In my non-scientific polling, most people procrastinate when it comes to hanging photos and art.
And why not? Let’s face it, it’s intimidating.
The couch, if that doesn’t look right, you push it to the left a bit. The 24×36” painting, though? Get that wrong and it involves fixing drywall, sanding it down, vacuuming, and painting.
“How to hang pictures” is a Google search worth doing, but the variety of tips are incredible — from simple to complex, there’s something for everyone in those 87,000,000 results it turns up.
From galleries offering advice you need a physics degree to pull off, right through to mock-ups with paper cut-outs, there’s a world of debate on how you do or don’t hang your artwork. This blog post about how to hang artwork and not screw it up even purports the answer is as simple as a one-size-fits-all T-shirt: universally, one hangs artwork exactly at a 57”-high center.
If it were that cut-and-dried, would Google have 87 million results for that search?
There’s no perfect answer, but there are a lot of considerations, so here’s what to keep in mind the next time you’re fixin’ on a hangin’.
Two how-to questions: How to Hang it, and Where?
There’s two parts to picture-hanging: The technical side, involving hooks and hammers, and then there’s the aesthetic aspect.
When it comes to hanging’s technical side, it’s gotten much easier in the last 10 years. Nowadays, newfangled gadgets, like my friend’s “Hang & Level” he scored after moving, can cut the task’s complexity by a mile.
Having the right tool for any job makes it easier. This “Hang & Level” tool lets one find the spot, press in, and it leaves a mark where the nail goes. Its best contribution is skipping that annoying “where picture hook meets with wall hook” extra-measuring equation hassle. With this, or tools like it, a laser level, a hammer, and a ruler, one can hang pictures in groups with gallery precision.
So, now that we no longer need a physics degree to get pictures hung with precision, what are some considerations when hanging art?
How high is too high?
That post earlier claims 57 inches is the magic number. Like Heinz 57 sauce — it’s good on everything! I disagree, it’s a little simplistic and almost foolish. Your surroundings and even your body’s height are influencing factors for what’s for your collection of images, there’s no pat answer here.
For the most part, we’re told to hang art at “eye level.” This means, your visual center (about a third down from the top of the art) should be at eye height.
Whose eye level? Yours.
Usually, I follow this rule and it’s served me well. Over a sofa or sidetable, one is often inclined to hang art lower, and this is also a great move. Arguably, when seated, it’s just slightly above “eye level” then.
All you can really do is assess your furniture, space, and your gazing stance, and find a medium that works for your setting. If you don’t trust your judgment, ask a friend to join you for the hanging festivities.
While display height can often be problematic, it’s in grouping pictures that people generally go wrong.
Hanging out with friends: Grouping artwork
No matter what the size of the photos or artworks you’re grouping, the best thing to remember is that you want an equal distance between every piece. When you start getting one-inch gutters between frames, three-inches there, it looks sloppy. It’s a nice, clean gutter that makes the difference between Bob’s hallway photo array and the gallery down the street.
While this blog post about hanging wall art is technical, dryly written, and too solution-specific, given the huge variety of options people work with, their mocking up of same-size paper cut-outs is a great way to see why you want a nice, clean and equal space between your pieces. For people who need more for visualizing when hanging their artwork, moving paper mock-ups around until you like the balance or weight of frames is a great way to get a sense of your arrangement.
Getting Hung Up on Style, and other things
Frames and gutters are great, but subject and style have a lot to say when it comes to how well art grouping works. Putting a cubist artwork next to folk-art needlepoint likely won’t work for you, but maybe you roll that way. I don’t, but that’s the great thing about personal taste.
Black-and-white portraits and landscapes work with lots of other mediums, so they’re something you can keep around as “group complements” when putting art groupings together.
Color is a great way of choosing groups to display. Maybe you have similar colors throughout matting and framing, or a dominant color showing in all the pieces. Tying them together in one display can create a powerful visual.
Genre-grouping always works well too. As long as you don’t have too clashing of color and lines, you should be safe in pairing a few examples of one genre in a set, such as art deco, landscape photography, and so forth.
Don’t take the leap without laying all your grouped works on the floor to a sense of its impact and cohesion. It’s worth taking a little time here to try all the different placements for each photo, until you love the way it looks before you get to the actual hardware-on-wall step.
If you like it on the floor and take the time to get the layout right, you’ll love it on the wall.
Do it right the first time: Some caution
If your art is valuable and you’d like to preserve it, be aware that direct sunlight can fade artwork — and valuations — within months. Keep it away from windows that would offer direct exposure.
Finding the perfect spot and doing all this work is for nothing, though, if you don’t use proper hanging mounts. My best advice to you? Mounting wall art is like mounting a horse — best done with caution.
Carpentry nails can do the trick, but proper picture-hanging hooks are designed to carry designated weights (50 pounds or more, for some) and are often available several to a pack for $2. They’re money well-spent. Look on the packaging for the weight supported by your chosen hardware.
Even using the proper hardware for a heavy frame likely won’t save you if there’s no support behind the drywall. When hanging a large, heavy mirror or framed work, a stud-finder will guarantee you’re mounting it safely in a proper weight-bearing spot. You don’t want my friend’s experience of returning home to a broken frame on the floor.
In the end, the best advice is a twist on the classic carpentry motto: Measure twice, hammer once. With planning and preparation, your home can really be as pretty as a picture gallery.