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  • Writer's pictureASK NANA

Making a Picture Grouping

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

Group in odd numbers being careful of visual weight.

I was recently helping a friend decorate her new home. She had lots of pictures of various sizes and different frames and wanted help in making attractive groupings on her walls. Here are some of the visual rules we followed in turning her house into a delight to the eyes.

There are two kinds of balance that you need to decide on to begin with. Symmetrical balance has the same things on both sides like a vertical 8x10 in the center and vertical 5x7's on each side with their centers set on the center of the 8x10. However, if the 5x7’s have different visual weight the grouping will still look imbalanced. Asymmetrical balance means the left side and right side are different but balance visually with equal weight. An example of this would be two 5x7’s placed on the left side of an 8x10 with one 5x7 above the other. Each 5x7 should be centered in the space of the upper half of the 8x10 or the lower half. Another way to do asymmetry is to place a 5x7 on the left in the upper half of the 8x10 and one on the right in the lower half of the 8x10. These are simple setups but the visual weight of each object needs to be balanced. Here is a chart to understand that.

Heavy Visual Weight

Height - High

Light - Bright

Color - Varied/Bright

Frame - Dark Wood

Light Visual Weight

Height - Low

Light - Dark

Color - Black, White, Sepia

Frame - Light or Metal

Now don’t get scared it’s not as complicated as it’s starting to sound. There is one more rule to remember. Your best groupings are in odd numbers 3 pictures, 5 pictures, etc. but they don’t have to all be pictures. You can add odd items like small dried flowers, belt buckles, spurs or other mementos. Try laying your groupings out on a table or the floor to see if you like them first.

Look at the picture grouping at the top of this page. What makes it work? There is a mixture here of symmetrical and asymmetrical balance. The four pictures are hung so that the outside edges form a perfect rectangle which has a symmetrical effect but the left side is opposite to the right side in picture arrangement which is asymmetrical. The two larger pictures are overlapping slightly also making an asymmetrical structure. The frames are all black wood and of similar thickness and all of the pictures are black and white giving similar visual weight. However, the bear is a brighter contrast and should have been switched in position with the lighter fox. The “Be Brave” picture has more visual weight because “Be” is more prominent and so being placed in the lower position is correct. The items on the desk are also part of the grouping. The white boxes carry the most visual weight and are properly placed under the smaller picture. The only colorful picture is the dog picture and it grabs the eye, so placing it close to the boxes makes the left side too heavy for the thin metal cactus to balance. You could move the dog closer to the cactus for better balance. The cactus needs to either be thicker in its wire or painted bright white or jet black. It appears to be silver metal and is not bold enough to balance the weight of the boxes. This collection is quite good but could be improved with these few changes. Can you see that the odd number of the total objects is attractive?

One more suggestion. If you have three pictures of the same size like high school graduation pictures of your three children you can hang them in a straight row as we have often seen in homes. But if you will put the left one 1/3 higher and the right one 1/3 lower it will be more interesting and if you move them a little more you will have a space for a few mementos on the lower left and upper right of your grouping. Just keep the total an odd number. So, go to it and have fun!

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