How to Collect Art: Tips for New Collectors


Collectors at the 2012 Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.

The Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair (March 27-29) is a biennial fair that brings printers, publishers, and dealers to Baltimore for one weekend to sell the latest in contemporary prints and multiples. Ranging from emerging to blue chip artists, and from $500 to $50,000, there is something for everybody. The BCPF provides a wonderful opportunity for younger and first-time collectors to add reasonably priced works of art by today’s best makers, and also offers visitors the opportunity to engage directly with the people who worked with the artists to make the prints. Staff from many of the country’s most important print studios will be on hand to tell you about their experiences and help you understand how the prints were made. It’s a not-to-miss event. In addition, to make visitors feel welcome, Museum staff will be on hand to offer guidance throughout the weekend.

If you are a first-time collector, or just looking for a better experience buying art, these tips might help.

The Basics
The International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) defines an original print as a work of art on paper that has been conceived by the artist to be realized as a print, rather than as a reproduction of a work in another medium. There is always a fuzzy line between posters and prints, but suffice it to say, at the BCPF, visitors will be looking at original prints.

While most prints at the BCPF are very recent, the first thing to consider when looking at any potential purchase is condition. Check to make sure the print hasn’t been compromised, meaning it’s not scratched, torn, wrinkled, or too yellowed. You want the paper to be free of marks, creases, and dents.

Technical knowledge
If you like an image but are unfamiliar with the techniques used to realize it, ask the dealer to help you understand better. There are lots of glossaries around that describe printmaking techniques. A handy one can be found on the IFPDA’s website here:

We can’t emphasize enough the value of engaging the vendors in conversation. They are there to help you understand not only the technical aspects of a work of art, but also to help you understand what the artist was thinking; as we say in the department, the “what’s the what”.

Making a purchase
When it comes to making a purchase, please know the deal is between you and the vendor. Negotiating is part of the deal. Don’t be afraid to ask if a discount is available; it can’t hurt to try!

The bottom line on purchasing art is that purchases should not be made based on the speculative future value of the object, but it should be bought because you love it and want to live with it.

Once a purchase has been made, you’ll want to frame the work. There are many good framers in the Baltimore metro area. The museum can recommend several who will treat your purchase well. The quality of the materials the framer uses is important. The bottom line: pay for the best materials you can afford.

Care at home
Bringing your purchase home is always exciting. When considering placement within your home, several factors come into play. When possible, steady climate control is best. Dampness and heat should be avoided in the area where the print is stored, if possible. Be sure to keep your print out of direct sunlight as this can also cause damage to the ink and paper. If your print is unframed, be sure to store it flat to keep the edges from curling and/or tearing.
More information on how to care for your work on paper.

The Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair will be held at the BMA March 28-29, 2015. See the website for full details about exhibitors, and special events. Entry to the event is free for BMA Members. Tickets for non-members are $15 for both days, and $10 for one. Students and teachers with a valid I.D. are free. 


6 thoughts on “How to Collect Art: Tips for New Collectors

  1. Natalie Darcy

    I absolutely love to collect art, especially original pieces. I think that it is interesting that you would suggest knowing about the techniques used to make an art piece, but I can see how this would help you! There are so many different mediums, and you can't really know a painting's worth until you know what it was made with. I appreciate such a detailed article for art collectors about the process of buying art.

  2. Caleb Hart

    I have always loved art, but I can't make it myself. Being able to surround myself with good looking pieces would be a dream. Maybe I should find someone in my area who can make some art for me. I know exactly where I would put it too.

  3. Peter Wray

    Ann - I also sent this message via Facebook. I am a docent at a contemporary art museum in Columbus, OH, and am relatively new to collecting. I recently found what appears to be an original sketch by Stanley William Hayter at an estate auction in Florida. It is definitely not one of his prints. It is signed SWHayter 39 and titled "Black House." I have examined it out of frame and it appears to be pencil and perhaps wax crayon. It was done on what I think is called a painter's board, sort of like a thick card board. There is some grime on the image along with some water damage/tiding along the bottom. I know you have some expertise in Hayter - any suggestions on getting this evaluated/authenticated/conserved?

    1. Ann Shafer

      Thanks for getting in touch regarding Hayter. Your best bet for authentication is to contact the Dolan/Maxwell Gallery in Philadelphia. They work closely with the artist's estate and can likely help you. Good luck.

  4. Howard Reed

    Thanks for the great tip about starting an art collection and especially about making sure that it is an original, as well in good condition. I Will have to keep an eye for pieces that catch my attention, and seeing that the gallery only deals with originals. Hopefully it will be a worthwhile investment, as well as a good decorating option.


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