Right around the time that we decided to work with Pen + Napkin on a new Feel Good Flash Makeover, this time for a very deserving family of soon-to-be five transitioning out of homelessness (see yesterday’s reveal here), Artfully Walls reached out to us to partner on a post about art and it just felt like the perfect marriage for what we had going on. Our goal for this family’s home was to make it comfortable and safe (they were removing themselves from an abusive situation), with some “life” and color (our Mama Bear’s request) and truly, there’s no better way to bring in character and a sense of place and personality than through art.
If you don’t know Artfully Walls, they’re a really great site where you can source affordable art prints of all styles, but they also have tools that make creating art setups (especially gallery walls) SO easy. With their Wall Designer, you can pull in any pieces you like and play around digitally to create an arrangement you love before committing to purchasing either the prints or the whole she-bang with custom frames. That takes the guessing out of sizing and orientation that’s so hard to figure out without doing some manual labor and/or guessing. Also, for anyone who suffers from paralysis of choice (or as a reader said a few weeks back in a post and I never forgot, “Fear of Better Choices”), they also offer pre-selected gallery walls in over 50 styles. Yay for not having to make any real choices (I mean, of course, you have to pick from the 50+ but it’s a VERY good starting point slash way easier to see someone else put something together that you can then tweak rather than starting with a blank slate). Gallery walls and more complicated art arrangements can feel like you need a Ph.D. in art history mixed with an apprenticeship at a custom framer to figure out, but we’ve put up our fair share around here and have plenty of tips so you can feel confident in doing it yourself (you CAN do this).
Before we get to that, I’m going to walk you through the art picked out for this home, the whats and whys, so you can hopefully get a sense for our thought process, i.e. LESSONS and plenty of HOT TIPS. Let’s start in the living room.
The big art moment here was the loose grid on the picture ledges, balanced further down the wall (in the kitchen) with an overscale piece. Here, we went with a mix of frame colors (black and white for variety but still keeping things concise) in varied scales and orientations. We didn’t go with anything too large and vertical, otherwise, the shelves would have to be further apart. That would create more white space around the horizontal or square pieces and then this whole arrangement would feel too airy. Try to keep things light yet tight. We put the largest pieces in the center of both ledges then played around with the other smaller pieces to fill in (that’s typically what you want to do with any art grouping).
In terms of the prints we actually picked, you’ll notice there’s a mix of “media” (watercolor, mixed media, oil), but it’s all kept cohesive enough because we’re working within a color palette of blue, mustard, and blush, for the most part. Everything is on the moodier or muted end, so the landscape still feels like it belongs next to the ethereal portrait.
Because of the open floor plan, the pieces in the kitchen still needed to “talk” to the art in the living room. There were some things we wanted to cover up (the float-mounted circle print below actually covers up the fuse box), but for the most part, the purpose here was really to bring some life and color into this pretty neutral space. HOT TIP: If you’re in a rental and handcuffed to the style because of your lease, the easiest thing you can do to detract from what you don’t like is to bring in things you do like.
The photo up there on the right is a good reminder to switch up your framing. Here, we went with a float mounted piece and a near full bleed. There’s definitely nothing wrong with going all float-mount or all matted, but if you want something a little more casual and “loose,” make sure to vary up the mounting.
We kept the art in the girls’ room simpler in terms of layout, going with a big anchor piece above the dresser that felt age appropriate, then peppered the bookshelf and the wall by the window with a few other pieces:
These two pieces (above) felt very much in line with each other, having that painterly touch, and keeping the frames white let the art pop more against the neutral wall and bookshelf backdrop.
While yes, this is a room for young girls, that doesn’t mean it has to be all “baby” art. That floral portrait would work just as well in an adult-woman home, and the yellow and blush arches (monotone rainbow? …is that a thing?) would be pretty great as graphic touch to a grid of art or a gallery wall (for both grown people and littles).
Okay, now that we’ve laid the groundwork and helped you with your art arranging 101 homework, we’re graduating up to the more advanced gallery wall. Okay, I shouldn’t paint the picture (ha) like that. I have some breaking design news: GALLERY WALLS ARE NOT THAT HARD. I know they can seem super intimidating, especially if you’ve never done one before, but do you trust us? I mean, hopefully, you do if you’re here. Trust us.
