Tips for Thrifting Vintage Art

farmhouse style seating area from I Spy DIY

Vintage art is a mainstay in all of our homes!! Not only do I love thrifting vintage art, but I love the stories behind each piece. One of the questions I get most frequently is, “Where do you find such great pieces?” I’ve been curating a great collection of vintage art for some time now, but I have some helpful hints for you to start hunting down your own beauties for that gallery wall, eye-catching statement piece, or additional home decor.

Let’s get into it…

Original Art vs. Print Art

I am usually on the hunt for original oil painting or etchings… the older, the better!

Tips to help you spot original art

The surefire way to know your piece is truly an original is to look at the textures on the artwork.

Oil is sure to have a lot more texture than a print, but acrylic or watercolor can sometimes be a little harder to see with the naked eye. Search for brushstrokes, signatures, and markings on the front or back of the painting. I love googling the artist’s name to learn a bit about them. Does the canvas look aged? Check the frame to see when the framing company was in business. All of these clues can help you figure out if the art is original, and how old a piece really is. It can also help you decide how much you should really be paying for the work.

In my experience, I tend to pay around $20-$45 for a smaller sized painting and $80-$90 for something larger. But that can change depending on where you live (I am in Milwaukee!). Spend some time comparing prices at different antique stores to set your range.

Art Prints

Often you will find prints of art framed. It can be tricky because the art will be printed on textured paper and look original. I sometime buy these pieces for our Airbnbs because they can look really great but cost less, so I am less attached to them. Unless there was a truly beautiful frame, I would never pay more than $10 for an art print.

farmhouse staircase with gallery wall from I Spy DIY

Guess which pieces are original art, and which are prints in my gallery wall!

Look Past an Ugly Frame or Mat

Transform the frame

If you really love a piece of art, but you despise the frame it comes in, don’t be deterred! It’s easier than you think to take off the frame and find a replacement. You can also add a little extra oomph to the frame yourself by sanding and staining, painting or using one of my favorite tools: Rub ‘n Buff!

Rub ‘n Buff is a paint that you can apply to wood, plastic or really any surface in order to create a vintage look. I love to get it in all kinds of pretty gold colors for frames. It adds more texture than a spray paint would, leaving the frame looking authentic.

I did this recently to a mirror, too!!

Paint the mat!

In the same vein as ugly frames, don’t be afraid to do a little surgery on your art to remove the mat!! It used to be very trendy to have bold mat colors like maroon and green, but I tend to like just a simple cream color. To solve that issue, I learned how to pull out staples and nails in order to remove my gorgeous art from its horrendous mat.

Eggplant-Colored Bathroom with Gallery Wall from I Spy DIY

Once the mat is off, you can either alter it to be what you want or find an entirely new mat. I often like to use spray paint for this. Recently, I found an old, bright-green mat in a gorgeous, oversized brass frame for $3. I took out the mat, spray painted it using Krylon Almond Spray Paint and put it back in the frame! It turned out to be a great addition to the new bathroom’s gallery wall, and an excellent way to save some money when framing digital pieces.

Another time, I bought a beautiful etching of a man that also had a green mat. I disassembled the frame, flipped the mat around to find a nice cream color and sealed the art back up. Never be scared to open up the artwork and see if there are new ways to arrange the pieces. 

Sometimes a piece of art will come glued directly to the mat. Personally, I’ve never been able to salvage the art in this situation, but I have been able to use that mat for other purposes! If this is the route you’re planning to take, have some replacement art at the ready!!

Know What You’re Looking For

In my case, I usually have so many projects going on that I’m always sourcing new art, and I often will just buy any vintage pieces that I find. However, if you’re looking for a more specific project, it’s important that you know what you’re setting out for.

