A gallery wall—or photo and artwork collection—is a great way to showcase your favorite memories. Although many gallery wall layout ideas include pictures that are all the same size, most have pictures of different sizes. Putting them together in a way that’s pleasing can feel like trying to solve a difficult puzzle.
If you’re wondering how to arrange pictures on a wall when they’re a mishmash of different shapes and sizes, certain techniques will help you out. Here are some of our favorite ways to create the perfect picture arrangement on your gallery wall.
Read also: 29 Wall Covering Ideas
Choose a Wall
What type of wall is the best to arrange pictures on? Any bare wall is a good candidate for an impressive art display. Factor in the size of your artwork and the number of pieces you want to hang up. You may discover that you don’t need a large wall to display your artwork collection.
In the living room, over the sofa is a logical place to locate a gallery wall. Look for blank wall space over other pieces of furniture, and consider wrapping your picture display around a corner for an interesting effect.
Don’t forget the staircase wall when planning where to hang pictures. It’s a great idea to hang family photos in a timeline that you get to relive as you go up and down the stairs each day.
Remember that you don’t have to hang pictures on every bedroom or living room wall. In fact, it’s a good idea to leave some blank wall space in every room. This keeps the space from looking cluttered and gives your eyes a chance to rest.
Choose a Theme
While there are no hard rules for filling a space with picture groupings, adhering to one central theme per wall is often preferable. For example, a symmetrical grouping of botanical art prints adds traditional elegance to a space. For a more casual theme, choose family photos, perhaps mixing professional portraits with favorite casual shots.
As a rule, black and white family pictures look more formal than the color version of each photo. For landscape photo collections or even drawings, black and white conveys a more modern home decor style.
Keep in mind that virtually every visitor to your home will see the wall art in your living room, so keep the images professional and appropriate. While silly or low-brow artwork may accurately reflect your personality, it’s better to leave those images in your bedroom or another more private space.
Depending on your home decor style, all the frames on a gallery wall don’t necessarily have to match. If you have a casual, bohemian style, each picture frame can be different. However, for a more refined look, go with frames that coordinate.
Matching frames makes it clear that all the images were meant to be displayed together. If you choose a simple frame design, it will be easier to find the same white or black frame in different sizes.
Whether you choose wood, metal, black, or white frames, make sure they look good with both the artwork and the rest of the room’s decor.
Sketch out picture groupings before you commit to hammering nails into the wall. Creating a rough blueprint of your gallery wall is a good way to get an idea of how many pieces you want to include and exactly where each piece should go.
Focus on big pictures first. A larger picture deserves a prominent place in the gallery wall. Surround it with smaller picture frames and related articles that go with your theme. For example, intersperse metallic starburst wall medallions between photos of the night sky.
Making paper templates is an easy way to see how all your hanging pictures will look on the wall. Lay your pictures on a roll of craft paper and trace around each frame with a pencil. Cut them out and label them so you don’t get confused about which piece is which.
Using a loop of painters tape, attach the paper templates to your gallery wall in the same arrangement you sketched out earlier. If you don’t like the way it looks, it’s easy to reposition them until the arrangement suits you.
You can also have someone hold up each piece to the wall while you stand back and see how it looks. Make sure you cover the picture hook with masking tape first, to keep it from scratching the wall.
Arranging pictures in perfect symmetry can be rather boring, but some degree of symmetry is necessary to keep the room from looking unbalanced. Think of each frame as carrying a weight related to its overall size. Especially with traditional or formal decor, you want to balance weights along each side of the wall.
For example, place a large piece in one of the lower corners of your gallery wall space. Put the second-largest picture in the upper corner diagonal from the biggest piece. Then arrange the remaining multiple pictures in the unoccupied corners to balance the overall space.
Another visually pleasing space for hanging pictures is a few inches above a chair rail. It may seem too low initially, but this positioning serves the dual purpose of showing off your artwork while drawing attention to the architectural trim. Use your carpenter’s level to ensure each piece is neatly aligned.
In addition to kraft paper, painters tape, and a pencil, you’ll need a measuring tape and a level to professionally hang your wall decor. You’ll need a picture hanger for each frame, screws and a screwdriver, and/or a hammer and nails.
Many interior designers recommend using two picture hangers on each piece—especially large artwork—to keep them from tilting or swinging. Wall plugs and drywall anchors provide extra support, especially in brittle drywall.
A wall anchor is better than an ordinary nail or screw for supporting heavier artwork and decorative wall art pieces. Drywall anchors are a screw that includes a spring-loaded winged nut that spreads open behind the drywall. Its “T-shaped” design keeps the weight of your art piece from pulling the screw out of the wall.
Related read: How to Hang Pictures Without Nails
Unless your gallery idea is a freeform, organic layout, you shouldn’t leave measurements to guesswork. Accurate measurements are what makes your display look professionally installed. You must use measurements if you’re creating a grid or even row of frames.
Follow the instructions in the “Formula for Hanging Pictures” section below. Use a tape measure and a carpenter’s level to determine where each nail, screw, or wall anchor should go. Mark each spot lightly with a pencil.
A Formula for Hanging Pictures
Hanging pictures can feel like trying to solve a puzzle—especially if your wall art is in different shapes and sizes. If you bought a hanging art set from Pottery Barn or another retailer, it’s easy enough to just copy the way they had the pieces displayed. But if you’re creating your own photo wall from scratch, this formula can help ensure a balanced composition.
To hang artwork at average eye level, the center of the piece should be between 57 and 60 inches above the floor. Find the center by dividing the height of the frame by two. Then measure the distance from the top of the frame to the hanging hardware and subtract that from the first number.
Add that figure to 57, 58, 59, or 60. This final sum is the height where your nail or wall anchor should go, as measured from the floor.
How to Hang Eclectic Groupings
Although it’s recommended to have a common thread tying your gallery wall picture collection together, it’s not required. In fact, the beauty of your particular grouping might be its whimsical diversity. It’s perfectly acceptable for photos, sketches, paintings, macrame, wall sculptures, and baskets to occupy the same wall space.
It can be a bit more challenging to make an eclectic collection flow together harmoniously. Start by hanging pictures that mean the most to you at eye level—but feel free to move them higher or lower to work around your furniture and architecture. Extend your collection into the rest of the space by hanging a small picture or decoration above a door or window.
Remember that your instinct is the most important factor when it’s time to hang pictures—or do any type of home decorating. You live in the space. If your picture display makes you happy, that’s all that matters.