How To: Create a Gallery Wall

updated Mar 30, 2023
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Ah, the gallery wall. So ubiquitous in shelter mags and on blogs, they’ve become a staple of modern home decor. I know several people who think the curated wall is on its way “out”, and feel that individual pieces of art never get to shine anymore. But for someone like me, who accumulates art like some people accumulate paperbacks, gallery walls aren’t just a necessity- they’re a way of life.

This liking for art-stuffed walls seems to be a family trait. A couple months ago, my sister asked for my help in hanging some photos on the large, empty wall behind her dining table. I happily obliged, and decided to photograph my process for AT readers.

1. Prep Your Wall
I started by prepping the wall; patching, sanding and painting where necessary to create a smooth surface. Then, since I’m a follower of the 57 inches rule, I marked the wall with a piece of masking tape, 57″ from the floor and centered horizontally. Doing this will help you center your arrangement on the wall. If you’re working with a particularly large space or with many pictures, adding a few other pieces of tape at regular intervals will also help guide your arrangement.

2. Gather Your Art
The easiest way to make a gallery wall feel unified is to pick a theme- my sister wanted to display photos she’d taken on her holidays over the past few years. Other ideas are vintage portraits, antique maps, or pop-art prints.

Of course, a whole collection of similarly-themed art isn’t necessary. You can also create groupings based on color, type of media or even frame style. Generally, it’s best to avoid too much matching, so choose to match either the artwork or the frames, but not both.

3. Create Image Templates
This is one of those ideas which seems a bit unnecessary and over-the-top, until you start to use it. Using some old newspaper or bits from your recycling bin, create a paper template the same size as each piece of framed art. It’s helpful to also indicate frame thickness, color, or anything particularly impactful about the artwork on the template, as this will help you balance the arrangement later on.

4. Make Hanging Marks
Flip each piece of art face-down and look at how it will hang. If it’s on a string or wire, stretch it vertically as high is it will go, and make a small mark on the template where the string stops stretching, centered horizontally in the frame. This is where the nail or picture hook will go.

If there’s a metal hook or a hole to work with, you’ll have to flip the template face-down to match the picture, and use a pin to pierce it where the hook is. Flip it back face-up, and make a more obvious pen mark on the front.

5. Arrange, Hammer, and Hang
Here’s the fun part: play around with different arrangements using the paper templates and some masking tape, until you find one you like. Remember to step back from time to time and view your work from other areas in the room, and pay attention to balancing things like color, size and finish within the arrangement.

When you’re happy with your layout (which can take anywhere from ten minutes to several days), you’ll be ready to hang the originals. This is where you’ll be grateful for the previous step: simply place your picture hooks or nails to match up with the hanging marks, and hammer directly through the paper. Remove the paper, replace with the artwork, and voila!

Images: Eleanor Büsing