Spring photo display

I hesitate to write yet another post about our kitchen art line.

But we love the art line, and we think it’s one of the smartest things we’ve put in our house, and we just changed it up again and we’re dying to share some stuff we learned in the latest iteration of the project.

art line photography

So, if you’re sick of the art line already–click away. We won’t take it personally. :-)

But, if you want to find out what we learned about tricking it out with photos, read on!

Time for a change

As we shared in our first post about the art line (made with Ikea’s super-easy, super-inexpensive Dignitet curtain wire) our main hope for it was to inspire creativity in the kids and us. Our first display, back in December, featured a hodge-podge of things we’d made and things we liked.

zipline art gallery

After Christmas, we put up some art school exercises of Cane’s. I really liked the look of these, and it was nice to get them out of his portfolio and up some place we could see them.

art line

A few weeks ago, we took the kids on an outing to a pioneer cemetery in Portland, where we took lots of great photos. Ever since we’ve been meaning to create an art display from them to hang on our art line.

grace cemetery

Grace wasn’t as interested in exploring cool old headstones, but it was a beautiful day to get lost in a book.

Last week, as we began figuring out which ones we want to include, we realized that we didn’t want to be limited to the photos from that one day. We expanded our theme to encompass all of spring–because it’s been a good one, with lots of fun memories.

In the process of creating this display, we learned a few things that might be helpful to anyone wanting to create a photo display.

Our big a-ha’s

1. You don’t have to be a great photographer to get some great images.

You do have to do a little editing, though. Cane (the photography teacher) is going to deliver a post later this week with some serious tips on photo editing, but I’m going to give you the Photo Editing for Dummies version. (UPDATE:  You can find Cane’s more extensive photo-editing how-tos here.)

First, use a photo editor to crop your images.

(I use iPhoto for this, but any editor will do.) I am a baby photographer, and I have a hard time attending to everything a good photo requires. If I’m getting the settings right, I’m likely not doing a great job of composing the image. Luckily, I can take care of that later, by cropping.

I often have a lot of background in my images that don’t contribute to the photo. I don’t have a great zoom lens, so it’s hard for me to get the kind of up-close images I like. I generally think bold is better, and I’d rather fill the frame with my subject.

will originalwill cropped

The photo on the left was fine, but it was Will’s face that made me like it. I decided to zoom in on that feature and make it the focal point.

Second, don’t be afraid to use editing tools.

Like many of you, I quickly got over the demise of Picnik when I discovered PicMonkey. For this project, I gave myself permission to fully explore the PicMonkey effects tools.

cane camera originalcane camera edited

To get the image on the right, I used sepia with a slightly pink cast to it.

In the past I’ve been sort of a purist about photo editing. I thought that using such tools was cheating, or somehow not as good as taking a high-quality photo all on my own.

As of this weekend, I’m changing my tune. I’ve realized that digital photos edited with filters are really their own medium and can be appreciated for what they are. When I’m using them, I’m not trying to make a photo that’s a great, true-to-life representation of a moment. I’m using digital color the way I might use paint.

For example: When I was visiting a friend over spring break, I took this picture of a sweet Valentine hanging in her window. I loved the way you could both see into her house, and see the reflection of the house across the street.

pam's window

However, I was not crazy about Grace’s reflection in the image, and I decided to play around with just the Valentine–the reason I took the photo in the first place.

I cropped it to zoom in on the big heart and the little bird, and then I played around with the color effects. I tried out a couple different versions:

heart with cross, ortonhear with focal, posterizeheart with film grain, lomo

(Left image: Cross, Orton effects; center image: Focal, Posterize effects; right image: Film Grain, Lomo effects)

Playing around with all the options was just a lot of fun–and that’s what creative play should be.

