Help me wall art
September 3, 2019 5:38 AM   Subscribe

My walls are boring. I'd like to liven them up with pictures and stuff, but I have no clue how to go about it. Can you recommend any resources to help me figure out what would look nice in my space?

Hive Mind, meet my living room wall. It is, as you can see, a big boring blank slate. I've been meaning to do something about it for ages, but I have no clue what I'm doing, and the sheer finality of actually drilling holes on the wall to hang stuff fills me with indecision and dread.

I love the look of tasteful arrangements of various pictures I see on Apartment Therapy et al., but to me that seems impossible to replicate — as someone who clearly skipped the lecture in Adulthood 101 where they discussed wall decor, it seems to require an instinct for how things will combine that feels utterly beyond my reach.

It doesn't help that what art I've got is pretty disparate, from Secret of Mana posters to landscape pictures from places I've visited. I really liked the style of the Visions of the Future poster series from the NASA, but have no clue how to combine them (on their own or with the others) into anything resembling a cohesive whole. I can't really articulate my taste, other than tending to like colourful stuff. And, although I don't mind purchasing more prints and frames, I'd like to have some sort of plan in place before I start buying more stuff I'll fail to hang.

Can you recommend any online resources that may help me, a person with the home decoration skills of a five-year old, choose and combine wall art and pictures in a manner that makes sense? As in, learn some of the theory of what works and what doesn't, and maybe figure out what broad style I'd like?
posted by doctorpiorno to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a friend who is good at this, ask them for help (that's how I handled this conundrum).

The apartment therapy image you shared is framed, hung at eye level or thereabout, and thematically similar. Those things help make the arrangement successful.

Here are some suggestions. Including taping paper (cut to the sizes of your framed art) to the wall in various configurations before you commit to putting nails in the wall. If you go that route you could share pics of your art and your mocked-up arrangement/s in an apartment therapy forum or similar and get feedback.
posted by bunderful at 5:50 AM on September 3, 2019

I have no design advice, but one thing you *could* do is use command strips or the like to hang stuff to start with... that way you're not all OMG COMMITMENT with the holes in the walls. Since the Command strips are easily removable, you can hang stuff and give it a try for a while, and if you're not thrilled, well, try something different!
posted by stormyteal at 6:07 AM on September 3, 2019

Can you install a picture rail as a low commitment strategy? Pictures are hung from a molding near the ceiling, can be easily rearranged and don't require putting holes in the wall. Possible disadvantages might be the cost of the molding and hardware and a limit to the weight that can be supported.
posted by Botanizer at 6:18 AM on September 3, 2019

Yes, if you lived in the Seattle area I would leap at the chance to come over and arrange your wall art for you. Ask your friends, definitely.

As for the nails permanence issue, I have found that actually those Command velcro hanging strips are the real deal, especially with lighter art like posters and prints in thinner frames. Not only do they not leave holes in your wall but they also keep things in place so your pictures aren't tilted if they get bumped into!

Going by your Apartment Therapy link and the two pieces of art you linked to, it seems like you gravitate to more detail and coverage. As in, you don't care for lots of open space, visually. I'm similar - a lot of open space with one big statement in the middle can feel really cold, whereas a wall with lots of interesting things all over it feels much more welcoming, to me. The trick to balancing that desire to fill a space with detail and knickknacks and color is to still find a focal point.

In the AT link, the focal point is made by the two big posters in the center above the couch. Their shape and symmetry is a statement that grounds the composition of all the rest of the art around them, and balances the size of the couch below. Small details in all the other art draw the eye around the wall, but you come back to look at the middle two because of the amount of detail in them and their size in comparison to the other pieces, and the strong vertical push of the two frame edges in the center. Also, there's a lot of white space that's broken up by frames. See how much space there is in most of the art between the art and the frame? That allows you to fill a larger wall with less art, without there being too much open space between each piece, so the grouping of art looks deliberate, rather than "I put this picture here and down the hall here's another picture."

In the (lovely) Secret of Mana poster, the focal point of that image is the red birds in the foreground. The composition works by using the contrasting colors of red against green to focus on the red birds. Then your eye travels vertically up the yellow line of the trunk of the tree. The smaller detail of the party at the bottom pulls you back down, and then you pick up details through the whole of the image of all the lush foliage. It is really successful at pulling the eye around, which conveys a sense of life and movement that's inherent to the tone of the source material. Thing is, it's using the same compositional principles as the AT link! A strong statement in the center, with detail or contrast, a vertical element to pull the eye upward, then details surrounding that focal point to discover the longer you look.

So find the art that you want to make the focal point on the wall. That's going to pull the eye from the couch, which is currently the most important thing on that wall visually, so you might need to combine a few pieces to balance the couch out. Then build around that with smaller or less contrasting art. You might want to group relevant things together, like you could have a cluster of travel photos which become their own sort of larger unit - that then gets balanced out by a big poster next to it. You might want to group things by size, so you have biggest things evenly spaced out with smaller pieces between, or big things clustered in the middle and smaller things around them, or biggest things bracketing the sides of the couch with smaller groupings right above it. Lots of possibilities depending on your collection and what makes you happiest to look at the most.

