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Can you Give Some Tips on Creating a Gallery Wall?

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)


There are as many ways to create a gallery wall as there are walls in the world. There are no rules but I can give a few tips to make yours strong and impressive.


A gallery wall is a collection of art composed in an organized way. This can be as simple as lining pieces in a row or arranging them in a grid but it’s usually more mixed than that.


Any wall can be a gallery especially if it is long and lonely and has defined end points such as a pair of windows or door openings. Areas above sofas and console tables are also popular candidates. I have one above my seven-foot long desk. I like to gaze at it while writing my column, in fact.


Once you’ve chosen your wall, determine the size of your gallery. Next choose the art you want to display. It should be compatible with the room. The frames do not have to match and the images do not all have to be black and white or all color. They also don’t have to be all the same medium. If that were the case, then galleries would be easy to create. That is, you just gather up all your watercolors and frame them all in chrome, for instance. Or, gather your black and white photographs and frame them in black. Although it would still be challenging to arrange these scenarios, half the work would be done.


Let’s walk through a more difficult example. Take a dining room where the table and chandelier are centered on a long wall. If the table were eight feet long, I’d designate about six lineal feet and about four feet in height for the gallery. This amount of space gives me enough room to use three or four different frames but their styles must tie together in some way. The more pieces in the gallery, the more variation of frames you can have.


Imagine that this dining room has a coastal feel. The table is hand-planed, rift-sawn oak with a white stain and stands on a pale blue rug. The chairs are slip-covered in white linen. The chandelier is hand-blown blue glass and the walls are covered in a dusty blue grasscloth. The style is light and breezy and the materials are rich and natural.


What type of art would be compatible with this room? Paintings, pastels, prints, and photographs in shades of green, blue, pink, purple, and beige all work. Bold colors would shock the room. Images of sunsets, beaches, tropical plants, birds, underwater wildlife, thatched-roof abodes, and sailboats all make sense. Some of these images should be abstract to make the gallery less literal and more interesting. Frames would be white, bleached wood, bamboo, and if they were thin, perhaps silver or brass metal. All would have simple lines.


So far, the gallery wall is looking strong and cohesive and reflects the style of the dining room. But to make it impressive, I’d add three-dimensional pieces. This could include wood carvings, pieces of driftwood, seashells, or something molded out of rice paper.


Now for the hard part – arranging this collection. Start with the largest piece and center it on the wall. This piece, in fact, could have a completely different frame than all the others (but still compatible). Build out from it and keep colors, images, sizes, shapes, media, and weights balanced on either side. And, unless the centerpiece is extraordinarily large, there should also be artwork above it and perhaps below as well. Keep the images the same distance apart.

Before making any holes on the wall, arrange the collection on the floor until everything is just right. Leave it alone for a day or two. Review with a fresh eye and then tweak to perfection.

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