One of my responsibilities at work is to hang the art shows when we have them. A few times a year my gallery hosts exhibitions showcasing the work of local artists. Sometimes the show is for an individual artist, and other times it’s for a group of artists, such as in the photo above. I used to find this challenging when I first started doing it, but after a few years it has gotten a lot easier and now I actually enjoy doing it. In this article I’m going to talk about how to arrange pictures on a wall, and offer some tips that I’ve picked up along the way.
Whether you’re hanging an art show, or hanging pictures in your home, the main principle is the same – BALANCE. It’s ALL about balance. What do I mean by that exactly? In short, I mean that nothing sticks out like a sore thumb. Even when presented with an assortment of pictures that all vary in size, shape, color, and subject matter, they still need to be arranged in a way that makes them look like a unified whole.
Let’s Look at the Picture Above…
This was a particularly tricky show to hang because it was a group show for a local artist connection and every piece that came in was COMPLETELY different in just about every way. In addition, our designated area for art shows is not huge. It’s the wall you see in the picture and that’s it.
Figuring out how to make them all work together is the equivalent to figuring out a jigsaw puzzle. When the pieces don’t quite fit, you know it. And it takes as long as it takes.
How to Begin
I usually start with the biggest piece first. In general, the largest piece/pieces should not be on the very ends, but somewhere in the middle. This is to keep the grouping from looking lopsided or heavier on one end than the other. These are the factors that you will want to take into consideration when beginning the process:
- Size – Begin with the largest pieces grounded more towards the center. This will help provide a foundation for the composition. Once the largest pieces are up, the wall will look a lot less empty and won’t be so intimidating to continue filling out the rest. From there I find it easiest to start from the top and work down. The tiniest pictures should not be placed at the very top, as that would make them very difficult to see. You don’t want them all clustered together at the bottom, either. Space them throughout the bottom two thirds (give or take) of your grouping.
- Lightness and Darkness – This is equally as important as size. Just as a large picture is visually heavier than a small picture, so is a dark picture visually heavier than a light picture. This includes more than just the image itself, but also the matting and the frame. Space the darkest pictures out so that they are not clustered together, and fill in the rest of the areas with the lighter pictures.
- Color – Similar to lightness and darkness, but color is a little bit more complicated than just black vs. white. A very vivid, brightly colored picture is going to attract the eye before a pale, pastel picture. Also, you wouldn’t want to have one side of your wall made up entirely of warm colors like red, orange, and yellow, while the other side is full of cool colors like blue, green, and purple. That would make it look divided, and our mission is to make it look UNITED. Space out the most brightly colored pieces the same way you space out the lights and darks.
- Shape – This is the one that can really throw a wrench into the machine. There is no exact formula for figuring out how to arrange many different shapes together. Basically, the goal is to eliminate as much negative space (empty wall space) as possible. If you keep this in mind, it’s only a matter of fitting the pieces together like a puzzle. Think Tetris. Obviously if you’re working with a variety of sizes and shapes, the space between the pictures isn’t going to be exactly even. This is perfectly fine. Personally, I focus on the first three things on this list first and let shape take just a little bit of a backseat. If you have the first three things generally figured out, but are still having trouble deciding where to put a few of the pieces, shape can be a good final determining factor.
Now, I should note here that my gallery has a hanging rod system, so it’s really easy for me to change pictures around without having to put holes in the wall. For those of us without such a handy dandy tool, there are methods to figuring out your layout before you actually begin attacking the your wall with a hammer and nails.
A Helpful Method
The method that makes the most sense to me is to cut a piece a scrap paper to represent each picture you intend to hang. Lay the paper over each picture and trim it to fit. Then you can take the papers and arrange them on the wall as many ways as it takes to get it looking right. Of course, this will only work for size and shape and not for color and lightness/darkness, but you can lay the pieces on the floor to fill in the blanks.
The above two pictures are from the Forever Cottage Blog. You can see how she cut out a piece of scrap paper to represent each picture for the wall collage. The results are beautiful! Notice how the three largest pictures are in the center, rather than on the ends. The darker frames are spread out, and everything flows visually and looks balanced.
Here is another example of a very well balanced arrangement of pictures, courtesy of Postcards From Rachel.
When you’re arranging your own collage wall, remember to keep in mind the four basic factors of:
And most importantly, try to have fun! Arrange your pieces on the floor until you come up with an arrangement that looks balanced. Asking others for their input is always a valuable tool, but remember that ultimately it’s YOUR wall, and you have to like the way it looks. There is no one perfect arrangement or formula, but if you keep the four factors in mind and take your time with it, you WILL be able to come up with a beautiful collage wall that is all your own.
As always, I welcome questions. Leave them below!