This particular “salon” wall (that’s just a fancy way to say gallery wall, BTW) was a little different in that it had to visually serve both a grown mama, her teenage son and still feel appropriate for what would be the nursery in this two-bedroom apartment. Everything picked out by Velinda (who was the lead designer on this project) leaned more modern to keep it adult yet playful, with the addition of that funny little animal drawing in the middle.
Let’s study this for a minute…what do we have here and why does this work?
- A cohesive palette: Orange, teal, black and navy make up the colors of the pieces. It’s nice to have one piece that speaks to all those colors (like the large anchor print at the top left), than the rest individually answer some of the other hues. What this does is two-fold—keeps things jiving visually but also doesn’t feel too matchy-matchy. “Matching” can be tricky because anything too same-same is going to feel overly planned. The goal is to keep it casual. The two teals aren’t exact? Cool, totally fine (actually, that’s better).
- Plenty of orientations: This is one of the biggest keys to a successful gallery wall (which was done here). You’re going to want to shake things up with squares, horizontals, verticals, and extreme versions of the two latter shapes. Also, don’t be afraid to bring a framed canvas into the mix to inject even more variety.
- Different colored frames (but reigned in): Our favorite mix of frame colors in a wall is pretty simple—black, white, white oak (or another light wood). Sometimes, for impact (and if you’re building out something BIG), a brass or chrome frame adds a nice punch, but mostly, keeping everything streamlined, i.e. nothing too ornate in a sea of modern gallery-esque frames, is your best bet for GWS (gallery wall success). Here, there’s a nice variety of frame widths, too. A thinner frame will always come off more modern than something thicker, but generally, anything in the 1-inch arena will feel updated and fresh.
Now that you know how to pick your art, it’s time for a quickfire hit list of dos and don’ts of hanging a gallery wall so you get it right the first (or first-ish) time. Some of these points have already been touched on, but I wanted to put them all in one place so you can reference back as your cheat-sheet when you embark on your gallery wall journey.
How to Put Together a Gallery Wall (Without Panicking):
- Pick your anchor piece and build out different frame sizes and orientations from there. I’ve probably said this, what…three times now? But anyhow, yes, this is paramount to a pulled together yet eclectic arrangement. Mix up small and big pieces (and don’t be afraid to go to extremes), horizontals, verticals, squares (squares are GREAT), canvases, etc.
- Vary frame colors and finishes. A good rule of thumb is to stick to three finishes. Black, white and one wood tone is a great place to start. If your gallery wall is very large, you can get away with mixing in one more finish, like brass, but that works best if there are at least two pieces in a metallic, as one will feel pretty solitary and unbalanced. Another note in terms of frames is to not be afraid to mix up frame widths. You do not need to use the same frame over and over again. In fact, it looks less finicky if there is some variety. Going super thin will feel more modern, while a thicker frame comes off more traditional.
- Play with mounting options. I’m not saying not to use all matted pieces, but a mix of matted, float-mount, full-bleed and partial bleed (with a white border) is our personal favorite here at EHD.
- Pick and stay within a color palette and “vibe.” If you’re buying all new art for this project, this is pretty easy to control as you can just make sure everything you purchase will work together. If you’re putting something together from collected pieces, you’ll want to weed out anything that feels like it doesn’t belong, whether because of style or color (or add more pieces to round out that outlier if it’s super important to you). You can also just “pick” a style of art (all B&W photography, abstracts, vintage oil portraits or seascapes, for example), and go all in. That’s SUPER chic and special.
- Find a flat place to lay everything out before getting your hammer. Step away from the hammer, please. You’re not ready. Collect all the art you think you want to hang together and lay ALL of it out either on the floor, a bed and dining table. Arlyn told me that in her dining room, Jess helped her with the process and she advised that she measure the area she was going to use (her ENTIRE wall), and mark it out on the floor with painter’s tape. She said it was genius and will never not do it that way. She even taped out where approximately her wall sconce is so she didn’t mistakenly plan art for that spot. Play around until you have something you like. You’ll want to make sure all the verticals aren’t all together, or all the black frames. It should feel mixed but doesn’t have to be exact. If two white frames end up next to each other, it’s totally fine if you love the way it looks. You’re not going to go to gallery wall jail. Take a deep breath. It’s going to look great!
