Appreciating art and design is generally understood in levels. It’s one thing to attend exhibition openings, sip free chardonnay and gaze inquisitively at the creatively impressive. But the practice of collecting and buying art is seemingly on a different level – a pastime reserved for high rollers and Jay Z. An out-of-reach experience best left to middle age, if you have some spare dosh by then.

While the world of art and design can be intimidating and outrageously expensive, there are a number of initiatives, events and industry secrets that make it relatively easy to step into the shoes of a collector. You can buy original artwork and authentic designer furniture at a reasonable price if you are prepared for the hunt and the chase. Here are a few ideas and expert tips to get you started.

Emerging artists and designers
Everyone has to start somewhere. A great way to start a collection on a budget is to buy work from up-and-coming, local talent. When you invest in work from emerging artists and designers, you are buying original pieces that may increase in value over time should their maker turn out to be the next rising art star.

Emilya Colliver started Art Pharmacy – an online gallery and emerging-art emporium – to encourage this. “I realised there was a huge market for exposing people to these talented [emerging artists], and also offering these amazing and unique works for people to hang on their walls,” she says.

At Art Pharmacy you’ll find Alexandra English’s collage works; Chloe Harris’s etchings and Tina Mose’s playful illustrations. The variety of artistic styles and mediums is broad, and the site is constantly updated. “I go to far too many homes where the walls are filled with mass-produced prints bought at IKEA … which are printed onto canvases and produced overseas,” Colliver says. “What people don’t realise is you can buy unique artwork for the same price.” For Colliver, the advantage of buying original is in having a greater connection to your purchase, and even more so in supporting local artists. “Art is something to appreciate because of the way it makes you feel, or the story and passion behind its creation.”

As well as Art Pharmacy, you can find work from up-and-coming designers at stores and galleries such as Workshopped, Tiny Tailor Gallery and The Print Gallery – an online art store offering made-to-order prints crafted by hand.

Under the hammer
For founder of Shapiro Auction House Andrew Shapiro, good design is nourishing for the eye and the brain. And auctions are an exceptional and exciting buying experience for the curious beginner collector. “It can be like walking into the eccentric house of someone fabulous and famous,” he says. “The thrill of auctions is addictive, especially when you score a mid-century coffee table for $400, and find the same one two weeks later in a shop for $1500.” From its Woollahra gallery, Shapiro hosts regular auctions throughout the year, offering mid-century furniture, interesting collectables and rare artworks.

Unlike navigating a furniture outlet on a Saturday, auctions can be more like sport, and there are strict rules to play by. Shapiro advises attending the pre-auction viewing, and requesting a condition report. “Look out for terms such as ‘AF’, which means ‘All Faults’ … this outlines that the piece might have hairline cracks, small faults,” he says. He also says to keep a tab on 20th-century design pieces, because they are the new antiques, and will increase in value with time. Items may go for lower than the listed minimum price, too. “Not everything is reserved, and you can unexpectedly hit the jackpot. Around 10–15 per cent of bidders get their piece for less than the estimate.”

Collector support
There are local initiatives that support budding young collector, such as Art Money, a City of Sydney scheme dreamt up by the art enthusiasts at 10 Group. It allows you, effectively, to layby your desired artwork through an interest-free-loan program. It operates in Australia and New Zealand, and participating Sydney galleries include Alaska Projects, Galerie Pom Pom, and Sullivan+Strumpf.

Another component of 10 Group’s collector support is Contemporaries, a membership program for anyone interested in deepening their involvement in contemporary art. At events and experiences throughout the year, you navigate the homes of serious long-term collectors, visit the studios visit emerging artists, and meet other would-be collectors. Knowledge is power, and Contemporaries broadens your understanding of contemporary art, so you can make informed decisions.

Updated April 4, 2017