How to Select an Art Print

Sometimes you see a print and you "just know" that's the one. But that isn't always the case. For those times, we hope these suggestions help.

Design Considerations

Selecting A Print Based on an Inspiration Piece

Take your cue from the context where you expect the print will hang. An easy designer trick is to use an inspiration piece and repeat those colors and variations of those colors throughout the room. For example, in this photo the inspiration piece is not the pillow, but the cat. The embroidered pillow that he thinks he owns was chosen based on his blacks, browns, creams, and green, as were the sofa, and even the paint color. You can choose one or more colors from your inspiration piece and the print will work. Any of these prints would work with our cat inspiration piece:

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Cats come in naturally coordinating colors
Inspiration piece
Kay Nielsen, East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon Sulamith Wulfing, The New Year Monoceros Arthur Rackham: Solomon Caw Rip Van Winkle

Selecting A Print Based on Color Preference

The favorite favorite color is blue. It is difficult to match a color exactly, but happily, this isn't necessary. Even if the favorite color does not appear in the setting or inspiration piece, you can purchase a print that uses variations of the color. For example, these prints will work with colors in their same range:

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Sulamith Wulfing, Blue Calyx Edmund Dulac, Queen of the Ebony Isles Enigma, Gustave Dore Daybreak, Maxfield Parrish

Selecting A Print Based on Complementary Colors

A print that emphasizes one or two colors can make a strong statement if one of those colors is in the inspiration piece or elsewhere in the room:

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Edmund Dulac, Princess and the Pea Edmund Dulac, Dreamer of DreamsIsolde, Aubrey Beardsley Princess Tuvstarr, John Bauer A Spray of Hemlock, Jessie M. King

Good Design Repeats Itself

The underlying theory behind selecting colors based on an inspiration piece is that "Good Design Repeats Itself". A set of two similar prints by the same artist can achieve this. For example:

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Edmund Dulac, Morning Edmund Dulac, Sleeve of Night         Edmund Dulac, Stealers of Light Edmund Dulac, Stealers of Light
Arthur Rackham, Fairies Arthur Rackham Titania Arthur Rackham Fairy Dancing           Warwick Goble Warwick Goble, Japanese Fairy Tales

Gift Ideas

With a little planning, you can make your gift be one that amazes instead of being banished to the back of the closet for regifting at the next White Elephant exchange. If you know their taste even a little, you've got a headstart but that's not entirely necessary. Let's look at some things you can consider:


Perhaps you have an idea of the sort of art they like: Explore by theme or by artist.

But perhaps you really don't know the person at all. You can go with the grays or choose a spot of color.

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Aubrey Beardsley, Cinderella's Slippers Dore, White Rose of the Heavenly Host Kunisada Dragon Kelmscott Chaucer, William Morris Medieval Dragon

Color Again

Context: Have you seen their home or office? This can give you an idea of the qualities you might want to look for in a print. But perhaps their office is a cubicle with few personal touches. Lots of color? Some Edmund Dulac is a good place to start. Likes pastels? Arthur Rackham or Sulamith Wulfing have lots of pastels. Medieval tastes? The Book of Hours or Dragons may have what you're looking for.


Especially, if you purchase an art print as a gift, consider having it framed as part of the gift. Rather than give them a gift with one hand and the framing expense with the other, you can have an excellent framing job done quite reasonably at most crafts store. I've had excellent luck with Michael's Crafts in the states, but I've lived in three university towns. The framers are art students and have a good eye and advise you well.

Or you can frame the print yourself with a pre-made frame and matting, also available at art supply and crafts stores. You may need an exacto knife to trim the matting to suit, or you can have the framing people do it for you on the spot for a small fee.

A Final Thought on Office Gifts

Some perfectly fine art prints may not make good gifts for certain people. We'll look at that next.

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