Step 1: Roughly lay out the frames.
This was actually the second-most-annoying of all the steps. Fortunately, though, I like puzzles, and as a teacher I've developed an impressive level of patience, so it could have been a lot worse.
One rule I set for myself was to purchase as few additional materials as possible for this project. So, I rounded up all the black frames in our house. Then I discovered that my wall would not be complete without the addition of two new frames, so I scurried over to Home Goods and picked up two 8"x10" frames for under $25 total, so I figured that was a decent start.
Step 2: Determine which photos to purchase
Still on the lookout for deals, I waited to make my final decisions regarding the photos I'd used to fill the frames until I saw a sale. Two sales emerged within a few days of each other, and I ordered five free 8"x10" photos from Ritz online (well, free, but I still had to pay a $3 handling fee), and then I ordered the seven missing 5"x7" photos from Mpix when they were having a 15% off sale. I'd never ordered from Ritz before, and I am really pleased with the quality of their photos.
It actually worked out that I had to wait until late August for these sales, because it took me a while to decide how many horizontal and vertical photos I'd need along with their dimensions. I was pretty pleased that I needed five 8"x10" photos, and that's exactly how many Ritz was offering for "free." Win!
Although my original grand idea was to take photos of kitchens in Europe, that was clearly idealistic and therefore didn't work out, so instead I went with these photos highlighting some of our favorite moments on our trip:
Step 3: Buy/make mats for frames
Starting out, three of my 12 frames had white mats, so I decided I'd use those three and buy nine more. Armed with a $50 gift card to Michael's from my birthday and dimensions for all my frames, I waited until a Friday rolled around (when teachers get an additional 10% off their entire purchase, including sale items). A few of my frames have odd dimensions, so I stood in the mat aisle for a long time, wondering if I could come up with a plan to make this work. Then it dawned on me: I could make my own mats for the weird-dimension frames. So, I bought six normal-dimension mats and then bought two pieces of mat board and an Exacto knife so I could cut my own mats. All in, my purchase rang up at about $43, so I still had some money to spare on my gift card!
When I got home to create my mats, it took me a while to figure out the best system. Because I was working with abnormal frame sizes, I knew these mats would wind up being wider than your typical mat. So, I figured this little inconsistency might add to the charm of the frame collage, and I think it does!
There is no doubt an easier way to make your own mats, and I don't claim to be an expert frame-matter, so I'll send you to another site to find a better system.
Here's one of the big mats I made...
Step 4: Level all the frames
Because one of the main goals of this project, besides filling up a big wall, was to cover up the giant bolts, I tried to use the bolts to my advantage in hanging my frames. Then, after stepping back and buying a better level, I made a discovery: the giant bolts are not level. Awesome. These giant bolts are good for nothing.
Remember how I said roughly laying out the frames was maybe the second most annoying part of this project? The most annoying part, by far, was leveling the frames.
At Home Depot, when buying brass polish, I also bought a Ryobi Airgrip Laser Level, the kind that attaches to your wall. Despite the fact that our first purchase clearly did not work -- there was no laser! -- I have to say that the $20 we spent on this gadget was well worth it. We owned a cheap level before -- a cheap level that led me astray by telling me my frames were level when they weren't, as anyone with decent-enough eye sight could tell. Yes, it is kind of hard to see a red laser up against red paint, but that's where my keen 20/10 vision came into play.
Not level...then level! (Watch the changing time by tracking the light from the window...)
Total cost = $51
$25 for frames
$6 for photos
$20 for level
mats -- free, thanks to gift card!