By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Nov 04, 2009 at 4:36 PM

You've finished school and landed the perfect job. You saved up a little money and finally moved out of the college apartment into some killer, "grown-up" digs. The old, hand-me-down furniture is gone, replaced with some decent-looking stuff that says "yeah, I'm a big kid now." But as you've settled in, you're noticing that something is missing.

It's time for some decor.

Unfortunately, choosing a decorative piece isn't as easy as walking into a gallery and picking up something to hang on the wall. Selecting appropriate works takes time and requires the prospective buyer to do his or her homework before settling on an item.

Good art, says Katie Gingrass, a gallery owner in the Historic Third Ward, shouldn't necessarily "match" a home, but should instead complement and accent what's already there and reflect the owner's likes and tastes.

She likens it to an outfit, "you don't want everything you wear to be blue."

Good art doesn't come cheap and despite the legend, there are very few galleries -- especially in Milwaukee -- that sell investment pieces that will increase in value over time, leading to a future windfall for the owner.

So, where does that leave the first-time art buyer?

The first rule of art shopping, according to Milwaukee gallery owner Katie Gingrass, is very simple: buy what you like.

"You should decorate your house the way that's comfortable for you," Gingrass says.

"Obviously, you're not going to like everything you see so that should be the first criteria. You should buy a piece that you like because, ultimately, you're the one who will be looking at it every day."

Gingrass' gallery, at 241 Broadway, is currently hosting a show of vintage posters. Such items, which range in price from several hundred dollars to as much as $2,500 or more, are a good starting point thanks in large part to the wide range of colors and designs.

There's something for everybody, Gingrass says.

"There are thousands of them," she says. "Every year, I see new ones that I've never seen before."

Posters also come in different sizes, so the buyer can move the piece from room to room over time, reflecting his or her taste and accommodating a growing collection of pieces.

Art doesn't necessarily have to come from a high-end gallery, either. For sports fans, there are also ways to incorporate one's favorite team into the decor.

Classic photographs are a good starting point. So are framed jerseys. Even bobble heads and game programs, appropriately displayed, can be a tasteful addition to one's home.

Sports pieces, be it autographed jerseys, pictures or equipment, are often thought of as childish knick-knacks, but are also nostalgic nods to special moments and memories.

Jim McCormack, owner / partner of the Gallery of Sports Art, has worked with fans over the years to preserve those memories. With a wide selection of items, McCormack also helps fans preserve their own items through custom framing and mounting.

"We have people that bring in ticket stubs from games they attend with their fathers or from games where something memorable happened," McCormack says. "We'll mount those items for people and often times, they'll put a collection together with say, an autographed picture from the game."

One customer had an extensive collection of autographed jerseys and, instead of framing them all, built a case that included a mannequin body under an acrylic case attached to a file cabinet.

Like most art, McCormack says that the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

"If you're a big Brewers fan, you might have a set of cards sitting in a box from the '82 team. You can put those together, have them mounted with maybe a picture of County Stadium and now you have a great display piece that will let you go back and think about those memories."

Enlisting the talents of an artistic friend is another avenue.

Commissioning a friend is a good starting point because they already know the buyer, his or her tastes and their home. Additionally, going the friend route will more often than not be a little friendlier to the budget.

Local artist Kelly Dugan says that a friend can provide a helping hand in selcting pieces that will be eye-pleasing for years to come.

"It's like me asking an accountant to help me with my taxes," Dugan says. "For many people, art is a complete unknown territory, but it should be fun and exciting and not scary."

Dugan, who studied art at St. Norbert College, has produced a number of pieces for friends and family as gifts but, as her friends have started moving into newer apartments and buying condos, has started to get more requests for work.

"A friend understands your personal taste and interests and can help you in the right direction, particularly if you don't really know what you're looking for," she says.

Be it sculpture, painting, print or even a stadium-giveaway, there's a wide variety of art spanning a wider range of prices. In the end, no matter the name or style, it's value ultimately lies in that of the owner.

"Your taste is the most important, no matter what your know-how on buying art is, and the final purchase should be something that you love," Dugan says. "Never buy something that you feel lukewarm about, or feel pressured into buying."