A Layered, Worn & Storied Mantel

I want my house to tell a story from the moment you walk in the front door. I want it to tell you about who I am, the things I care about, and the moments in life that have been the most meaningful to me.

One simple way to do that is through the art you choose to display in your home.

I knew for this layered gallery I wanted to curate a collection that looked worn and storied. I wanted everything from the frames I used, to the mats boards and the art inside them to be full of history and tales to tell. Here’s how I did it:

The Frames

The best place to snag frames that look like they have a bit of history to them is at the thrift store, which is where I found every single one of these frames (minus one) for less than $10 total.

Did I find them all on one trip? No. This was a few months worth of visits to multiple thrift shops. So if this is something you’re interested in creating, start collecting now. Take your time, don’t feel rushed to get something just to get something. You’re searching for frames that have a story to tell after all, so only grab the ones that have something to say to your soul.

The other place I love to grab frames is antique stores and estate sales. Both are great places to find really beautiful vintage frames with authentic patina. Can the prices be a lot higher than the thrift store? Yes, but not always. I found the large vertical antique frame in this grouping buried in a pile in the back of my local antique warehouse for $10.

Sourcing The Art

After I had collected a group of frames that felt good together (and felt like they had a cohesive story to tell), it was time to source art that would continue the narrative I had begun with the frames.

As an aside, I like to grab frames first, then choose art, as it helps me narrow down what size/shape pieces of artwork I’ll need to select as there are thousands of works of art in the world and far fewer perfect thrift store frames.

While there are several ways to go about selecting art for a gallery wall, the easiest method by far is to stick to one central theme and one color scheme. For me, after looking through hundreds of inspiration photos and falling in love with THIS ROOM DESIGNED BY SEAN ANDERSON, I knew I wanted to lean heavily into sketches, drawings and black and white illustrations for this space. I wanted to choose a few pieces that inspired me visually, and then a few that represented moments in my life that were meaningful to me.

Ten thousand sketches, drawings and illustrations later, here’s the gallery collection I finally settled on: (Click on any image to be taken to the website where you can download the same full res art file I used!)

Alterations To The Artwork

I *rarely* alter a piece of artwork, however I did make a couple of tweaks to the above images so they would better suit my use purposes and this gallery collection.

For starters, the paper some of these drawings were created on has yellowed with age much more than others. So prior to printing I went in and desaturated some of the yellow out of a few of the drawings so they would better match the others in the grouping.

Another alteration I made digitally was to give several of the images the appearance of being printed on a larger sheet of old paper, providing the artwork with a faux mat of sorts. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. (If you didn’t want to do this digitally, you could totally just buy custom mats for your images too! This way just saves money on custom mats…)

Printing My Images

Of all the questions I answer on a regular basis in regards to the Public Domain Print Shop, “Where should I print my images” is the question that comes up the most.

I’ll have a longer blog post coming on this topic, but for now I’ll just say two things:

  • HOWEVER, I will tell you know that I usually get most of my prints made at Office Depot (are you horrified?). But having said that, keep two things in mind: 1) Often the prints I’m getting made are just for me to snap a quick photo of for a print shop drop so the cheapest route possible there is great. 2) When I printed this collection I knew these were sketches were made on paper, not glossy shiny paintings. So I purposefully printed them on normal paper at Office Depot so they would retain that quality and look more realistic. If I was going to get a print of a painting made I’d probably use a nicer print lab (like Nations) for that type of image to ensure the best color and quality possible. But I find that Office Depot is great for quick cheap prints that won’t break the bank.

A Few Final Notes & Some Favorites That Didn’t Make The Final Gallery Collection

This gallery collection took me over a month to curate. I tested out dozens of different combinations of different pieces of artwork in various frames as digital mock-ups. I decided I didn’t like the mix of frames I had and went on the hunt for others that would look closer to what I wanted. I spent hours trying to find art that would tell, not just a good story, but MY STORY.

It takes time. Even for people who do this sort of thing a lot. Don’t feel rushed to fill those frames, it’s ok to take things slowly and wait for images that speak to your soul and tell your story.

Now, you didn’t think I would be able to NOT show you some of the OTHER art I fell in love with along the way during my search did you? Spoiler alert, I’ve already started planning where else these can go in my house since they didn’t make the final gallery grouping. (Click on any image to be taken to the website where you can download the full res art file.)

Did you enjoy this post? Then be sure and check out my full PUBLIC DOMAIN PRINT SHOP where you can download hundred of amazing pieces of artwork FOR FREE from museums and public archives around the world!

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