2. Think about a theme, or some principles to help you in selecting pictures.

We had the theme of “spring” guiding us, but we had so many images we liked, it was still hard to choose. We thought about having images only of objects:

dancing paintbrush detailchickenhands clasping

But we also had some shots of us that we liked, too. In the end, we went with a mix. We chose one image of each of us, and for the images of objects, we tried to choose those that represented a variety of our spring experiences.

3. Order prints in a mix of sizes, but don’t be afraid to put a 5×7 mat on an 8×10 print.

We aren’t very good at knowing what we want until we can see the prints and move them around. Because the prints are fairly inexpensive (and we figured we’d like to have them even if we didn’t put them on the art line) we ordered more than we needed. For size, we mostly ordered 8×10 prints–then realized once we started playing with the line that we wanted more variety in our sizes.

Happily, this worked out just fine when we began putting some of those large prints into a 5×7 mat. I liked that earlier image of Cane better when it was “cropped” even further by the mat:

cane camera editedcane in mat

We got prints from our local Fred Meyer store, which we were able to order online and pick up an hour or so later. At $1.99 for an 8×10, $.79 for a 5×7, and $.13 for a 4×6, we spent less than $15 for all of the prints we used on the line.

4. You don’t need frames, but a mat makes a huge (positive) difference.

We tried hanging our photos without mats, but they curled up a bit and we didn’t really like the way they looked.

cane with curled photos

We also tried a mix of mat and no-mat, and we tried layering the photos, but we didn’t like that either.

art line mix

We wanted an informal look, and we decided that no frame was informal enough. We like having some space between each photo, and we like being able to see each of them clearly.

For a different kind of look, you could go with mats that are all the same size, but we like having a variety. We like the uneven line at the bottom of the display. We think it’s got a nice energy (and more casual feel) than it would have if all the mats were the same size.

pictures in mats

The mats weren’t that expensive. The 8×10 openings were $2.99 each, the 5×7 mats were $2.49, and the 4×6 was $1.89. We already had some from December, and we bought a few more for this display. We now have all we need the next time we decide to put up something new. Without a coupon or any discounts, the cost for the mats in our display is $27.00.

4. Invest in some acid-free tape and some clear acid-free photo corners.

photo adhesives

We used the tape to tape the photos to the back of the mats, and we used the photo corners to attach those 8×10 prints to the mats with a 5×7 opening.

photo corners

It worked best to slip the corners onto the photo, then press the photo to the back of the mat.

Economical and awesome (for us)

We’re going to call our grand total for this project (including Dignitet line, hooks, mats, prints, and adhesive supplies) at about $65.00, and the only cost we’ll have the next time we switch it up is the cost of whatever the new art is. The line, hooks, mats, and adhesives are paid for.

When we compare the cost of this to a gallery wall (even using Ikea or thrift store frames), we definitely think this is the way to go. More importantly, we love that it’s easy to swap out, our display stays fresh, and it allows us to remember and celebrate the season and the things we’ve done to enjoy it.

kitchen art line final

(Oh, and notice the light fixture? We love the art line even more, now that we’ve finally gotten rid of the glassy, brassy beast that’s been hanging over our heads since last August.)

light fixture kitchen

But that’s a story for a different post…coming soon!

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In the spirit of better late than never…

We’re linking up to WhisperWood Cottage’s Talent Scouting Party, where you can find all kinds of great ideas for kitchens. (Unfortunately, it closes today–but the projects will be there long after.)

And we’re also linking to my new favorite place to be on Thursdays, Pancake and French Fries’ William Morris Project.

william morris project

And as always, we’d love to hear from you…

Have any great ideas for displaying art? What do you think we should do for our next display? What do you think about using filters from sites like PicMonkey–is it cheating or just fine?


Speaking of digital editing as its own art form, found an artist today who does amazing stuff. Her name is Bettie Denny, and she’s being featured on VoiceCatcher, a Portland non-profit that supports the work of women writers and artists. You can see some samples of her digital images here. (Note: I do some volunteer, non-paid work for the VC blog.)