Use the art to create a color palette for the space

In the past, I have gone about this in two ways. I’ve centered the entire room around one piece of art, pulling colors from the piece’s palette to decorate the rest of the room. On other occasions, I’ve used the color swatch of the paint color I’m using or a photo of the rug in the room to find art that matches! I love tying rooms together this way.

farmhouse kitchen sink with subway tile and open shelving from I Spy DIY
a grey farmhouse-styled room featuring antlers on the wall from I Spy DIY
florals on a farmhouse kitchen counter from I Spy DIY

Use black & white art in rooms with bold paint

Something else to think about is the amount of color in the room. If you’re opting for a bolder color on the walls, maybe you have fewer bold colors in your artwork. I love to include black and white etchings in these situations (like the bathroom below) or art with similar colors in muted tones (like the office below.) Whether they’re of cityscapes, landscapes, or people, they’re a great way to add interest to the room without detracting from the paint color.

Farmhouse Bathroom with Botanical Wallpaper from I Spy DIY
(Love these vintage-looking prints from Jess Blazejewski!)
emerald green built-in that serves as a desk from I Spy DIY

When I was painting our bathroom a beautiful shade of eggplant, I opted for these etchings in the form of a gallery wall in order to let the color shine. They’re also perfect for a blank wall in your home where you’re not looking to start an entirely new color palette. I’m always snatching these black and white etchings up whenever I find them, because I know they’re sure to find a place in my home.

view into the doorway of an eggplant bathroom from I Spy DIY

Match the art to the style of your house

I think it’s also important to be cognisant of the type of art you’re buying. Our home is called The Barnhouse, so I usually look for farm settings, barns, and landscapes. While I love beautiful paintings of the ocean or the southwest, I typically pass these up because they don’t mesh with the style of our home.

a white shiplap mud room from I Spy DIY

If You’re Shopping for a Gallery Wall…

What I most frequently do with all of my vintage art is gallery walls!! They’re a great way to showcase a bunch of gorgeous finds at once. But there’s a strategy behind it as well!

a farmhouse staircase with a gallery wall decorated for Christmas from I Spy DIY

I like to start with just one piece of art, usually the most colorful. The color palette for the rest of my artwork will come from that one piece! All the other pieces are muted versions of that main artwork. Take a photo of the art you are basing the gallery wall off of, and use it as a reference when shopping.

It’s also important to add a little bit of interest into the gallery wall through different sizes, frames, and mats. Having different sized artwork allows you to fill in gaps while creating nice movement for the eye. I have tried to create gallery walls with only small pieces, and they have been unsuccessful. Having a mix of black, wood, and brass frames is another great way to add interest. To have one universal kind of frame stops the eye from noticing each and every individual piece. Mat sizing makes a world of difference, too. If you find a busier piece of art that you love, having a larger mat can give the work a little space to breathe and will allow the eye to rest. It’s all about maintaining intrigue.

Lastly, a gallery wall is a great place to experiment with different types of art. This is the place to include some cheaper prints from Goodwill or online. Use some of my tips for reframing and re-matting the prints to help the entire gallery wall look cohesive!!

Sources to Download Digital Art

If you don’t have thrift stores close by, try digital downloads! Some of my favorite places to find art include Vintage Supply (from WI!!!), Juniper Print Shop, and BFF Print Shop (which has a vintage section).

I pinned a bunch of my favorite digital vintage art on my Pinterest! Check out the board here and click art to shop!

a subway-tiled bath with mauve-colored walls from I Spy DIY

In the end, it all depends on what you’re looking for! Finding vintage art is one of my favorite parts of decorating a home, and these tips and tricks are what have enabled me to create such beautiful spaces. I can’t wait to see what you create with the artwork in your home!!




Sorry comments are closed!!

Your comment is awaiting moderation.


  • Eggplant Chalk Paint Dresser Makeover for The Drew Barrymore Show!
  • Eggplant Chalk Paint Dresser Makeover for The Drew Barrymore Show!
  • Eggplant Chalk Paint Dresser Makeover for The Drew Barrymore Show!
  • Office Nook Makeover with Vintage Flower Art DIY
  • Office Nook Makeover with Vintage Flower Art DIY
  • Office Nook Makeover with Vintage Flower Art DIY