“Sometimes I’ve believed in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Sometimes believing impossible things before breakfast is more easily done when seeing impossible things on your walls. Like a moose sailing on a parachute. Or rabbits hopping to vinyl. Or a tea party graced with the presence of a Mad Hatter. Sometimes.
I am a mother and I am a maker. These two things have collided in a magical way within and beyond my walls. You see, I want very much for my littles to grow up with adventure and beauty speaking to them from our books and our corners, to remind them to dream and imagine. To love art. To love beauty. To be nourished and captivated – like I am. I’ve always been drawn to the lovely, and I want to cultivate in my tribe a penchant for daydreaming, for their minds to feast on noble ideas, and for their eyes to savor color and brushstrokes, patterns and clever lines.
But as a minimalist mama on a budget, I’ve had to go about curating an imaginative, decorated home a little differently. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
No. 1 It takes time.
Like all homemaking, it takes time to grow into your space. When we moved from a one-bedroom apartment to our large, window-filled home, the emptiness was daunting. A tiny two-seater table sat unimpressively in our dining room. A folding chair and hand-me-down desk kept exclusive company in my studio. A bedroom upstairs sat empty for several years. Walls were bare.
And I realized something: the emptiness is okay. It’s part of the journey. Our rooms and walls are so much richer now because it took time and patience to wait for just the right things to put in and on them – or to choose to leave them empty after all, embracing the grace of unadorned space.
So resist instant gratification. Play the long game. It’s worth the wait.
No. 2 Open your eyes.
Great art can come from anywhere. Post cards. An old book illustration. Vintage posters. Your own photos printed through Artifact Uprising or 25 for FREE – yep, $0 – from Parabo Press. Try greeting cards from a paper boutique or an old painting from the thrift store. Collect calendars. For the last several years, I have purchased a beautiful calendar from Anthropologie for my studio. When the year is out, I can go back through and select my favorite illustrations, carefully cut them out and save them for a frame I’ll meet someday. Sometimes I’ll use as many as 8 of its pages around the house. That’s a mere couple of dollars per piece of artwork!
My style is certainly peculiar – a combination of whimsy and color, nature and baroque – but all together equals something more pleasantly playful than eclectic. A Japanese-embroidered fuchsia peony my Grandmother made rests above a graphic floral print with a magenta, navy and olive color pallette, both outfitted in gold. An Alice in Wonderland graphic pairs nicely with a gilt looking glass. Rabbit greeting cards from the Minneapolis Institute of Art stack well next to a painting of a melting ice cream cone I did a few years ago based off of a photo I saw on Pinterest.
A darling Rifle Paper Co. card from Anthropologie, gold foiled and graphically glorious. A set of butterfly post cards from a local boutique. A vintage nature poster. Illustrations from artists across the world, conveniently available through Etsy (a favorite of mine here). Calendar watercolors of flora and fauna. A forest painting picked up at a garage sale for $15.
Art is everywhere. What strikes your fancy?
No. 3 Think of art separately from the frame it is in. Think of frames separately from the art that’s in them.
Sometimes a $5 beauty of an illustration is wasting away in a cheaply made frame. Or sometimes a jewel of a frame is playing house to a poorly executed Anne Geddes print. Grandma’s attic may be hiding heirloom frames just waiting for a dusting and new life.
I gather frames from thrift shops and yard sales, searching for scrollwork frames of all sizes that I can bring home and make new. Their transformations never fail to thrill.
Always be present to what draws your eye and delights your soul. Look! See the potential! Swap! Make new art! Don’t get hung up by its trappings.
No. 4 Paint frames white.
The quickest, easiest, most stunning way to upgrade an old frame is to paint it white (example of mine here). I can’t stop raving about Benjamin Moore’s ADVANCE paint in white because while it takes a few coats to cover perfectly, it dries like shellac and looks like a million bucks. It makes our playroom gallery wall look like a family of art, calming the color inside their borders.
No. 5 Have materials on hand.
Once you have your art and frames, it’s time for magic. As a former art major, I have amassed quite an arsenal for my spur-of-the-moment framing projects, but it’s not hard to get your hands on these supplies. Here’s what I recommend having around to execute your art projects with ease:
- finishing nails (I love these for our plaster walls)
- tools: hammer, screwdrivers (phillips and flat head), pliers, stapler, box cutter
- glazier points
- photo corners
- gold spray paint
- sheet of white mat board (I get mine at Blick – 4’x3′)
- pencil and eraser
In college I had access to a mat cutter, and while they are dreamy to use, a quality one requires an investment of money and space – which I’ll forgo for now. When I cannot borrow one, I finish off many a piece with four photo corners mounted on mat board cut to size, and voila!
(Interested in learning how to build and stretch your own canvases? I have a tutorial to get you started.)
No. 6 Go gallery.
Thankfully as an art department intern, I learned how to hang exhibits (which required math…heaven help me) and a sharp eye for overall aesthetic. Gallery walls have grown in popularity and there are many tutorials online. I’m fond of them because they’re a wonderful way to give your collection and space some presence.
Google “gallery walls” to get inspired by the many arrangements you can mimic (I made it easy; click here).
There’s a fine line here that is easy to cross – collections can quickly become cluttered (which is a legitimate style if you like it!), so if you want to keep it calm, go back to the idea of keeping your frames all one color or material (white, gold, wood, etc.).
From there, have fun. Go crazy! Measure once, cut twice, yada yada, but embrace playfulness. Cozy up to color. Inspire impossible things in your home and in your little ones. And relish in beauty – for their sake…and yours.