(Nearly) free art for broke students has been on my mind lately, because even though I’m not in school and don’t have kids, back to school reminders are everywhere. They’re inescapable! And so I was thinking about the last significant time I went back to school, which was when I moved into college dorms.
Decor-wise, dorms are pretty limited, but there are ways to make them a little bit more stylish. Wall art is an obvious answer, except for two problems with it: cost, and hangability. So (nearly) free art that’s removable and easy to hang without damaging walls is the solution.
Back in my day, that meant posters and mounting tape. When I went off to college, I had some band posters that I had bought with money I earned babysitting, and that was about it. Not that I could have hung much else anyway, because 1) no nails in the cinderblock walls, and 2) the dorm rooms were teeny tiny.
But you kids today have it easy! There is tons of free printable art online that’s so good it feels like stealing. No guilt here though, because the people who owned it have either chosen to give it away, and/or are long, long dead.
You can print it yourself if you have a good printer, or you can take it to a local copy/print shop for a larger version. Even FedEx/OfficeMax/Office Depot/Staples can get the job done. And if none of those are an option, online printers like parabo press and Artifact Uprising have you covered. (This is where the “nearly” in “nearly free art” comes from, ’cause printing ain’t free.)
So today I’ll share a bunch of options for where to find cool printable art, and then I’ll give you some options for how to hang it. One is this easy DIY poster hanger, which you can make without any tools other than a utility knife.
Not moving into dorms? Me neither, but this free art is so good that I still want to use it in my non-dorm home.
This site is an essential resource for vintage images of all types, from maps and charts to botanical illustrations of plants and animals. But it’s a pain to navigate, and the search function doesn’t work for me, so if you want to search for something specific, such as the moon, use “site:vintageprintable.com moon,” in Google, substituting your search term. Then go to the images tab, and browse through the results.
Feathers, moon chart, fern, Paris
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory commissioned artists to design really cool vintage-inspired travel posters depicting locations beyond Earth. There’s a whole series that’s free to download and print.
Visions of the Future
If you like vintage bird illustrations, this is the site for you. Hundreds of paintings by America’s most famous birder are available. Just search for your favorite bird type.
Crow, flamingo, Columbian humming bird, barn owl
This is the ultimate resource for high-resolution photos that you can do pretty much whatever you want with. You can search by subject matter, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with the collections for some curation. As an animal lover, I’m partial to Wild, Creatures, and Spirit Animals.
Fox, rose, horses, water, mountains, succulents, forest
Lots of free vintage animal and botanical illustrations and photographs. Search for your favorite subject matter, or browse the library of over 100,000 images.
Squid, cactus, snake, coral
This is an overwhelmingly large online archive of art and photography. The WPA posters that inspired the NASA/JPL posters above are a great place to start. If you don’t have a specific subject in mind, try going to a collection and looking for curated links, like the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information photograph staff selections. The Picture This blog also highlights some of the collection.
Don’t kill our wildlife poster, Dust bowl photo, As old as creation poster (there are a lot of syphilis posters!), photo of group of women
Other Free Art Resources
Last year I shared some free printable botanical art that I cleaned up from vintage sources. My free printable board has more options, and searching Pinterest will bring up even more (especially if you want inspiring sayings).
This is a great round-up of free astronomy art and star charts, with instructions of how to find them in online archives.
This wall art of engineers prints of vintage photos is a good example of how you can use some of these sources.
Even Closer-to-Free Art
If you don’t have access to a good printer, or just can’t decide on a subject, you can always frame a pretty piece of patterned paper. Wrapping paper sheets from a craft or art supply store are a great place to start. You could buy your choice of fine art marble paper and hang it for an effect like this marble print. Vintage maps from old issues of National Geographic are a good bet, too.
So, what covered your walls when you went off to school? Are there any great free art resources I’m missing here? Please clue us in!
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