How to Collect Paintings in the Digital Age

Emilie Trice | May 31, 2022

Behind the scenes in Brandy Saturley studio - Copyright 2022

Thanks to the internet, collecting paintings has never been easier. 

Buying art online has become increasingly popular and more secure than ever before—thanks to community guidelines and other terms of service that many online art marketplaces uphold. 

It’s recommended to employ a mix of in-person and online research before acquiring any painting or other type of artwork. In general, there is simply no substitute for viewing art in person. The scale of a painting, for instance—and how that scale affects one’s perception of the piece—is impossible to fully comprehend from an image on a smartphone or desktop computer.

Still, the internet has allowed collectors to discover artists working across the globe, which gives artists and galleries direct access to an international audience—benefitting the arts ecosystem as a whole.

Paintings are arguably the most “collectible” of all fine art forms. The 2022 Art Basel & UBS Art Market Report (which we recapped here) reviewed a sample of HNW (high net worth) collectors, and found that, “HNW collectors owned works covering a range of different mediums…with paintings being the largest area of collecting regardless of the collectors’ age or location.”

The same report also outlined the increasing popularity of buying art via the internet— in fact, in terms of sales channels, “Buying directly through a dealer’s website or OVR was the most widely used (44% of respondents), while 42% reported accessing sales from galleries or other physical premises (down by 5% on 2020).” 

Artwork Archive helps collectors explore new art from our vast network of artists and galleries on our Discovery platform, which makes browsing for available paintings simple and intuitive. To learn more about setting up your Public Profile as an artist or gallery through your Artwork Archive account, click here.

In light of the changing attitudes towards acquiring art via the internet, as well as the growing collector interest in “ultra contemporary” artists, we’ve outlined several best practices to keep in mind when beginning to collect paintings in our increasingly digital era. 

Max Ruebensal in his studio. Image courtesy the artist.

Determine what matters to you the most.

It is important to collect art based on your personal value system. If you are interested in supporting young talent, then you will likely be more inclined to collect art by emerging artists. If you’re obsessed with a certain geographic region or culture, you may want to focus your collection on works from that area or cultural lineage. 

Some collectors only buy works by BIPOC artists, others only buy work from "outsider artists," some collect paintings by graffiti writers, there is really no limit to the themes or focus that a collection could have. Still, it’s a useful jumping off point to take inventory of your own values and seek out art that aligns with your personal ethos. 

Additionally, what makes you happy? Art should invoke an emotional response. If you care deeply about the environment, for example, then you might gravitate more towards landscape paintings. Figuring out what matters to you most is an important first step before collecting any art, paintings or otherwise.


Visit art fairs and galleries—in person—to figure out your aesthetic.

Fairs can be overwhelming, but they are also a tried and true method of seeing a broad array of art. 

There is no shortage of art fairs returning to the annual calendar. Many fairs cater to a certain region or a specific collecting demographic (ie works on paper, emerging artist, etc.). There are fairs where artists mount their own presentations, such as Saatchi’s Outsider Fair, which you can visit in LA, Dallas and NYC. There are fairs that will include Old Master’s works, such as Frieze Masters in London, and TEFAF in Maastricht

Once you’ve determined what matters to you most, you can likely find an art fair that specializes in that at least part of your criteria. You can also browse hundreds of artworks online through various marketplace websites, but it’s still recommended to view work in person prior to buying.

*Art fairs have recently turned to "OVRs" (online viewing rooms) when the pandemic shut their doors. Artwork Archive allows artists, collectors, and galleries to create their own private online viewing rooms in seconds. Learn more here.

Installation shot of solo booth presentation by Soo Kim at Art Expo NYC. Courtesy Soosoo Studios.

Create a "wish list" of artists whose works you would like to acquire.

Since almost all artists have a social media presence these days, it’s recommended to follow as many of the artists, galleries and other organizations that pique your interest via one of their online channels. That way, you can get to know more of the artist’s practice, their personality, and other details that can ultimately help you narrow down your artist and/or painting wish list.

If you’re not interested in acquiring art as any type of long-term investment, then you can (and should!) purchase art based solely on aesthetics alone. 

First and foremost, you should only buy art that you love. However, if an artwork’s potential as a means of investment is important to you, then you should also review the artist’s career.

Various studies by a range of academics and market analysts have been done in an attempt to quantify the potential an artist has in terms of investment returns, fiscally-speaking. If you’ve ever seen the movie Moneyball, in which baseball players were traded based on certain statistics, you can understand how professionals in myriad fields attempt to predict outcomes that affect their industries based on various datasets—and the art market is no exception.

