Original art, along with family photographs and heirlooms, makes a home personal and individual. But making the leap into collecting art can be intimidating, even for the bright and bold.
Perhaps that fear factor forms early, after you've visited art museums and spotted security guards standing on alert. Or maybe it comes from the notion that you have to be an art insider to even step inside a gallery.
Know the hours: Most are closed Sundays and, like museums, Mondays.
Let gallery employees know your budget. They can show you pieces accordingly.
Ask to see the gallery's flat files/back room/storeroom. There's usually more than what's on the walls, and less-expensive pieces are often found there.
Don't be shy about financing. Most galleries have layaway and other options.
Rogue Gallery & Art Center and other local galleries offer a rental program, allowing members of the gallery (just $35 per year) to rent works of art to try at home.
And, of course, there's the price-tag issue.
"You don't have to have a lot of money to buy art," says Cortney Novogratz, who along with her decorator husband, Robert, hosts an HGTV show, "Home by Novogratz." Original art is a major part of their design projects, and they typically spotlight an artist in each episode.
"Original art reflects who you are as a person, as a family, much more than buying something from a chain store," she says.
For those who haven't purchased art before, Novogratz advises going to art fairs to get an overview of what's out there.
"You discover what your tastes are," she says. "You quickly learn there's more out there than paintings, which is what people think of as art.
"There's photography, ceramics, charcoal and pencil drawings, glass and furniture. Some designer chairs we purchased have really held their value."
The next step is visiting galleries. Nancy Jo Mullen, a volunteer coordinator for Rogue Gallery & Art Center in downtown Medford, says it's common for first-timers to be wary.
"A lot of people are intimidated by galleries. They're not the kind of place people go into as often as other places," she says.
"People who are in bigger-population areas may have been used to going to museums, but if you haven't had that experience in your life — growing up — then it's unfamiliar."
An easy way to get comfortable with gallery shopping is to attend one of the monthly art walks in downtown Medford and Ashland — third Fridays in Medford and first Fridays in Ashland. Amid the larger crowds and festive atmosphere, novice art-seekers can see what they like and pick up some tips without feeling as if they stick out.
Another advantage of local galleries is they offer support for local artists and provide access to special programs such as layaway and art rentals.
"Many people have been able to buy maybe the first piece of art they've owned through this (rental) program," Mullen says. "We have several people who come in and rent. Then, instead of renewing what they have, they select something else to try in their home. It's a wonderful way to try different artworks in a space to find just the right one."
Other sources include student art departments at local schools, flea markets, antique malls and — often overlooked — photo studios, in person or online.
Another option is to watch out for special arts events, such as the annual Art for the Garden, Art for the Home event in Ashland each June. It was started in 2008 by local artists Marydee Bombick and Cheryl Kempner, who open their homes and gardens off upper Wimer Street so they and 25 other artists can market their works directly to residents.
Before buying artworks for the home, it's important to know ahead of time where it's going to go in your house and how much space will be taken up, says Carolyn Allman, principal of C. Allman Design Group and owner of 29 Design in Medford.
Allman spends a great deal of time educating clients on finding the right piece of art for a home or office.
"You don't want something that's overwhelming or too small, and you want to think about how you'll display the art," Allman says. "A lot of people hang things in onesies. They'll have four walls, one piece on each, which is not successful."
"You want to give the eye a place to rest, where there isn't artwork. A large piece on one wall or a collection that you read as a large piece is ideal."
Allman says there are no tricks or philosophies for deciding what art is right for each person.
"I always think art stands alone, and I think it's an emotional response to what you love," she says. "That's the first part of the collecting: finding something you absolutely love and that you want to live with for a long time."