Gifting art tends to be trickier than choosing other Christmas gifts. Because responses to art are always subjective, what looks wonderful to one person can look ugly to another. That doesn't mean that you should never gift wall art, however; it can be a wonderful, thoughtful gift, and if you get it right, they'll always remember it.
We've developed our tips for buying art as a gift in collaboration with Etsy's trend expert, Dayna Isom Johnson, who has some useful starting points for choosing wall art so that they'll actually want to keep it.
Find more Christmas gift ideas in our guide.
1. Consider their home decorating style
Where to buy artwork online
Wall art, for most of us, is first and foremost a part of our home decorating scheme. Unless they are a serious fine art enthusiast, your friend/family member most likely will appreciate something that fits into their existing interior style. So, next time you're around their house, pay attention to the following:
1. Do they have a gallery wall already, or do they have bare walls? If they have lots of existing artwork on their walls, then you can be a bit bolder in your choice of an art gift, as they probably won't mind if it's a little different from what they already have. Colourful, graphic, or abstract – it won't matter so much if they already have lots. If they don't have an wall art, then stick to something fairly neutral and universal, like a botanical print, as most homes will suit a picture of a plant.
2. What colours do they use in their home? If it's all monochrome, then a black-and-white photograph in a smart black frame will look amazing; if they love colour and live in a period home, then they're likely to appreciate a watercolour landscape or colourful still life; ultra-contemporary homes suit bold abstract prints or pop art.
3. How big is their living room? There's no point getting a massive painting for someone who has a tiny living room; conversely, a tiny print will be lost in a large room, unless they choose to hang it in the kitchen instead.
To make the search easier, Dayna Isom Johnson recommends using keywords to find what you're looking for – otherwise, the choice can be overwhelming.
2. Establish your budget – and stick to it
Art comes in a very wide variety of prices, from very inexpensive prints to one-of-a-kind oil paintings that easily run into hundreds (and thousands). Dayna again recommends using search filter online 'so you’re only seeing items that are within the price range you want'.
If they already have large, expensive oil paintings on all their walls, you may choose to reconsider gifting art altogether, as a simple print probably won't work in their house. However, if they like vintage art, you may be able to find an affordable vintage oil painting on Etsy – just have a good look at it to make sure it's in good condition.
3. Choose something unique and memorable over generic
Of course, it's all about balancing uniqueness and how good it'll look on a wall, but generally speaking, we'd advise against gifting prints that you've seen on ten different websites and in your local cafe. So, avoid Andy Warhol (unless they really like Andy Warhol) and prints with cliched phrases ('Home is where the heart is'). If it's botanical art you're gifting, we'd steer clear of prints with close-ups of cheese plant leaves, as they're quite generic by now; there are so many botanical artists working nowadays, you can always choose something a bit more unusual.
4. Check whether a frame is included – and get one if needed
In our experience, gifting unframed artwork almost always results in an unused gift. Ask yourself: would you bother researching and buying a frame (which can often cost as much as the print) for an artwork you received as a gift? Most likely not, so it's always a good idea to get a nice frame and gift the print/painting/drawing framed. Dark or black frames tend to go with everything and are the easiest to choose.
5. Check materials, dimensions, and return policies
Checking what material the print is made from really pays off when looking to buy a quality gift. How is the material described? Is it canvas? If it's paper, what is the weight? Anything under 170 gsm will be quite thin – if the weight of the paper isn't given, it's worth contacting the seller to ask.
Checking dimensions is also very important to avoid accidentally buying something very small, and to check that a larger print will fit into someone's wall in a smaller room.
Finally, always check the return policy – in case your gift recipient really doesn't like the artwork; it's nice to let them know that it's fine to return it if they don't like it (and that you won't be offended if they do).