DIY Vintage Wall Art

DIY Vintage Wall Art, photo by Michael Champlin

Vintage wall-hangings can be a touchy subject. Though I’ll never be one to discount the thrift store painting or loudly-colored concert poster, sometimes sourcing truly vintage, adequately “modern” art for the walls of our homes can be a real challenge. Contemporary art, even prints, can be a pricey undertaking.

Always a fan of DIY, my walls in my early twenties were too often covered in my own art — photography, mostly, maybe a couple of colorful paintings donated by an art-student girlfriend. The DIY aesthetic certainly has its strong suits, but clothing the walls of our homes sometimes requires a more polished touch.

Finding Vintage Graphic Art in Unexpected Places

A few years ago I was perusing Tulsa’s Holland Hall Book Fair, a yearly event wherein a high school gymnasium is filled wall-to-wall with tables covered completely by boxes filled with books of all kinds, of all shapes, of all sizes, of all ages. I always spent a great deal of time in the art section, but this time I realized there were magazines as well — boxes full of old design magazines overflowed under the tables. At first I scoffed — in some way there’s nothing more “timely” than a periodical, and why would I want a forty-year-old design annual, anyway?

Then I saw one particular cover, set in a typographic style that was unmistakably seventies, a piece of cover art that was perhaps a bit too colorful, and I couldn’t help myself. Thumbing through the pages, I cringed, I celebrated, I studied. The magazine was “Communication Arts”, a respected design & advertising magazine that still exists today, and as I flipped through it occurred to me that in many ways advertising and print design, so “disposable” by most standards, is often beautiful and stylish. This, I thought, could be part of my missing link.

Another beautiful example, photo by Michael Champlin

Particularly taken by a full-page spread for art supplies, I carefully removed it from its former home using an x-acto knife and a metal ruler. Though magazine pages are anything but a standard frame size, I managed to crop it suitably to fit into an 8 1/2 x 11 IKEA pre-made frame, and I was instantly smitten. It now resides on my office gallery wall, my favorite splash of color in a collection that also includes travel photos, a handful of quirky screen prints, and another colorful piece — an advertisement for an art show in 1970 — that fell out of one of the magazines I purchased that day.

Flea markets are a personal favorite for sourcing old magazines, but expect to do a lot of digging. National Geographic is a great source of fun maps and charts, Life Magazine offers photos of Presidents and starlets and everyday life; more “artistic” magazines can be a little harder to find, though a quick search of eBay for “Communication Arts” yields loads of old issues.

This kind of DIY vintage wall art via old periodicals isn’t particularly easy, however, and one must wade through many ads for Camel cigarettes, ugly spreads featuring questionable fashion choices, and lots and lots of boring text. I’d argue that finding a jewel among those stacks of forgotten issues is really its own reward — even if I’m still waiting for that perfect Marilyn Monroe to hang in my bathroom.

For our readers: Do you love to DIY? Where do you find great vintage art pieces?

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