Original art for the masses

Homeowners finding one-of-a-kind works increasingly affordable way to decorate

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Framed posters and department-store paintings have long been staples of home decorating. But a growing number of shoppers are seeking original art for their homes, says interior designer Robert Novogratz.

“Art is about to explode to the masses,” he says, because technology is giving us unprecedented access to artists. Homeowners are finding that distinctive, original works of art don’t have to break their budgets.

By seeking out new artists, hunting for unexpected treasures and even creating art of your very own, it’s possible to get art-gallery style at department-store prices.

In their new HGTV series, “Home by Novogratz,” Novogratz and his wife and co-host, Cortney, use original works of art to decorate each week. “We try to feature an artist in every single episode,” he says, and the pieces are often very affordable.

The first step, says Novogratz, is to discover art that speaks to you by exploring museums, galleries and art magazines. “People like what they know,” he says, so broaden the scope of art of what interests you.

Once you know what you want, start hunting.

Here, Novogratz and two other experts — Betsy Burnham of Los Angeles’ Burnham Design, and decordemon.com founder Brian Patrick Flynn — offer advice on finding the right art at the right price:

• FIND TALENT EARLY

Buying pieces from fledgling artists is a win-win situation.

“Go to a local college or university and email or call the art department. Tell them, ‘I’m interested in photography,’ or whatever you’re after,” Novogratz says.

Schools will let you know about upcoming art shows and possibly connect you with talented students. By finding and communicating with new artists through schools or online, it’s even possible to commission original works without huge expense.

• USE YOUR MOUSE

Websites can connect you with experienced artists as well as new ones. Burnham often scours eBay for art that she loves but someone else no longer wants.

She also checks the art-auction site Liveauctioneer.com and Etsy.com for original works, especially paintings. Don’t worry, she says, about choosing a piece that an art critic would love: “It just has to be something appealing to you,” Burnham says. So if you love the colors or design and it fits your budget, buy it.

One piece of online advice: “The more specific you are in your search, the better,” says Burnham. “You can say ‘abstract painting red,’ or you can have a favorite artist from the midcentury and use their name for the search.”

If she sees a striking piece of art in a gallery, Burnham often Googles the artist seeking additional — often less expensive — works they’ve done. Or she contacts the artist directly to see what’s available. “Sometimes instead of buying from a showroom,” she says, “you can buy directly from the artist at a better price.

“It’s about detective work, and knowing what you like.”

• BROADEN YOUR DEFINITION OF ART

All art isn’t traditional painting or sculpture. Flynn has used everything from actual soup cans (a nod to Warhol) to an old stepladder (spray-painted bright green and hung within a picture frame) as art.

“If there’s an item that means a lot to you, if it has a lot of texture, get it on the wall immediately,” he says. “And if it doesn’t have texture already, paint it a bold color to add an interesting finish.”

Lately, he’s even been having fun with fake taxidermy: In an otherwise traditional, high-end living room, Flynn likes hanging an artificial moose head made from resin. “There’s something funny about a moose,” he says, and yet it offers some of the traditional glamour of big game mounted on a wall.

• CHOOSE PHOTOGRAPHY

A print of a distinctive, original photograph can be less expensive than an original painting or sculpture, but offer just as much artistic value.

Burnham has found beautiful photos at 20x200.com and other photography websites.

It’s also possible to turn your own photography or friends’ work into art, if you crop a shot creatively or use it in a very large format.

• GO BIG OR GO HOME

“If you are looking to display art in a more minimal space,” Flynn says, “go really, really big.” A framed 8-by-10-inch photo doesn’t normally qualify as “art.” But the same photo printed several feet wide can be striking, he says.

Investing in one large piece of art can be more practical than buying several smaller ones.

“Sometimes the larger pieces of art don’t necessarily cost that much more than the smaller ones,” Flynn says, and they carry more impact.

• SEARCH FOR VINTAGE

“If you live in a good town to go vintage shopping, don’t be put off by the wrong frame or the wrong setting,” Burnham says.

Searching for art to use in a home in Beverly Hills recently, she says she “found this floral painting from the wall of this really bad vintage store here in town. But reframed and cleaned up, it’s fantastic.”

Good framing can be expensive, but it may be worth the investment to repurpose a great piece of vintage art.

• TRAVEL WITH ART IN MIND

The Novogratzes often incorporate art into their travel: They visit museums in new cities and attend events like Miami’s annual Art Basel show.

Even during local day trips, they visit art shows and are on the lookout for new pieces and new talent.

One last piece of advice from Flynn: Once you’ve chosen a new piece of art, protect it. Frame it with UV-filtering glass and be sure your lighting won’t do it any harm.

“Harsh halogens can distort a piece of art,” Flynn says, and cause it to fade over time.