Read This Before You Try To Pull Off A Gallery Wall

1) Gather your artwork

Make sure you have enough pieces to feel like a collection and to really anchor the wall space you’re going to be using.  You want the whole grouping to cover most of the wall so that it doesn’t look like it’s floating awkwardly. Don’t be afraid to go floor to ceiling on a wall with no furniture!

As far as what type of artwork to use- that’s totally up to you! There are no real rules, but you do want to keep in mind how well the pieces work together.  I had some pieces already, but not enough to make a gallery as big as I needed for the long hallway wall, so I painted a couple place holders myself that I’ll later swap out when I find some great art, and I also added three photography prints from Jenny’s Print Shop, which is a great way to get affordable art when you need to fill a frame fast and don’t have a large budget.  (Full details on all the artwork in my gallery wall at the end of this post).

I want to quickly mention Unsplash, which, like Jenny’s Print Shop is a site where you can download digital art and print it out on your own in whatever size you want.  But Unsplash is FREE! All the artists have willingly uploaded the art so it’s totally legal, but if you share pictures of your printed out artworks do the right thing and credit the artists.  For printing, you can send the digital file to a company like Framebridge and get your image back in a frame, or you can go super low budget and do it yourself at one of the self-serve kiosks at Target or Costco like I did.  I’ve heard good things about Costco’s photo printing, but Target’s is not the best in terms of photo quality. It was OK, and it was only a couple bucks per print, so I guess it’s true that you get what you pay for.

2) Choose your frames

Again, no strict rules here about what types of frames to include. The most important thing to consider is how the grouping will look as a whole.  If any of your artworks have mattes, it’s pretty important that these are all neutral and as close to one another in shade as possible. If you want a look that’s cohesive, but not uniform, I recommend a variety of frame styles all in one finish or a single frame style in a variety of finishes.  Since I already had some simple Ikea frames in black and white, and Target makes some affordable modern frames that I like in a natural wood finish, I decided to use modern minimalist frames in a mix of black, white, and natural.

3) Plan your layout

When planning a layout for a gallery wall the goal is for the overall design to look balanced.  Following some basic guidelines can save you time and help ensure success.

  • Try to keep the middle line of the collection at eye level (that’s 57-60” from the floor).  In my case this wasn’t possible since I was hanging my pieces above wainscoting, but on an architecturally naked wall, this rule applies (even when there’s furniture involved.)

  • Start with the largest piece, which will anchor the entire grouping.  Place it slightly off center in the space you’re working with, because if you put it right in the middle it will look like all the other smaller pieces are orbiting it.   

As you add the remaining pieces to the design, building off the anchor piece, keep the following in mind:

  • Spacing between frames should be as uniform as possible and should be no less than 1.5 to 2 inches and no more than 4 inches.  You don’t want it to look crowded, but you also don’t want your art so spread out so much that it doesn’t look like a cohesive collection.

The other trick to achieving a balanced look is to evenly distribute the following:

  • Black, white, and natural frames

  • Color images and black & white images

  • Vertical, horizontal, and square shaped pieces

I like to use photoshop to plan gallery walls because it makes it so easy to move things around and to see a large collection all at once.  I take a picture of each piece and upload it to a black photoshop template (cutting out any background images from the pictures so I’m left with just the framed images on a white background.  Then I adjust the sizes of the images so they appear realistically proportioned to one another. I don’t go crazy getting this perfect, I just sort of eye it. As I move stuff around, I take screenshots of all the arrangements I like so I can compare my favorites before making a final decision.  Here are a few I came up with:

And here’s the plan I settled on:

You can even use this to test out different frame options or decide what size artwork to purchase if you aren’t working with pieces you already own or want to add more.  Just use the rectangle tool instead of the images:

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If you don’t want to get all high tech, you can totally just move the furniture out of the way and lay everything down on the floor.  Then you can just manually move pieces around until you have something you’re happy with. Remember that as you’re arranging, you’re thinking about the guidelines I mentioned above in order to get a balanced result.  Even though I do the fancy photoshop layout first, I still lay everything out on the floor as a final check before I start hanging. This is because I’m too lazy to do the whole paper cut-outs with the same dimensions as the artworks taped (painter’s tape, please!) on the wall as a final check.  But either option (floor or paper cut outs) gets the job done.

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Once you’ve got a balanced layout that you like, start hanging! Just make sure you mind those gaps between frames as you go!  And because I feel obligated to say it: Measure twice, hammer once.

Here’s a panorama of how mine turned out: This long narrow hallway with no windows is an absolute nightmare to photograph (charms of a historic, city apartment lol) so this image is terrible, but you get the idea.

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And here’s my attempt to recreate it from five separate photographs along with all the artwork sourcing info:

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  1. Commissioned portrait of Mona by Joan Lemay

  2. Doodle face by me

  3. No. 44: Mossy Stones print by Kim Knoll

  4. Arrangement #3, Kindah Khalidy art print via Babasouk

  5. David Bowie Poster

  6. It's Probably for the Best that People are on the Internet instead of Outside Wrecking Things signed print by Butch Anthony

  7. Riverside by Lynne Millar, digital download via Jenny’s Print Shop

  8. Bougie by Jenny Komenda, digital download via Jenny’s Print Shop

  9. Photograph of David Bowie

  10. Splash” by Kate Lines, digital download via Jenny’s Print Shop

  11. Doodle face by me