Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How To Make a Picture Wall That Doesn't Look Like a Catastrophe

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DIY photo wall

Has this happened to you? You open up Potterybarn magazine and see a beautiful display of family photos, arranged haphazard, yet orderly; subdued, but not bland; not too many photos, but not a lack thereof, either.

You want this...

But you get this...

Building a photo wall or college is more of an art than a science, I've discovered.  I've spent hours hanging and rehanging frames, printing and reprinting pictures, adding and subtracting pieces; but it's finally done!  Ladies and gentlemen...my family photo wall (up the staircase to boot!).

My stairway family photo wall No. 1

My stairway family photo wall No. 2
 Because this was such an arduous process, I've decided to share with you what I've learned about the hefty task of creating a photo wall collage.  Here are Amber's tips for creating a photo wall.  Now, I'm not a designer, so these are meant to be tips for amateurs.  Please chime in if you have some of your own advice to give!
Stairway Photo Wall

  1. Hang the center line at eye level.  This means that if you are going up a set of stairs, your photos will have to climb, too.
  2. Uniformity is not required in size shape, or even color of your pictures/frames.  But there has to be some element that keeps it consistent, like overall height of the entire collage, equal horizontal spacing, or photo sizes.
  3. To make things look organized, and not haphazard, make sure top and bottom, and left and right of your picture collage are equal aesthetic weight.  This means you have to balance out large frames, bold photos, or heavy matting with equal visual weight on the other side.
  4. Put portaits in the middle because they become focal because of the tightness of the shot.  Putting tight shots on the outside makes them feel like they are floating away.
  5. Break up the monotony by adding framed objects such as clocks, mirrors, and artwork to the mix.  I've seen people add all sorts of things to their collages...anything flat or framed will do!  I'm not much of a risk-taker, so I chose a clock, but let your creativity shine!
  6. Be prepared to move and remove photos.  It's nearly impossible to get it right the first time.  It's better to just make small holes.
  7. When printing your pictures, make extra copies in different sizes and finishes, so you have lots to choose from.  Sometimes it's not the frame that's throwing off the arrangement, it's the photo, so switching it for another can bring unity to your picture wall.  Note: I bought framed artwork from Ross for around $20 with pictures that were 20" square then cut open the frames and put in my own prints.  I got the enlarged prints from Persnickity Prints online, and for less than $30 for each picture, these look like the real deal.
  8. Choose your photo finish and coloring.  Decide ahead of time whether you want your photos to be matte or glossy; black and white, bold color, or muted antique/sepia tones.  I chose to do a combination of black and white, sepia, and antique finish (matte), but all the photos have muted color.  This is a risky choice, because it's harder to create unity.  It is much simpler to choose all black and white, or all bold color.
  9. Find your line.  You need to select one visual line that the eye can follow throughout your collage.  It can be a horizontal center of gravity line, like in my collage, but other options include: 
I chose to use a horizontal center of gravity visual that followed the pattern of the stairway banister... 
However, it got a little tricky, when wrapping the corner.  Still need to work on this.
You may also opt for a horizontal line through the center
A vertical line
A horizontal line on top, bottom, or (like here) both
Or, I call this the "center of gravity" line because the visual goes right across the center, even though no negative space exists there.
 Finally, to ensure the best visual for your picture wall, you can trace the frames onto large sheet paper, cut them out, and tape the arrangement on the wall to get a visual.  Just be aware that this does not take into account the frame width, matting, or imagery, so you still may need to adjust the arrangement after 


  1. want to come do mine? I have the stack of frames all ready to go :)

    1. Ha! I know it's such a task. Originally I was going to change out the photos every season and then I was thinking, "Are you nuts?!?" One time is enough!