There are as many ways to plan a gallery wall as there are boho gals and guys who want one as part of their home decor, and each person needs to find the way that works for them. I’ve read and watched at least as many “how-tos” as I’ve collected items to hang. To those people who claim to “just start nailing,” I say, More power to ’em, but my walls have the patch marks to show that’s NEVER worked for me.
So what did work for me? When I decided I wanted to trade in one large picture that used to hang over my desk for a gallery, I turned to my trusty computer. Desktop design has been a part of my world since the early 1990s. Though I don’t do graphic design consulting anymore, my PC and mouse still feel like a steadier, more precise extension of my eyes and arms. I no longer have versions of fancy layout and design software that work on my newer laptop’s operating system, but with the loving guidance of my computer geek husband, Chris, I’ve learned to get a lot of use out of what comes with Microsoft Office Suite.
But before I tell you HOW I did it, let me show you how it turned out:
Wow! I love it! Every time I look at it I smile. No “oops!” marks in the drywall. Everything fit, and it all looks great. So here’s the lowdown on what worked for me, from start to finish.
1. I took my time choosing the art & bought what I really, really loved.
I started buying items for this gallery wall and one in another room late last year. By mid-February when I first blogged about the process and admitted I needed help, this is what I had…
2. I waited for a loose theme to emerge as I found more elements I loved.
You may already have a “theme” in mind, or your theme may just be “abstract art” or “beach photos” or simply art you like. Don’t get hung up on this part. I think it works best to choose elements you really, really want to look at day after day. This is an intuitive process, as is putting them together, and you need to rely on your intuition to find it all. That means you have to allow time for it to happen. Like I said, I started buying late last year and just hung my gallery wall a couple weeks ago.
A subtle theme is best, in my mind. I didn’t want something shouting at me; I just wanted something that meant something to me. No one else really needed to “get it” since this is my space where I create.
My theme occurred to me when I saw the MAKE A SPECTACLE OF YOURSELF piece. Sometimes I do take this admonition literally and exercise my right to jump up and down and act crazy. But if you know me, you know I love puns and double entendre, so I thought of this idea as inspiring me to operate as a kind of spectacle, i.e., an eyeglass, to see the world around me in a new way and write about it.
3. As I acquired items I made digital copies and noted measurements.
These weren’t photos I took and uploaded (too much work). I simply pinned them to a private Pinterest board and noted actual dimensions of the art (not the pinned photos) in the comments. I also pinned inspiration photos there of galleries I liked and tried to figure out why I liked them.
|Via Frenchy Fancy|
Chris helped me measure the wall space where the gallery would go, starting at the desktop and going up to the crown molding. Then I measured left to right from the corner of the room to a tall cupboard that marked my right-hand boundary. Online I found a paint chip in my wall color, PPG French Linen, and saved it to the same Pinterest board.
4. I copied and pasted everything from Pinterest into Microsoft PowerPoint.
Yes, that’s right, PowerPoint, the slide presentation software. Turns out PowerPoint does a lot of drawing and layout stuff, too. I created a file with multiple blank pages so I could save arrangements I liked as I went along. Then I converted everything to one-fourth its actual size (again, the dimension of the art, not the size of the pin photo), also in PowerPoint.
To do this, I simply copied and pasted each photo from Pinterest onto my PowerPoint page. Then I highlighted them one by one, clicked the “format” tab to get a measurement dialog box and resized it to ¼ scale, which I predetermined with my PC calculator.
I used the wall-space dimensions to size the paint chip at ¼ scale, and that became my “sandbox.” And because I have a lamp sitting on my desk, I included a scaled picture of it as well so I could arrange around it.
5. I arranged, rearranged, added and subtracted until I was satisfied.
This took several months. During this period, our master bath was also being renovated, and I got the idea to use two pieces I’d bought for the office in there.
Knuba by Alex Kostinskyi seemed made for a bathroom (I love a good visual joke). And the Hunter’s Trophy Jackalope Head by Imm Living worked above another print I bought specifically for the bath. We still have a couple fixes to make in that bathroom, but when it’s finished I’ll show you how these items look in their new home.
