Artwork Alternatives

For those of us on a nickel & dime budget, fancy artwork can be a taunting teaser toward expensive tastes. Nonetheless, a small wallet doesn’t have to mean bare walls and drab design.

Here are some tips to maximize your decorating zeal.

But first, a note about frames: CHECK YOUR THRIFT STORES! The Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, AmVets, and other local secondhand shops are sure to have inexpensive frames. If you find the size you want, but it’s the wrong color, get a bottle of Michaels acrylic craft paint or a can of spray paint and change that sucker to match your décor! Or if you’re really brave, try refinishing it by sanding off the veneer and re-staining the wood.

  • Photographs – This may be insulting your intelligence, but if you haven’t thought of it already, photographs are a great way to improve a blank wall! Take a theme, such as family or wedding photos, and resize them to a variety of sizes and/or shapes. Go black & white, color, or sepia.

  • Paint a Replica – This is my personal favorite. I happened to be into a French Impressionist phase a few years ago with no funds for an original Degas or Renoir. Though I’m no impressionist, I’m not a half-bad copier, especially with a print of the original in front of me. Get cheap canvases at Michaels, or buy a pad of “gessoed” canvas to frame yourself, and paint away. Opt for acrylic paint as the most forgiving, oils for a long-awaited glossy finish, or watercolor for a two-way mind bender with positive and negative space. Try to imitate the original painter’s technique. For example, Rothco, Van Gogh, and Norman Rockwell have vastly different styles. Or copy a piece using only one color (i.e. red, orange) in varying hues if you want a “pop.”

  • Mount a Poster – There are plenty of great poster prints of famous artwork online and in stores. Grab your fave and a frame without glass, then head to Michaels’ framing department for some foam core. I would recommend a professional mount, which will cost between $25-45. Voila, a museum piece for you!

  • Frame a Travel Collection – Place that scarf from Romania, the trinket tower from Paris, and an empty Irish beer bottle in a shadow box for a great conversation starter. Favoring the Natural theme? Collect small rocks, wildflower seeds, and twigs from your travels, label them, and place in a clear glass candle-urn from Ross for real “still life.”




  • Paintcan Mismatch – Save lids from wall paint gallons and quarts, let dry a week or two, then mount for a coordinated color collage. Use nails, plate holders, or command strips to hold the lids in place.

  • Make Useful Art – I once had a friend who framed successive pictures of household items and mounted her dozen 4×6 framed pictures in a giant circle on her wall. She bought clock hangs and installed the simple clock face in the middle of it all for a bigger-than-life-size time teller.