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I'm one of those people who get something in their head, and actually make a point to do it. So when I started thinking about creating a DIY gallery wall back in the fall, I set in motion a plan of action.

I knew I wanted local Leslieville photos (à la upper east side theme of this wall), so the first step was setting out to snap a few with my point-and-shoot. I was really impressed with how well they turned out with such a simple camera. I shot them in colour, and then converted them to black & white in iPhoto. They were all scenic shots and I thought they would look sharp sans colour. Here are a few of my faves, comparing colour to black & white:

Black & white it was.

My second step was to subway it down to Ikea to choose my frames. I would recommend choosing your frames first — before printing — since printing sizes are quite flexible, but frames you absolutely love might not be easy to find. Everyone has a different preference for frames (see Meg Crossley's love of black frames, Andrea Mills' love of the cable hanging system, and Cameron MacNeil's love of mismatched frames in his blog and in the June 2011 issue), but I wanted to create a contemporary wall with all-black frames in different sizes. I love the idea of mismatched frames in gold, stainless steel, black and natural wood, but it just wouldn't suit the style of the room I had in mind. I think the eclectic gallery wall is more suited to traditional rooms.

I perused Ikea and settled on five different sized Ribba frames in black. They're sleek and simple, and come with mats that can be included with smaller photos or taken out for larger photos. My H&H sidekick Kathryn Bala advised me to keep the mats in, and she has a keen design eye, so I listened. Equipped with frames I loved, I measured out the sizes of photos I would need, and which would look best with which size of frame. Obviously you want your best shots to be larger.

I then had them enlarged and printed out at Toronto Image Works near our H&H offices (it's nice to support the local guys). You can even save money by uploading them to their website from home! Something I learned the first time around (more on that below) is to ask them to lay the prints flat instead of rolling them up. They don't charge extra or anything, and your prints will be wrinkle free and ready to frame right away. I learned this the hard way with the first batch. I picked them up, tried to flatten them out as best I could, and placed them in the frames.

Like Cameron advised in his Design Lesson from the June issue, I cut out the shapes of the frames in newspaper before getting out my hammer. Arrange your cutouts on the wall with tape until you get them just so. Mine looked balanced with 3" between each frame, but 2-1/2" for tight groupings and 4" for larger pieces works as well. Keep taking steps back to assess your arrangement. With your prints already in the frames and your hanging wires fastened (for Ikea frames), measure the inches from wire to top of frame. Now you know how far your nail will sit below the frame. With the newspaper still taped to the wall, pencil mark where the nail should go for the first frame, using the measurement from the wire (usually 2" or 3"). I hammered in my first nail while the newspaper rectangle was still up, then ripped it down, hung the frame, and continued like this (for a tedious hour or so). And here's what I ended up with:

What a sad little arrangement. I decided the wall was much larger than I expected, and the collection really needed a few more prints to round it out and fill the wall. It's a perfect spot for a gallery wall, since the wall juts out a few inches, but it was just much too big for only five frames.

You can't tell from this angle, but there was quite a bit of bubbling because the prints had been rolled.

And so I repeated the process (I eventually got around to it a few months later in February). I chose a few more photos to have printed — asked them to be laid flat this time — and set to work arranging my cutouts. Cameron made a good point, which I had already done, but a grid arrangement should have some consistent vertical or horizontal lines between the sections. See how the far left vertical space and far right vertical space line up? Some consistency like this grounds an arrangement and makes it seem more organized, but the staggered horizontal line still lends a casual, haphazard look to the gallery wall. Creating some consistency is easy with a set of frames like this, all from Ikea, all Ribba, and many with similar widths. This would be tricky to achieve with mismatched vintage frames.

And here's the final wall. I still think we could continue adding to it on either side and above and below, but for now, it works. It's so nice to just sit back on the sofa and appreciate all the effort I put into it. And what better way to surround yourself with art than with photos you've taken of your own neighbourhood? We've had some neighbouring friends through, and they love it!

Give it a try this long weekend! Or check out one of these other DIY projects.

Photo credits:
1-9. Gwen McAuley

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