That left me with all these disparate elements. Some of the unframed prints were postcards I’d bought at museums and some were copies of favorite paintings printed on my inkjet printer. But I hesitated matting and framing any of them because I couldn’t get the overall arrangement right.
The problem was I was trying to include too much, and it looked too busy to me, even without the two pieces that went to the master bath. What made the difference was finding this:
The Ryan Wall Shelf from Joss & Main. I liked the graphic look the vertical dividers added, and the cubbies would help corral and organize some of the smaller, three-dimensional items I wanted to include. The shelf’s strong horizontal line also balanced my other mostly square and vertical pieces.
So here’s the plan I settled on:
As you can see, there’s a new element—the Modern Stag from Dot & Bo. I’d originally intended to use it in another room, but suddenly it seemed to want to go here.
Why did I choose the additional pieces and how do they work into my theme?
First off, the cat is “my” animal, so cats crop up in my décor a lot, particularly in my private spaces. When I did Jungian analysis years ago I started having cat dreams. The message was for me to be more like the cat, who does what s/he pleases and lets the world adjust.
|Joss & Main|
The watercolor kitty—called Galaxy Cat—wears glasses, so she’s learning to see differently. I found her first…
|Joss & Main|
…then shortly after I found Wild Lion by Eli Halpin. I immediately thought of hanging them with the cat looking up to the lion, as if she could see herself becoming that beautiful, fierce creature. Because that’s how I want to be, too!
|Dot & Bo|
Antlered deer are rich symbols in folklore, myth, fairytales, and dreams. I’ll let you look that one up on your own, but suffice it to say my antlered deer is only available in outline and has no eyes. And yes, I back-pedaled to make up something that fit my theme, which is okay!
|Joss & Main|
Lunar Freefall by Jan Weiss simply appealed to me for its color and lack of definite form. My other images were distinct. I wanted something indistinct for contrast and because so much of “seeing” is waiting for an image or idea to take on shape and focus.
6. When the shelf arrived, Chris put it together and discovered a “hiccup.”
Assembly instructions clearly stated the shelf needed to be hung from two screws, both of which should be mounted into studs. Holes were predrilled into the 48-inch shelf on to the backs of two of the vertical dividers to accommodate the included screws. However, the holes were 28 inches apart, making it impossible to hang on a wall with studs 16 inches on center.
The fix we came up with was to buy a piece of angle iron (aluminum really) the length of the shelf, spray-paint it matte black and screw it to the underside of the shelf. Then we marked out and drilled two holes in the perpendicular side of the angle iron, 32 inches apart, and used those to mount the shelf into the wall studs. We used screws with black heads, and all in all, you really can’t tell we made any modifications.
You can barely see the hanging strip in this photo, particularly with the shadow the shelf itself casts.
7. We hung elements starting from the bottom, working our way up and across.
Chris did the hammer-and-nail stuff, while I directed, using my plan. The shelf went up first because it had to be mounted into studs and would define the “arena” more precisely. I set the tallest items I planned to use onto the shelf as a guideline for hanging the next two pictures.
8. Finally, I styled the shelf.
You can see that in the photo above right. But I thought you might want to know how I chose the items. The cat stuff is self-explanatory, and I’ve always been drawn to small jars and dishes to hold treasures. That’s something my mother noticed in me early on. I like that she noticed, so collecting small dishes and jars reminds me of her and that she “saw” the real me, at least that once.
Beyond that, I like having fun stuff at my desk. It reminds me to play, even when I’m working. But let’s take it cubby-by-cubby…
The Domesticated Cat Trinket Dish by Marta Turowska is from Anthropologie. The stuffed lion in tweed overalls I found at a country crafts store ages ago. Anything else I bought during that period in the 90s has thankfully since gone to Goodwill, but I kept the lion. He travels around the cubbies and in and out of its jars and dishes.
Systems for studying the brain—like Fowler’s Phrenology, illustrated on the head statue—have always fascinated me. Pseudo-science is a lot like myth-making and storytelling—people trying to make sense of the universe. The skull cap on this statue actually opens up, and you can store things in it—just like phrenology was supposed to open up our idea of what went on in the brain. How funny is that?
