Toronto-based Abstract Expressionist artist, Sarah Phelps, takes the fear out of buying contemporary art and teaches us how to easily incorporate it into our homes with just a few simple steps!

Incorporating abstract art into your home is a fantastic way to liven up your walls and add interest to your space. Abstract paintings add colour, depth, and personal style to your room, allowing one to break away from traditional figurative art, and instead embrace art that is represented by engaging forms, colours, textures, and shapes. Abstract art can be an inspirational starting point when renovating or updating any space, fueling a room with energy, mood, and ambiance. Choosing the right abstract painting for the right space can be easy for some, but for others, this process can be intimidating as we enter unfamiliar territory!

Have no fear, there are only a few general guidelines to follow:

1. Determine Your Style!

There is a multitude of abstract artists out there, with a variety of different styles and techniques to choose from. So where does one start when looking for abstract art? Three words: internet, galleries, art shows. Start by doing a quick internet image search for abstract art/artists and get a feel for the style and colours that attract you most. Perhaps you gravitate toward bold colours and strong textures, sharp lines or smooth curves, or maybe you enjoy neutral pieces with shapes. Whatever your preference, you’ll know what you like when you see it.

After you’ve done your internet search, hit up local art galleries, art shows, and artist studios. This is an easy way to seek out local talent, check out pricing, and view art works in person. Buying art straight from the artist is typically cheaper than buying from galleries, so it’s wise to do some research before you commit to a purchase. Most cities and towns have annual art shows, where artists exhibit their work. This offers a great opportunity to meet the artists and hear their stories. For example, many of my clients appreciate having the opportunity to book an appointment and come to my studio in the Distillery District to view my latest work and see where the magic happens!

2. Choose a Painting Size and Wall Space!

When choosing abstract art for your wall, you’re either using art as a starting point and furnishing your room around it, or you’re looking to add art to an already decorated space. If you’re starting with art, a painting can be a great source of inspiration for the space. Recently a customer of mine bought a large painting for their unfurnished living room, and used the abstract piece as inspiration for the space. The colours in the painting were used to create a palette for the rest of the space. When the room was completed, the paintings, furnishings, and decorative accents complemented each other beautifully. The painting was the focal point, and also served as a great conversation piece.

IMG_4578 - Version 2Starting with art has benefits, but the majority of customers will already have furniture set up in their space, and decorating walls is simply the final step. It is important to choose the right size of painting, and one that will work with the flow and style of the room. Avoid getting a painting that is too large and overpowering, or too small and floating in space. Standard painting sizes that work great above a sofa, bed or in a dining room, are 36x48”, 30x60”, 36x60” 48x60”, or 36x72”. Loft ceilings can offer more wall space to work with and thus fit a larger painting such as a 48x48” or larger. A cluster of smaller paintings can also be grouped together to create an art wall which is another way of adding art to your space. If you’re not sure about size and fit, consult an interior designer or experienced artist who will suggest sizes.

A great way to demonstrate to customers how a painting will function in their home is to either have the artist bring over multiple paintings to try on for size or request the artist superimpose images of the artwork onto photos of their walls. This is also a great way to see if the colours and style work for you. If a client of mine falls in love with one of my paintings but it’s the wrong size, I will offer to create a custom painting for them. This ensures the customer gets exactly what they’re looking for in style, size and colour.

In the end, if you really love a painting and it’s not the right size, you can likely make it work on another wall, or rotate the painting so it fits the space. I encourage my customers to hang my work in a way which appeals most to them, and in a way that will shine best in their space.

In the end, if you really love a painting and it’s not the right size, you can likely make it work on another wall, or rotate the painting so it fits the space. I encourage my customers to hang my work in a way which appeals most to them, and in a way that will shine best in their space.


3. Choose a Painting That Speaks to You!

Purchasing abstract art can be extremely personal. A connection to an abstract work of art often comes from an emotional place, which can therefore make it an intimate purchase. As you will be looking at this painting every day, it is important you enjoy everything about it. Ensure the piece you purchase is a work you genuinely enjoy and not what someone tells you to enjoy.

Furthermore, I often find customers new to purchasing abstract art find connecting with a piece easier if they understand what it means to the artist. Knowing where the inspiration for a painting came from can help to lessen the intimidation of abstract art because it grounds it in a more specific message (that is if the piece has one). For example, many of my clients are interested to learn many of my pieces are influenced by my past career as a Wildlife Biologist. I thrive on creating ocean and water-inspired blue-green paintings and tend to have an organic feel which is expressed through movement, flow, vibrant colour palettes and interesting textures.

4. Hang it Right!

This is one of my pet peeves. Many people hang their art way too high! The general rule is to hang your paintings at eye level, which means the middle of the painting, and should be approximately 55-60 inches from the ground. This applies to most spaces. You can do a quick online search and find out the general rules on how to hang artwork in and around furniture. Follow this rule to ensure you’re optimizing the potential of your space and the work’s viewing pleasure.

5. Forget all of the above!

Abstract art is very versatile. Many abstract paintings can be rotated to produce a different look, or they can be moved into a different space. I encourage clients to hang their painting in a way that best appeals to them in order to get the most out of the piece. When an abstract painting speaks to you, you will feel the connection. When people view my work, they know immediately if they connect with a painting because they see or feel something when they view it. Allow your emotions to guide how and what you choose to purchase over anything else.

Don’t allow the fear of having your own unique opinion about a non-literal work of art stop you from exploring the world of abstract images. Embrace the opportunity to interpret a piece of art for yourself!