Find Free Art: 7 Secret Sources for Photos, Illustrations and Patterns

published Mar 4, 2017
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(Image credit: Anik Polo)

After you shell out cash for furniture, rugs, sconces and duvet covers, the thought of paying even more for artwork is overwhelming. We hear you! But if you aren’t artistic enough to draw or paint your own art, adorn those empty walls with free photos, illustrations and patterns that are up for grab online. Here are seven of our favorite, less-than-well-known sources to score free images. The only cost is the frame.

(Image credit: Unsplash)

This feed is full of images from photographers who have waived the rights to their images, leaving them free to use for cost-free wall art. Take a quick scroll through the site and you’ll find lots of landscapes (like the one above by photographer Darius Soodmand), cityscapes and adorable animals.

(Image credit: Google LIFE)

A joint project between Google and LIFE, this database houses historical images from the 1750s through today, all available for public use. This is a great place to hunt for images of cities, old-school celebrities, and historic events. Browse the archive by decade, or narrow down a Google image search by adding “source:life” to any search. For example, to find the beach beauty above, I searched “Beach source:life,” and to make sure the results were hi-res enough, I selected “Large” under the “Image Size” tab. This approximately 1200-by-1300-pixel image would produce a clear 12-by-13-inch print at 100 ppi, or it could be blown up larger to create a grainy engineering print. (Hint: Pair it with this simple magnetic frame.)

(Image credit: The Graphics Fairy)

This is my go-to source for vintage illustrations, including beautiful old-school botanicals. Curated by Karen, who loves all things vintage and crafty, the selection is pretty, fun and often quirky. Fans of flowers shouldn’t miss her roundup of 50 free vintage flower images, and when the holidays roll around, you’ll be glad you bookmarked this roundup of 100 Christmas images.

The largest library in the world, the Library of Congress has a huge online database of rights-free images that are in the public domain and available to use for everything from home decor to craft projects. The site’s user interface is a little clunky, but if you know what you’re looking for, there are gems to be discovered. If you aren’t sure where to begin, check out the work of photographer Carol Highsmith, who donated her entire archive of work to the Library of Congress. She photographed American buildings, people, and landscapes for decades, and snapped the abandoned gas station above in Alabama.

(Image credit: Gratisography)

This site is best for people with a sense of humor. Essentially a self-aware stock image site for quirky, photographer Ryan McGuire’s collection is tongue-in-cheek.

(Image credit:

Whether fully framed, or displayed in a wooden half-frame, there’s something so charming and nostalgic about an illustrated botanical print. And the good news is, they’re relatively easy to find for free online. Botanicus has tons of options, so start by browsing the illustrations in Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, an 1887 German collection with 4 volumes and nearly 300 illustrations of medical plants.

Design*Sponge regularly partners with awesome designers to offer beautiful patterns free to download for personal use. A mix of several patterns could be incorporated into a gallery wall, or you can enlarge a design and print it to use as gift wrap. The pattern above comes from Brooklyn-based illustrator Frances Macleod and was inspired by a trip to Turkey.


Re-edited from a post originally published 3.4.17