggan
WALL ART: WHERE TO FIND WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR
One of the biggest challenges in sourcing wall art can be where to look. If you want to showcase something fairly unique, this can be a daunting and time-consuming task, especially when restricted to searching remotely. Ultimately, it depends on what you’re looking for and on your budget.
Statement wall art really finishes this fabulous scheme by Rosanna Bossom
To give you a helping hand, I’ve shared some ideas, trade secrets and shoppable links below. Just click on the underlined words for a link directly to the source.
PRINTS & POSTERS:
If ‘very affordable’ is high on the agenda, then you really can’t go wrong with a print or even the humble poster. Don’t worry if it doesn’t feel all that special, fabulous framing will make (almost) any piece sing!
This little nook of Kelly Hoppen‘s home showcases some promotional posters of her time on Dragons’ Den. Photography by Mel Yates
Some ideas that I tend to explore when a budget is tight but style matters;
#2. Framed ‘found art’ – be it a sentimental musical manuscript page or an image you’re particularly drawn to from a coffee table book (I love Overview: A New Perspective of Earth by Benjamin Grant for it’s astounding ariel landscape photography). Even a series of framed postcards (each with spacious mount) can look really striking;
#3. A gorgeous print – limited edition or one of many, choose something that really appeals to you and don’t worry about others’ opinions. Personally, I’m always a fan of the fashion illustration print (David Downton is top on my lust-list), oversized black and white photography or the collage print. Print Club London is a fantastic silk-screen printing studio which showcases some really cool work! They also share some originals and frame, so there’s something for everyone.
David Downton is my favourite fashion illustrator and I’m obsessed with his work. This is his Yves Saint Laurent Autumn/Winter 1999 illustration
NEW ARTISTS AND ART FAIRS:
Where possible, I like to support student or up-and-coming, independent artists and showcase their work in projects. I was head of a secondary school art department in a past life, with a focus on A-level fine art and textile teaching, so it’s fantastic to be connected to so many past students who are forging their way in the art world.
I would also recommend visiting local art hubs or exhibitions, alongside student shows to tap into less ‘established’ talent – you will find some real gems and be truly ahead of the curve! Given the current challenges we face, many of these events have turned digital, so you don’t even need to leave the sofa! Calendar favourites for accessible artwork, The Affordable Art Fair and The Other Art Fair, are now online.
Eleven Partridges by Josie Appleby
I want to nod to a couple of my fabulous past students here – Josie Appleby, whose atmospheric flora and faunta paintings have gained her gallery recognition and critical acclaim, and Caroline Spelman, whose insatiable appetite for colour, pattern and design experimentation was apparent from a young age and is flourishing today. Both produce original artwork, prints and take commissions.
Collaged Leaf Print by Caroline Spelman
ARTISTS DISCOVERED ONLINE: THE ULTIMATE WALL ART RESOURCE
I’m an unashamed Instagram scroller (stalker?!) in my spare time.
Yes, I’m happy to admit that, in addition to discovering artists at fairs and exhibitions, I like to hunt them down on the ‘Gram. This humble little platform has opened so many doors, and the potential to discover and network with artists is limitless.
Artwork by Valeria Nascimento for a private residence in Moscow. Commissioned by Oleg Klodt Architecture & Design
Here are some of the gems that I have discovered. I’m yet to feature them all in projects but they are certainly on my radar for when the right one strikes! Let’s have a peek inside my little black book…
1. Kate Burns
Burns’s abstract paintings display a beautiful sense of composition, her brushwork intentional and intuitive. All of the gorgeous palettes within her body of work would serve as a fantastic springboard for any interior scheme. kateburns.co.uk
Kate Burns, Curious
2. Michelle Thompson
Pop Art meets Surrealism in Thompson’s punchy, layered collages. Her work feels nostalgic yet decidedly fresh, with socio-political infused imagery. It also gives me distinct Robert Rauschenberg vibes (this is only a good thing)! michelle-thompson.com
Michelle Thompson, Financial Times Artwork
3. Liza Giles
Giles’s work would bring impact to any interior, through it’s strong forms and effective interplay of positive and negative space. I’m a huge fan of her large scale work and striking triptychs for added ‘pow’! lizagilesart.com
Liza Giles, Green Brush Triptych (Composition I), 2019
4. Ewan David Eason