The artist’s CV is the most concise lens through which to review their investment potential. It’s also worth noting, however, that a recent New York Times article—which recapped a week of stunning  auction results and soaring prices for “ultra contemporary” artists—reported that younger collectors are bucking traditional parameters for so-called “investment-worthy” art. In doing so, these collectors are forging their own art market stars. 

Some baseline criteria to consider when reviewing an artist’s market history—and possible trajectory—include the following:

  • Previous auction results (if there are any)

  • Work has been acquired by a museum for its permanent collector and/or by a notable individual collector

  • Exhibition history including both solo and group shows at reputable venues

  • Gallery representation

  • Notable artist residencies and/or awards

  • MFA from a reputable academic program

  • Online following

Artist Richard Keen at work in his Brunswick, ME studio. Image courtesy the artist.

Figure out your budget. Then subtract at least 10%.

Arriving at your art budget is actually more complicated than it may seem. Buying art often has unseen costs that can add up over time, like shipping, installation, insurance, etc. To get a sense of these invisible line items, read this article.

Paintings are relatively easy to install, but shipping can be expensive. Ultimately, knowing how much you can truly afford to spend on a painting, including the related expenses mentioned above, will save you time, energy and money in the long run.


Decide on an installation location. 

If you have a set wall in mind, then you can also figure out the painting’s ideal dimensions. Take a photo of your wall for reference and measure the space—these days gallerists are not opposed to mocking up digital renderings to scale, so if you have that information handy, they can quickly help you visualize the painting in your space. 

Paintings are the easiest artworks to digitally render into a space, so don’t be too intimidated to ask if that’s a service the gallery (or artist) can provide prior to purchase. There are also many online marketplaces that offer scaled renderings, which takes some of the guesswork out of making a final selection. 

Make sure that your installation spot is away from direct sunlight, as well as any source of moisture or heat. For tips on how best to light your art, read this.


Develop a relationship with the gallerist and/or artist.

The art market is built on relationships. It’s a relatively small and tight-knit industry that really appreciates—and rewards—folks who show up. It’s recommended to attend exhibition openings and open studios, join local arts organizations, become a member at your local museum, and get to know the arts professionals in your town. 

Developing a direct relationship with an artist can be rewarding, but it’s important not to side-step a gallery if the artist is exclusively represented—that could ultimately hurt their career.

Never pressure an artist into making a deal directly out of the studio. That type of behavior will make you a pariah among dealers and word gets around fast! Be respectful of the entire ecosystem.

If you have your sights set on a painting by a rising star with galleries in art world epicenters like NYC and London, then it’s recommended to attend fairs and meet those dealers face-to-face in order to establish rapport. In those cases, don’t be surprised to find yourself on a waiting list. (It’s these waiting lists that have driven up demand for ultra contemporary artists at auction recently.) 

Certain art advisors can help expedite access to highly sought-after paintings, and can offer other professional guidance. There are numerous accredited associations of advisors, appraisers and art dealers in general so, as you begin your collecting journey, so do some research before reaching out to a 3rd party for advice.

*Artwork Archive's CRM helps artists, collectors and dealers to strengthen their most important relationships while fostering new connections. Learn more here.

Artist Brittney Ciccone working in the studio.

Negotiate the sales price respectfully.

Art advisor Todd Levin says, “There’s a misconception that 10% is sort of a standard discount— I think every discount has to be uniquely negotiated. It's really a case-by-case situation.” Mr. Levin was speaking specifically about buying art from fairs, but the same advice goes for buying from a gallery, or directly from an artist. 

Furthermore, Mr. Levin states, 

“I am not a fan of discounts on younger/emerging art priced under $50,000. I just don't believe in asking for a discount at that level because, fundamentally, that discount is like taking money out of the mouth of a younger or emerging artist. And also out of (usually) a younger or emerging gallery’s pocket…Gallerists —and, to a certain extent, artists—will remember collectors and advisors who demanded egregious discounts early in their careers. They will also remember—and have goodwill towards —collectors and advisors who they felt supported them at an earlier stage in their careers. So when talking about the transactional component of discounts, it’s important to think of this strategically in a long-term way.” 

To learn more of Mr. Levin’s advice for buying artwork, especially at an art fair, read this.

All things considered, asking for a discount is really only advisable once you’ve established a solid relationship with the gallerist or artist in question. 