- Don’t stress about “fixed” spacing between pieces. Repeat after me: all art pieces do not have to be exactly the same width from the next. That causes a logistical nightmare when you’re working with varied sizes and orientations. It’s okay to eyeball (try about 3-4 inches between pieces). The easiest thing to do is, once you get your arrangement, pull your largest anchor piece from where you have everything laid out, and hang that, then start working from there. You’ll have to adjust as you go, and you might find that some of your measurements were wrong, but it’s TOTALLY fine.
- Note where the nail actually goes. Unless you got all your frames at the same place, make sure to pay special attention to the distance between the top of the frame and where the nail will actually hang off the frame. Some pieces might have a wire, some might have hooks, some might have nothing at all, so it’ll all differ and if you want things to be precise, measure each frame individually before putting up.
Okay, I think you’re finally ready for some art. You’re all studied up, you have your cheat sheet…it’s time for some shopping. Again, don’t forget about Artfully Wall’s pre-selected gallery walls (they offer 20% off entire purchase if you go this route, too), but if you want to go at it alone, we arranged some favorites from the site into roundup categories:
1. Swyre Head | 2. #3 by Justine Moody | 3. Series 1 No. 7 | 4. Persimmon Rains | 5. Garden Carvort | 6. Poco a Poco | 7. Song | 8. Line & Shape Studies 01 | 9. #5 by Justine Moody | 10. Spring Is Like A Perhaps Hand | 11. Sunday Market | 12. Knott Cloud | 13. Wabi Sabi 16-01 | 14. Snowmelt | 15. Series 3 No. 2
1. Bait and Switch | 2. Cycle 01 | 3. Abstract No. 9 | 4. Two Loops | 5. Looped | 6. Geometric | 7. Turquoise Triangles | 8. Herba Mythologica XV | 9. Kinetic Lines 18 | 10. Red and Blue Branches | 11. Out of Shape | 12. Turn II | 13. Untitled | 14. Striped Stone #1 | 15. Black Form
1. Into My Arms | 2. Woodcut Floral | 3. Jalmia | 4. Bowl of Lemons | 5. Pot Plant | 6. Ink Floral | 7. Eucalyptus 1 | 8. Pears Black and White | 9. Yellows Roses in White Pitcher | 10. The Good Listener | 11. Bouquet Study No. 1 | 12. Freda | 13. Wild Cactus | 14. Blue Pod | 15. Lemons
1. Autumn Girl | 2. Head | 3. Woman Sitting on a Quay | 4. Prayer | 5. Afro 1 | 6. A Time of Roses | 7. PJH | 8. Comet and Oranda | 9. Just Moody | 10. The Big Leap | 11. I’ve Got You | 12. Posey | 13. Silhouette | 14. La Espera | 15. Wrestling | 16. August 1980 | 17. The Gallant Pluck | 18. Malalla | 19. Riley | 20. Monica In a Red Dress | 21. Julie
1. Negba | 2. Desert | 3. Tangerine Sky | 4. A Calm Sea | 5. Waters of the World | 6. Walk in the Woods 4 | 7. Without Expectation | 8. Headspace | 9. Six Shooter Peak | 10. Sete Cidades | 11. La Veta Farm | 12. India no.8 | 13. California Coast, Trees & Beach | 14. Petoskey Hunter | 15. Beach Huts | 16. To Richardsons Hill | 17. She & I | 18. Cherry Coast
There are literally hundreds more options in a wide array of styles and categories, so have a look.
Thank you again to Artfully Walls for providing the art for yesterday’s makeover, and let us know what art pairing, framing or arranging questions you might have. I know it can feel intimidating sometimes, but we’re here to help.
*This post is in partnership with Artfully Walls but all words, designs and selections are our own. Thanks for supporting the brands we love that support the blog.
**photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp, creative direction by Emily (Henderson), design and styling by Velinda Hellen with styling support from Emily (Bowser)