Definitely don't buy art just to have something to fill up the wall. Try your best to work with what you have. See how in the AT link there's open space on the left up top? Leave some space for new finds, and some space just to have some space for the eye to rest.
posted by Mizu at 6:30 AM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seconding a picture hanging rail for the wall. I do think that broad white walls in living spaces do with well with salon style hanging. It makes the space feel more lived in and vibrant. The trick I've found is gathering a bunch of work in different sizes and forms (portrait/landscape orientation, narrow, square etc) and trying to find a layout that works well on the ground. Figure out how you want to different frames/prints to interact, where negative space between works ends up, how different colors interact with each other.

And this is mostly my tastes speaking but I think something with bright colors and abstracted design would work well both with your posters and room. Think Yayoi Kusama or Sol Lewitt.
posted by Ferreous at 7:00 AM on September 3, 2019

So, about 10 years ago when I moved into my current apartment, I made a commitment that everything on my walls would be a piece of art that I either knew the artist personally or commissioned the art (or picked up original art somewhere). There are photos (which is art I or someone else took, or something to do with a show I did, so still follows the rules), but what I found out was that so many more of my friends made art of some type or another (or their parents do, or their siblings/friends/coworkers do) and most of it is pretty darned affordable, if not free.

My walls are now chock-full of a varied array of art in different styles and mediums, and while there are still a few holdouts I bought in stores or are just things I like that aren't handmade art, about 85-90% of it is stuff I can name the artist, and it's completely different than anyone else I know.
posted by xingcat at 7:00 AM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

What I have done in the past is go through the discount/clearance books at the book store, focusing mainly on coffee table books on a particular theme with a lot of large pictures. Themes that have been successful for me have been books about:
- specific artists or art styles (Pop-art was a great one)
- historical photo essays (ie. pictures of musicians behind the scenes, photos from Woodstock, etc)
- a book about hand drawn maps (my FAV find!!!)

I then cut the pictures out of the book and use those as prints to frame. Because they are clearance the most I usually would spend is 5$ per book, and I get a TON of awesome frame-worthy prints out of each. They all match a similar theme since they all came from the same book, and look great together. And I just get frames from the dollar store.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:30 AM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

I asked a similar question of a group of friends when I moved and a friend (who is very good at making pretty, cozy living spaces) told me that whatever I liked will go together. To just pick things that I liked: throw pillows, curtains, art prints and put them up and it will look nice together. This has more or less been true. We also have two ENORMOUS bookshelves and I think the colors of the books add a lot to the decor.
posted by Aquifer at 8:32 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

A Pinterest search for eclectic gallery wall will show you many examples of how people make wildly different pieces of art work together in the same space. Your disparate art collection can look amazing when done up as a gallery wall with other stuff you like.

Thrift stores like Goodwill often have a great selection of art for cheap and can be a great way to round out your gallery wall without spending a lot of money. Anything you ultimately decide not to hang up you can donate back and only be out a few bucks. I've gotten some of my favorite pieces of art from thrift shops. Thrift stores are also a great source for buying frames cheap.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:03 AM on September 3, 2019

Start by collecting pieces that you like, i.e. the posters you linked to. Professional framing is frighteningly expensive, however, if you are just framing posters and art prints from books, I don't think you need to have things "professionally framed". If your pieces are an eclectic collection, you might consider keeping all of your frames in a single color. I think black frames would look great on your wall with your dark sofa. You might prefer less contrast with all white frames. You can pick up frames at the thrift store and you can remove the art from those frames, putting in your own pieces. If you are going for a single-color frame theme, spray paint can unify a whole bunch of thrift store frames. Also, craft stores are great sources for frames. Michaels, Joann Fabric and HobbyLobby all offer nearly weekly 40% off coupons. Hit a few up in different locations, or collect frames over the course of a couple of weeks, and you'll have a gallery wall of frames.

I also hang most all of my lightweight art with Command Picture Hanging Adhesive. Most things have been haning on my wall for years without falling. When hanging things, you might start with your largest piece, either centered or at one side and build your layout from there. I like things a little more ordered, so I usually pick an imaginary horizontal line, either at the top or bottom of the largest piece and line up my artwork along that imaginary line and build the gallery wall from there.
posted by sarajane at 12:11 PM on September 3, 2019

Those glass lamps hanging above your couch are adorable. I'm guessing those are yours? Those are really fun colors, and I would take the lead from them (though maybe orange like your pillow and not just yellow, depending on what you find). With your nice neutral couch, you could play up those colors in art behind your couch. For example, what if you did large prints of the three Deep Space Atomic clock posters on the bottom of the JPL frame, put them all in simple frames, and hung them in a row behind your couch? Three pops of color, and even though they are vertical, you end up with a horizontal display?

The Apartment Therapy link also has accessories in pops of colors. You could get a red or turquoise vase or interesting thing (like maybe at a thrift store or bargain store?) and put it on the table to the left of the couch to play up the colors more. You have a color scheme with those lamps, so I say lean into it.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:25 PM on September 3, 2019

Also loving the hanging lamps!
If you are bored, bored, bored with pictures, try stapling an intriguing piece of fabric to a large section of poster board and hang that above the couch. Several fabrics, several shapes, and easy to switch out.
Or hang prisms and sun catchers in the windows and have a never-ending flow of color on the walls.
Then again, I do crochet and my first thought was * yarn storage shelving -- yes! * so perhaps my ideas of hand-crafted southwestern blankets and pottery and a few framed photos of vast open natural settings would not match your theme.
posted by TrishaU at 1:04 AM on September 4, 2019

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