Do your due diligence before sending any money.

The art world is not impervious to online scams, so buyers should vet every transaction to the best of their ability. It’s recommended to always double check email addresses for strange spellings and to make sure that the bank details line up properly—if, for example, the recipient account holder is some random individual in another country, and not the gallery selling the painting, that’s a red flag. 

Recently there have even been instances of gallery emails now bearing the following disclaimer:

FRAUD ALERT: It has come to our attention that someone is impersonating a member of our sales team. They are operating under assumed email addresses. Please only respond to email addresses that end with [redacted] OR [redacted] and no other variation. ALWAYS please call the gallery before issuing any payment. We are working hard to minimize this risk and make others aware of this current fraud attempt.

With the recent rise of cyber fraud, galleries and art dealers have begun instituting security protocols, similar to banks. Invoices may now be delivered as password-protected PDFs, for example. There are also new anti-money laundering regulations in both the US and Europe that require art sellers to comply with certain KYC (know your customer) protocols, and which may require you, as the buyer, to verify certain aspects of your identity. 

If you are acquiring a high-ticket painting and are asked to verify your identity, don’t be offended! Ultimately, these new regulations will benefit the overall health of the international art market.

Determine shipping details upfront.

Some online art marketplaces may include a shipping cost in a painting’s asking price; however, when buying art from a gallery, shipping is generally not included in an artwork’s listed sales price. Furthermore, shipping is almost always the “responsibility of the purchaser.” 

Before committing to making any purchase, ask the gallerist (or any seller) to provide you with a few shipping quotes from reputable companies, including insurance while in transit. You can certainly add the artwork to your own insurance, but if you insure a work in transit through the shipping company, chances are they will be (even more) exceedingly careful when handling your art. 

Fedex and other generic carriers will often only insure any shipment for up to a certain amount. Specialized art transport companies, however, do not come cheap; but, they will also consider things that other, less specialized carriers will not, including changes in altitude and humidity that could affect your artwork. Some transport companies will offer climate-controlled shipments, and include “tip and tilt” indicators that effectively prove if a crate has been improperly handled, tipped over, etc.

All of these elements will, of course, be priced in correlation to the value of the painting you ultimately acquire, as well as how large, heavy and/or fragile it is. So, if you end up buying a smaller work of lesser value, shipping it (well-packed) via fedex might ultimately make the most sense for you. If you acquire through a gallery, they should be able to advise you on the best method of shipping for your particular circumstances.

*Artwork Archive generates digital invoices that can be paid online, and which include shipping line items, so it's simple to keep track of transit expenses and all other associated costs. Learn more here.

Paintings by AJ Oishi being installed at an art fair in Miami.

Inspect your art upon delivery and consider hiring professional art installers.

As soon as your painting arrives, take a photo of the crate, box, or whatever packaging was used for shipping. Once open, you should inspect the painting to make sure it has no condition issues or damage. If you find anything amiss, photograph it right away, include something for scale (a pencil or your finger is usually fine) and send it to the seller. 

For a detailed overview of what to do when your artwork arrives damaged, click here.

If the painting has a fragile surface, is large-scale, or requires specific hanging hardware, consider hiring a professional art installer to hang it for you. Your walls might also prove difficult, should you want to hang on brick, or if your walls have some kind of finish like Venetian plaster.

A professional art handling company will make sure your work is safely installed and will bring all required tools. Some transport companies also offer installation services and, all things considered, the safest place for any painting is hanging on a wall, so you generally want to get paintings out of their crates and installed as quickly as possible. 


Archive all important documentation pertaining to provenance.

Once you have safely installed your new painting, make sure to archive all the supporting documents and materials that the seller provided. This might include a Certificate of Authenticity, a bill of sale, an import invoice and other documents that certify your painting was legally purchased and transported. 

With Artwork Archive, you can digitally catalog your new painting, as well as the artist’s biographical history, all your provenance documentation, the contact details of the seller, and other important information. This information is then always accessible to you through any wifi-connected device. 

Creating a digital archive of your collection is a crucial step for protecting your investment, as well as long-term estate planning. If you have any questions about managing your art collection using Artwork Archive, please reach out to us! We are always happy to help. 

**All images published in this article are courtesy of artists who use Artwork Archive to manage their studios and grow their careers. If you are an artist with an active Artwork Archive account and would like to submit your images for possible publication, click here.

Artwork Archive is the database solution trusted by collectors and artists in over 130 countries. Try it free for 14 days. 

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