Hanging Artwork

Put it on the wall where you want it

(07/05)Have you every stood in front of your freshly hung print, stepped back, and gazed lovingly at it only to realize that it is hung too high (or low)? So you pull out the picture hanger, move it down an inch, and whack another hole in the wall. Of course, if your spouse or teenaged daughter is helping you might avoid a few of those holes. Still picture hanging remains for many of us one of the many mysteries of the universe. And that's just the mechanics of getting the picture up on the wall.

Other aspects include grouping pictures, spacing, height relative to both furnishings and viewers, as well as matting and frame selection. And you thought you were just going to hammer a nail.

Wall position

Regardless of whether you are hanging a single large piece or a number of smaller pictures, think of your composition (regardless of number of pieces) as a single design element relative to the arrangement of wall size and shape, furnishings, lighting, and accessories. It should be hung so that the combined image is at eye level. If you are 4 feet tall living with someone who is 7 feet tall, you may have a problem, but for the average American adult that is going to place the centerpoint at about 63–66 inches from the floor. Adjust the overall composition up or down slightly for best placement.

Note: For extremely large wall spaces, oversize art and mirrors are frequently used. Because of the spacial relationships, the 66" off the floor isn't always appropriate. Check an art gallery for picture hanging ideas for larger spaces.

The size of the wall and its shape play a big role in the visual appeal of your arrangement. Tall narrow walls are ideal for a single long narrow image or wall hanging or for a vertical arrangement of smaller pictures.

Large pieces or compositions work well with large furniture such as sofas or solid case pieces like a substantial chest. The designer's rule of thumb is to make sure that the artwork is about 2/3 to 3/4 the length of the furniture. Smaller pictures singly or combined look nice with a open piece of furniture like a narrow, vintage hall table with airy cabriolet legs. Add a flower arrangement and you're good to go.

Arranging a group of pictures

There are plenty of opinions about how to design an "arrangement" of pictures. If you have a formal or symmetrical composition of several similar images that are the same size and frame, it's fairly simple to create a balanced composition.

If you have many pictures of different sizes and want to make a single composition, draw a sketch to plan placement. If you have a digital camera and photo manipulation software, take a photo of the area you want to hang your artwork, then using the tools in the application, add blocks of color to design your composition. Better yet, take the picture with the images that you want to use. In the software, cut each image into it's own layer and fill in the background with the color of the wall paint. Move each image around until you come up with a composition that works.

If you don't have a digital camera, create templates of each picture's shape by measuring them or tracing the shapes on a piece of paper. Lay the individual shapes out on the floor or a table, or pin them to the wall with straight pins. Move them around until you find an arrangement that works. Regardless of method, the key is balance and proportion.

Hanging artwork
Figure 1. Hanging artwork.

The mechanics of placing art where you want it

Now for the nitty gritty. There are a variety of techniques for getting your artwork to hang precisely on the wall where you want it without whacking six holes in wall until you get it right.

Use two picture hooks to secure your artwork especially when the piece is heavy. It's also helpful to prevent shifting or tilting. Figure 1 provides an example of a poster about 24" x 36".

  1. Measure from the floor up 66" to find the ideal eye height. (This is subjective--so adjust for your preference.) Mark it lightly with a pencil.
  2. Measure the length and width of your picture. Mark the center point on the backing as a reference.
  3. Plan to space the picture hangers half to two-thirds the width of the picture apart. In the example, the distance between hangers would be 16".
  4. With your third arm, measure from the center point on the back vertically to the wire. With your mythical poster, let's say that measurement is 6 inches. (You may find having a helper useful.)
  5. On the wall measure 6 inches up from your original mark.
  6. Use a level to mark a light line 72" off the floor [that is, (66+6=72)].
  7. Measure 8" on either side of the new center mark on the level line to find the exact point to drive your picture hangers.
  8. Erase the marks.
  9. Hang picture.

If you have bigger projects than hanging pictures, find a professional designer to help you get started. ContractorNexus can help you find a qualified pro.

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