The little dog is a planter my mom had when I was a kid. I think she said someone sent it to her with flowers arranged in it when she was in the hospital having me. I remember it first with real philodendron trailing out of it, then later the plastic kind. It always reminded me of my favorite childhood book—The Pokey Little Puppy—so I kept it. This puppy’s “necklace” is a fun Indian bracelet made with fabric beads.
The pink-bespectacled cat just fit my theme too well to ignore when I saw it on Zulily.
I bought the My Name is Big Kitty jar at a lovely little shop I used to frequent. The owners and I were on a first-name basis, since I was in there every couple of weeks for more than 10 years before they retired and the shop closed.
The eye painting represents my inner eye that examines me and shows me to myself. The magnifying glass helps along when I’m not paying attention (which is oftener than I’d like). It’s held in a Victorian-style hand-shaped handle (too clever, right?).
The old key I picked up at an antique shop long ago. I displayed it in the lock of an antique cupboard I used to own. It never fit the lock, but it looked pretty with a chinoiserie key tassel dangling from it. Keys are such evocative items, particularly old keys.
I’ve always wanted to go to Paris and haven’t (yet), hence the trinket dish, which I propped against a typewriter print on wood that resembles my first typewriter. (An important first for a writer!) Mine was a blue portable Smith Corona I bought used from my oldest brother after he graduated college. I pounded out research papers, poems and eventually resumes on that sucker until keys started breaking off and I couldn’t find anyone to fix it. Thankfully PCs were just around the bend. The wood frame I chose for the print was one I had that turned out to be a perfect complement.
The swirly glass paperweight from West Elm is just cool, so I bought it for myself a few years back. My dad worked in the glass industry, so interesting blown glass always reminds me of him. The little covered cat dish next to it has been with me longer than Chris—another of those teensy jars and boxes I gravitate to.
I got a special kick out of positioning these hands in the cubby right next to that typewriter print with the “hello!” message in its carriage. Well hello yourself!!
The funky bracelets on the wrists of the hands are recent additions. They were uber cheap, and I bought them specifically to display. They’re colorful and funky, and I like touching the fuzzy pompoms when I’m lost in thought. I’m currently on the lookout for some equally bodacious stretchy rings for all those fingers.
- Shoot for groupings with odd numbers, which is supposed to be more visually arresting than evens. But I wouldn’t get too obsessive about it.
- Vary the heights of your items.
- Make sure the overall composition has vertical and horizontal elements as well as curved and angular.
- Include sculptural elements.
- Keep moving things around until you’re pleased with them.
- Forget about what other people might think. You can’t really know that, and it doesn’t matter anyway.
As it turns out, I used almost all of the items I purchased. The eye paintings came in a set of two, and I only used one. I also didn’t use the wood coasters with eyes, nose and mouth. But I probably WILL use both of these someday somewhere. All the other pictures shown here and not used were either postcards I had or print-outs I made for no cost.
Still to do
Perhaps you noticed the bare back of the cupboard that delineates the right-hand boundary of my gallery wall. My two desks used to be positioned differently, with room for the cupboard to sit flat against the wall. However, now it won’t do that, so we positioned it as a divider. On the other side of it is our front door.
The cupboard is quite tall, as you can see from the view at left. We never needed to finish the back before, and I can’t decide what I want to do with it. At first I thought to paint it. My husband made the cupboard, but we no longer have the paint used on the finished sides.
We could repaint the whole cupboard—it’s barn red now and teal might be a nice change. But then I thought it might be easier to cover the back in a decorative wallpaper or contact paper rather than paint the whole thing. I’m still moodling.
Rest assured I have something planned for the empty easel taking up space in the foreground. I splurged and bought an original piece of art—a collage! It’s coming from Italy and should be here in the next week or two. When it arrives, I’ll show it off in a post and feature the artist.
But that’s all I’m going to say about it for now.
I hope my rambling on gave you some ideas about how to tackle a gallery wall project in your home and how to style a shelf either as part of the gallery or as a stand-alone. I’d love to see your pictures of your pictures—haha!—so leave me a note in the comments.