How To Buy Art If You're Not A Millionaire: eBay

How To Buy Art If You're Not A Millionaire: eBay

Photo by Eliza Kern

Photo by Eliza Kern

I love having original art in my house, but I am by no means a millionaire or a professional art collector. There are endless resources for buying prints online, but it can be harder to find original art which is (for a good reason!) usually very expensive. However, all hope (and your wallet) is not lost. This is the first in a series about how you can buy great art without breaking the bank.

First up in places to look for original art is my personal favorite: eBay.

I could devote a whole blog post to my love for eBay because it knows no bounds. There is nothing cool or sexy about eBay. The website looks like the internet circa 2002. It's the thrift stores of internet shopping -- you have to dig among a LOT of trash to find treasures. But if you don't live in a great city for thrifting, or you just want to shop from the comfort of your couch, eBay is the way to go. It also has the largest volume of online art, and volume = opportunities.

(Note: the below suggestions mostly apply to Etsy too, but I feel like people on Etsy tend to overcharge, and eBay is really where you can find great deals. But your mileage may vary.)

For art hunting on eBay, it's all about your search terms. In the eBay app I click on "categories," then "art," then "art drawings" or "art paintings," and then filter by date of creation to remove recent creations (aka offensive anime drawings). Then you just have to scroll. 

I do searches like "vintage original California painting" or "vintage original charcoal nude drawing" to find what I'm looking for. I save anything that looks interesting to my eBay "watch list" so I can go back and see it later. And if you find something good, make sure to check out the seller's other listings in case they have similar items. There are a lot of eBay sellers that clean out estate sales and list a ton of original watercolors or drawings for as low as $40 each.

A common misconception is that if you want to buy something on eBay, you'll have to bid for it. But the majority of listings are "buy it now," which is exactly what it sounds like. And many sellers, particularly businesses on eBay, will offer returns -- just check. Many listings also have a "Make an Offer" option, which means the person is inviting to make a lower offer than their asking price. You would be crazy not to. I've purchased items at 50 percent off the asking price simply by offering less.

Finally, be sure to always check the size of the art. Many photos can make the art look normal-sized, and then you discover the $300 oil painting is actually 8x12, which is not helpful for anyone.

Fun fact: I once bought a cool abstract drawing off eBay, and it arrived at my house with a note from a parent thanking me for supporting their child's art dreams (!!!). So I literally bought children's art. This is why you should always read the description on the listing. But honestly that kid had talent, and I have no regrets...

Here is a sampling of art I found on eBay this weekend. If you like any of them, jump on it because eBay listings do expire/end, some more quickly than others. But if even if they do expire,  hopefully this gives you an idea of what you can find.  

14X18 Vintage Oil Painting of Monterey ($299 or best offer)

18x24 Charcoal Figure Drawing from the 1930's ($79.99)

Note, the seller is offering several charcoal figure studies all by the same artist. These would make an amazing series if you bought several and framed them together.

9x12 Original Abstract Painting (Bidding starts at $9.99)

12x16 Vintage Landscape Painting (Bidding starts at $9.99)

23x30 Fairfield Porter Signed Lithograph ($2,850 or best offer)

Not exactly budget art but I fell in love with Fairfield Porter's paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art this summer, only to find one of his lithographs on sale on eBay. If I were going to invest in a piece of art, it would be this!

9X15 Oil Portrait ($288 or best offer)

12X15 Colored Pencil Drawing ($40 or best offer)

26X34 Vintage Abstract Watercolor ($300 or best offer)

19X29 Vintage 1970's Travel Poster from Japan ($63)

9X13 Watercolor Painting of Coit Tower ($175 or best offer)

16X20 Vintage NASA photo (bidding starts at $10)

16X20 Vintage Oil Painting ($199)

Note: if you purchase any of these items, I'll be super sad that I can't own them myself. But I will earn a small percentage of the sale through eBay affiliates. This post is not sponsored by eBay -- I wish!

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