How to create visual balance in a gallery

Visual balance is an important consideration when you are hanging a group of items together in a gallery. It’s key to creating a sense of harmony and helps make the items in the arrangement look like a cohesive whole. One of the key concepts, which has a huge influence on visual balance is the idea of visual weight. 

The term visual weight simply refers to how heavy something looks on the wall. This is directly influenced by a number of elements like color, contrast with the wall, and thickness or size of the item and the frame. For example, large, dark or heavily textured items have more visual weights than small, light or smooth pieces. 

Four different pictures in black frames with different thicknesses to demonstrate the idea of visual weight to create visual balance in a gallery wall.

What defines visual weight? Scale

Scale and contrast are the two primary elements that influence the perception of weight or presence. The scale (or size) of a picture relative to the pictures around it, can make it stand out - whether the picture is very big, or even very small. It’s this difference between one item and the items around it that creates the sense of visual weight.

Have a look at the example of the frames above. Even though each frame takes up a similar amount of wall space and they use the same size artwork inside the frame, some of them just look heavier than others.

An asymetrical arranged grouping of decor items into a wall gallery where the visual weight of the items is taken into consideration to create visual balance in the arrangement

What defines visual weight? Contrast

In a similar way, a  contrast in color between a picture and the wall can lead to a perceived increase in visual weight. In the image above see how the black frames stand out on the white background and look heavier, even though they physically take up less space.

A gallery of 3 pictures hanging above a side table with three different colored images and 3 different frames to show the idea of visual weight to create visual balance in a gallery.

Color has weight too

The examples up until now have shown all black and white images, but colors have visual weight as well. Generally speaking, saturated (bright and vivid) colors will have more visual weight than muted (soft and pale) colors, and darker colors will appear heavier than lighter colors.

So in the example above, despite the fact that the image on the right is in the “lightest” frame in the group, the vibrant color gives it much more visual weight than the other two pieces.

Two different arrangements of a gallery of 4 different pictures with different frames hung above a table and chairs to show how visual weight of a picture affects the balance in a gallery.

Using visual weight to create a balanced grouping

The more visual weight an object has the more it draws attention, so ideally it needs to be placed in the arrangement where it will look most balanced. Generally, hang the items with the highest visual weight in the center of a display with other pieces clustered around it, or the bottom center position to anchor the display, with items either above it or to each side of it. 

TIP: Think of a gallery as a see-saw, where the items on the left hand side of the centerline should be balanced with the items on the right hand side. If the arrangement seems lopsided, you can balance it out by adding another visually heavy item on the other side, or by moving the visually heavy item towards the middle.

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