Discovering Eason’s work was a real find! His Mappa Mundi series, guilded with precious metals, draws particular inspiration from organic and man-made patterns created in cartography. London-based Eason is happy to create artwork for any city to add to his already well-established collection. ewandavideason.com
Ewan David Eason, London
5. Lucy Davies
Davies’s art is that escape to the seaside we all need! Her Cornish-based landscapes and seascapes are filled with energy, optimism and zest for coastal life. lucydaviesartist.co.uk
Lucy Davies, Coastline at Bedruthan Steps
Kasseus’s art explores seduction in advertising, brand obsession and excessive consumerism. Fashion photographer-turned-pluralist artist, he skillfully juxtaposes luxury lifestyle imagery with raw textures taken from the street art scene. kasseus.com
Kasseus, Hope V
7. Valeria Nascimento
Nascimento’s porcelain installations are awe-inspiring. The fluidity and delicacy of the porcelain she uses would add depth and ambiance to any wall space. Drawing inspiration from the natural world, architectural and botanical forms, Nascimento sees the beauty in repetitive sequencing to form a cohesive and impactful group. valerianascimento.com
Valeria Nascimento, Botanica
8. Michael Hunter
Hunter explores a variety of media, techniques and applications through his artwork. His experimental approach extends to his exploration of form – from sharp and geometric to loose and fluid. Great colours too! michaelhunterartist.com
Michael Hunter, Translucency – Open Edition
9. Georgie Wheeler
Not only is Wheeler a friend (and ex-colleague) of mine, she is an astonishingly brilliant artist! Her ’80s Mixtape series is a visual feast which combines a variety of techniques, from spray painting and stencilling to illustration. The series explores historical events, commercial fads, filmic gems and musical popular culture, with each year showcasing its own unique visual language and style. Wheeler intends to evoke a ‘sense of nostalgia and amusement’ and, as a child of the ’80s, I certainly feel she succeeds! georgiewheeler.co.uk
Georgie Wheeler, 1981
10. Hannah Ivory Baker
Baker not only owns fabulous London Gallery, Highgate Contemporary Art, but is also an evocative landscape painter. Her thick, layered brushwork and compositional balance would certainly add depth, interest and flavour to bare walls. hannahivorybaker.com
Hannah Baker, Hints of Summer, 2020
11. Bianca Smith
Smith’s recumbent nudes nod to both Moore and Picasso, in theme and stylistic approach respectively. With bespoke frames crafted to complement her beautiful work, Smith is happy to work to any palette. www.biancasmithart.com
Bianca Smith, Luna Muse
12. Edith Beurskens
Beurskens’s reliefs feel both understated and decidedly cool. The strong 3D shapes encourage an interplay of light and shade. Made from plant-based material, PLA, the surface is then plastered and painted by hand, making every model unique and beautiful. edithbeurskens.com
Edith Beurskens, #3 Moon
13. Wendy Buiter
Buiter’s work is undeniably fashion-inspired. Her large scale, mixed-media paintings focus on powerful, cosmopolitan women with a strong sense of style. wendybuiter.com
Wendy Buiter, Coco
14. Karina Gentinetta
Gentinetta’s work showcases an interesting mix between artistic compositions and quirky mathematical drawings. She describes this piece as ‘a purposeful contrast between the very “fluid” and “in-the-moment” state of mind that we may be drawn to in life and the rational and predictable lives that some of us choose to pursue by either force or practicality’. karinagentinetta.com
Karina Gentinetta, Changes of Seasons
WALL ART: COMMISSIONS AND BEYOND
By no means an exhaustive list, I hope you enjoyed this soupçon! Most of the artists shared above sell their work in many guises, from ‘in-stock’ originals to prints, as well as taking commissions. Most have contact forms on their websites too, so it’s easy to get in touch if you’re ready to take the plunge.
A private residential project by Studio Ashby at Television Centre, White City
I consider art to be integral to an interior space, so I hope you found this post both insightful and inspiring. Please do share your preferences when it comes to buying artwork in the comments below, along with your thoughts on the artists I’ve shared.
If you’re looking to expand your art collection and would like further assistance and an expert eye, feel free to get in touch with me at my studio, Sarah Mailer Design. We offer virtual, art-focused, design consultations – the perfect service to help elevate your home with artwork. Click here to complete the contact form. Let’s continue the conversation!
Girl signing off,
** If you’re looking for more interior ideas or inspiration, the following posts my be useful: Dreaming of White Decor | 5 Ways to Achieve a Luxury Boutique Hotel Style Bedroom | Coffee Table Book Styling | How to Design Children’s Bedrooms | How to Create a Spa Bathroom