By Christy Johnson, founder & CEO of United Goods
Hanging a variety of art or keepsakes (or a combo) on a wall is a fantastic way to show off a unique collection or fill a large area in a room. It can also be a way to tell your story or celebrate your memories, depending on the items you choose to display.
Whatever your reasoning, you may have ideas for a gallery wall but don't know where to begin. I can help with that!
Before you get started, know that there are no rules. How you display the pieces is entirely up to you. While you plan, here are three easy guidelines (plus a few bonus tips) I'm offering to help you make the process as simple as possible.
1. Decide on the look and feel you want. Will your gallery wall be more of a grid, with equal-sized two-dimensional (2D) artwork in similar—or the same—styles of frames? Or will it be more of a collage, where art, three-dimensional (3D) items, and other memorabilia is all hung in harmony? I'm personally a fan of both styles, and over the years have decorated my various living spaces with both approaches.
An example of a simple grid-style gallery wall layout
And an example of a collage-style gallery wall layout
Growing up, my mom had a killer collage wall in our living room. She started with a cool, dark-brown-oval-framed mirror and a couple of other (very '70s) art pieces she'd collected as an adult. Then she added items around it, and continued doing so over time. When I was a little kid, there were maybe seven pieces on her collage wall, and by the time I was in high school it had expanded to…shoot, maybe 30? It was really personal and fabulous. My mom even added some of the weirdo stuff my sister and I concocted as kiddos, as we were crafting fiends! (These bits really were cool, I assure you. Not a popsicle stick or macaroni noodle to be found.)
Today, my husband is more of a "neat and orderly" person when it comes to wall hangings, so he's shied away from my suggestions at building a wild collage wall like my mom's in our home's common areas. So we haven't hung art that way in our house because I try to choose my battles. (Ha.) But, there's one exception and that's our shared office, which guests don't often see. In this room, we showcase more of a hodgepodge of art and ephemera. There are various works that stretch almost from floor to ceiling. I love it! It's the one space we kinda go crazy, and it makes for a creative work environment. (This is also where we display our travel-based refrigerator magnets and push-pin world map.)
2. Gather your selections. Once you've decided how you'll organize it, you should set aside your chosen art for the gallery wall. Will it be all 2D art like framed posters, prints, drawings, photos, and mirrors? Or a combination of these along with 3D items like small souvenirs, maps, dried florals, sculptures, signs, alphabet letters, ceramics, fiber art, etc., etc.?
If you're going with all 2D work, figure out if you want one to three of them to be the main "stars" with the others placed around them as supporting characters, or if you want more of a grid where each piece is the same size and has equal billing.
If you're doing more of the collage style with a variety of shapes and textures, then you likely will want one to five things to be the "stars," and the rest of the items act as supporting characters.
3. Mock it up. Once your items have been selected, make a "template" for your gallery wall. By that I mean: Lay out your art on the ground or a large table. Keep arranging until you like where everything lands. Pay attention to "trapped white space" (there are great visuals in this link), which is a graphic design term for oddly placed blank spots. For whatever reason, the eye naturally gravitates to these areas, and that's not where you want people to look. You want their eyes to land on the art, not the blank wall it's hanging on. That being said, you definitely want "air" or space around art pieces so they can visually breathe. Just don't trap a weird square of blank wall between four differently shaped framed prints, for example.
If you're not going for the grid-style arrangement, you should still aim for visual balance, like in my collage-style layout example pictured above. Your collage wall doesn't have to be symmetrical, but think about including large and small work, varying the textures and shapes (including horizontals and verticals), and combining busy/colorful art with pieces that are simple and clean. Sprinkling different styles throughout your collage wall will create visual harmony.
If you wanna get really technical, lots of people recommend tracing your art on kraft paper, cutting out the shapes, and then using non-marking tape to mock up your layout on the wall. If you're really nervous about starting to hang your items, this extra step is an excellent idea. It'll help you visualize how your art will look when it's hung, and determine if you have the right amount of pieces for the size of your wall area. You'll be able to see if you need to add or remove items, squish them together or spread them out more, etc.
When you're ready to rock, go ahead and start by hanging. If you're going for the precise, grid-wall route, then don't eschew a level. It'll be your friend. If you're using the collage approach, feel free to eyeball it.
United Goods fan Gregg Lindberg sent us this pic of his collage-style gallery wall.
As a bonus, here are few more of my general tips when hanging art:
- Find the studs behind your walls when you're hanging heavy pieces. To do this simply, get yourself an inexpensive stud finder. And always use wall anchors when hanging hefty items.
- For grid-style gallery walls, shoot for 3 to 6 inches between each piece of art—around all sides. For larger work, give more space between your pieces than you would, say, with our tiny State Icon prints. Smaller artwork like these guys can be grouped closer together.
- Leave plenty of space between the art and your wall's trim, windows, and molding, so the art has room to visually breathe.
And for the love of all things good and holy—unless you're going for a floor-to-ceiling collage (and this should indeed be considered, depending on your aesthetic)—don't hang art too close to the ceiling! This applies whether you're hanging one piece or a grouping. It's unfortunately a hugely common practice, and one of my biggest pet peeves. The center of your art piece should measure 55 to 63 inches from the floor. So keep this in mind when you're planning to build either a tidy grid wall or an unruly collage. The center of your grid should be 55 to 63 inches from the floor. For a collage wall, the center of the "star(s)" in your layout should sit about 55 to 63 inches from the floor. Then other pieces can fall above or below this measurement. Don't agree? Fight me! (Haha…I'm kidding. Mostly.)
That's all I've got for now. It's by no means a comprehensive guide on hanging a gallery wall, but I hope it gave you some confidence to try one in your home. Feel free to reach out with questions, or comment below.
Before you plan your display, scroll through the 500-plus State Icons in my collection.
I bet there's at least one that represents a place that's meaningful to you, and would fit right in with the memorabilia and art you're including in your gallery wall. (Bonus: Their little size makes them great "trapped white space" fillers!)