Wall Art for Cheap

I can only conclude from the raging success of my blog post on how I tufted my sofa that my readers might like more posts on cheapskate DIY home decor.  Not to worry, my cheapness knows no bounds.

I would love to have signed originals of pieces that emotionally move me on every wall of our house. Unfortunately, I am no relation to the Chases of the Chase banking and credit card fortune. Like most people, sometimes I have a blank wall staring at me that I have to fill and I don’t have a lot of cash to fill it.

My husband is always willing to offer his Big Lebowski poster that I’ve never let him hang anywhere but a closet. He also has lots of ideas about murals involving lions. In an effort to not have to accept his “helpful” offers, over the years I have found ways to get art on the walls for cheap.

One of my favorite local art shows.  There were many, many things I wanted to buy including lots of reasonably priced prints.

One of my favorite local art shows. There were many, many things I wanted to buy including lots of reasonably priced prints.

Attend local art festivals. Think all art is out of your price range? Think again. I actually have several signed prints and a few originals hanging in my house. Are they by artists that are nationally recognized? Nope. Do they emotionally move me? You betcha. Do I love them years after I bought them? Absolutely. I’ve purchased a number of photographs, prints, and paintings for the whopping sums of $10, $15, and occasionally $30. I do have one large piece over a couch that I paid $75 for.  I also like being able to picture the artist’s face and the conversation we had when I look at it on my wall.

Try to buy standard frame sizes, though, or that’s where this stops being cheap. I bought $15 8×10 prints and then took my 40% off coupon to Michaels, got frames for another $10-15, and came out fine. However, that $75 piece was an odd size, so I had to have it custom framed. That cost me an additional $150—twice the price of the piece itself. If you fall in love with an odd shaped piece that isn’t too far off from a normal size, not all is lost. Take it to the custom framing people and ask them to cut you a mat that will surround the print but then once matted will bring the piece up to a normal size. I had a watercolor that I adored but it was in metric, so was something weird like 7 ¾ inches by 9 inches. To have it matted and framed to metric was very expensive, but to have it just matted in such a way that I could then buy a standard 11×14 frame with my coupon was only $18.

If you love art from someone that is out of your price range, think small. While I was traveling in Connecticut, I stumbled across a wooden ships festival at Mystic Harbor. I think ships, especially wooden ships, are just beautiful. I was already in heaven, but then one of the people at the festival was an artist who painted amazing acrylic pieces of wooden ships. I couldn’t even afford her prints, much less her originals. However, I noticed she also sold greeting cards. They were a more affordable $5 a piece, so I bought some of them instead.

boat pics

They had a nice white border all around the edge almost like a mat. I could have just framed them in a standard 5×7 frame, but I really liked them. I wanted them to be bigger somehow and make a statement. After a bit of brainstorming, I cut the back half of the card off so it was just one sheet. Then I bought some navy foam poster board from Michael’s. They sell it in 20×30 sheets, and I just cut a sheet in half with a utility knife and glued the card about a third of the way down. Some masking tape on the back affixed it to my living room wall with no frames needed. I put all of them in a row in on the wall, and it made a very nice display. All told, it cost me about $25.

flower pictures

I’ve used this foam board trick before with a series of flower photographs that I took at Duke Gardens and had printed with a white border at Wolf Camera.

Take a multi-media approach. Just because something isn’t a painting or a print doesn’t mean you can’t hang it on the wall. We have a cousin who’s a textile artist, and she made us some pillow shams as wedding presents that were downright masterpieces. As soon as I saw them I knew that hiding them in our bedroom on pillows would never do. I adapted one so it could be displayed on a decorative hanger.

elin's pillow

I’ve done the same with a tablecloth I really liked. Eventually I tired of it on the wall, so I took it down and started using it for its intended purpose on the table. I had numerous friends that were shocked. “I never realized this was a tablecloth!”  They were afraid to eat on it, thinking it was high textile art. No, I assured them. It was just a tablecloth I bought for around $25 that I liked well enough to hang on a wall.

These are plates I actually did myself with mixed metal leaf and some glass paint, but I display my TJ Maxx plates the same way.

These are plates I actually did myself with mixed metal leaf and some glass paint, but I display my TJ Maxx plates the same way.

I’m a bit of a china freak, so I’m forever putting pretty plates on walls. Again, if you put something on a wall, people immediately assign a higher value to it. People sometimes wonder about the significance of the plates. I have some that are art pieces I’ve painted myself, but half of my plates I got at Ross or TJ Maxx and just thought they were fun. Plate hangers can also be found at your favorite craft store, and depending on the size, can start as low as a couple bucks a piece.

Don’t be afraid to deface a book, throw some paint on it, or get aggressive with a frame. I’m a map geek. Even as a kid, I wanted that wallpaper in my room that was all maps. My mother rightfully observed I didn’t want a bedroom; I was trying to create a study. I never actually accomplished it, which is maybe why I’m still trying to always sneak maps into my décor. I bought a really old Rand McNally world atlas off of eBay with the express purpose of ripping it apart. I got it for around $11 including shipping. It was even more gorgeous in person, and pretty fragile. I showed my prize to a friend, and he asked what I was planning on doing with it. I told him. I thought he was going to cry. I could have carefully wrapped it up and hidden it on a shelf, but it has brought me a lot more joy with pages torn out and framed on my wall.

map pics

My husband and I like to travel, and the three countries we have enjoyed the most have been Australia, New Zealand, and Spain. I framed these three country maps and paired them with three postcards. I found the postcards in a postcard book (the horrors, two books!) that was full of recreations of British Empire propaganda posters. I found picturesque posters for Australia, New Zealand, and Gibraltar. These were great art and reminded me of things we had seen overseas. The postcard book, I think, was another $12.

postcard pic

Finally, when it came to the frames, I had to improvise again. The maps were a standard 11 x 14 thankfully, but I couldn’t find a frame I liked. I finally realized I wanted to use the frames from some old unused photographs, but the frames were the wrong color. That was an easy fix. I still had some teal paint from painting some of the furniture in our bedroom, so I slapped some of it on top of my old frames and they were good to go. I’ve done this before when I’ve found a great old frame from a thrift store or antique shop that was cheap but not the right color.

A coat of teal paint and these rustic frames where exactly what I wanted.

A coat of teal paint and these rustic frames where exactly what I wanted.

The postcards were small, though, and needed a 5×7 frame. Those were easy to find cheap at Ross. However, finding a 5×7 frame that hangs on a wall instead of with an easel back is impossible. Instead of driving myself crazy trying to find something that doesn’t exist, I got a pair of pliers from the garage and just ripped the easel back off of the frames from Ross. Now they would lie flat against the wall. I put a piece of tape over the rough edge to make sure it didn’t scratch the wall and nailed a new wall hanger on the back. You can buy little kits with those from Michaels or AC Moore. In this case, I didn’t even have to buy one because we had one free from a friend who moved and didn’t want it anymore.

Don't be afraid to adapt the frame to your needs.  Your the only one that will ever see the ugly back.

Don’t be afraid to adapt the frame to your needs. You’re the only one that will ever see the ugly back.