Gifting Art to People You Hardly Know

For the client who gave you an excellent business referral, or for your spouse’s third cousin (twice removed) who’s getting married next month, wading in a sea of art can be overwhelming.  How do you pick something out that is memorable, genuine, and personal for someone you hardly know?  

Deciding WHAT you are trying to convey is always a great place to start.  Are you expressing gratitude, friendship, appreciation, or celebration?  Once you define the tone you’re ready to delve deeper!


  • Do they like functional objects or decorative ones, or both? 
  • What kind of space do they have to work with in their home or office?    
  • How might the piece be displayed…on the wall, an easel, a shelf?


  • What is their décor style? contemporary, rustic, shabby chic?
  • Do they have a favorite color? 
  • What are their interests?  Gardening?  Fishing?  Cooking?


Just because someone loves commercial fishing doesn’t mean you need to buy them a 3-foot sculpture of a sturgeon!  Here are a few examples of how to translate your observations into something a little less literal:    

  • For someone passionate about environmental issues, consider repurposed art, such as a pair of earrings forged from a piece of recycled roofing copper;
  • Someone who is expressive or fashion-forward would love a uniquely designed scarf that can’t be purchased from any major retail store;
  • A food-lover or frequent entertainer might enjoy a fused glass serving bowl that generates a lot of interest and conversation from his or her guests;
  • And that guy who loves to fish?  Consider a nautical painting, a sculpture made from driftwood, or a bar of homemade soap to keep in the tacklebox. 


  • Try to avoid buying art without seeing it in person first.  Things can look very different in a photograph or JPEG, and you can’t always pick up on nuances or textures the way you can in person.
  • If you receive artist information or documentation with the piece you’re purchasing, remember to give that with the art.  Even if the recipient doesn’t want to someday sell the art, s/he will feel much more connected to it by knowing more about the artist.

Gifting is a lot like art—it’s so much more than just a physical exchange.  It’s an expression and way to communicate without words. 

The gift recipient in your life is sure to be honored by the thought and time you put into finding unique artwork.   Gifts that have meaning are the best kind to receive—and also to give!