You have just bought a beautiful painting that you know should look wonderful in your living room. So you hammer a nail into the wall above the sofa and hook the painting over it. Pleased with yourself, you stand back – something is not quite right but you can’t put your finger on it.
If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation, you’re not alone. Many people make the same common mistakes when hanging art – they can see the positioning looks awkward but they don’t know how to fix it.
How and where you hang your art is one of the key steps in creating a flattering display for your art collection and in enhancing your home. Don’t be afraid to mix different styles of art and art from different eras – this can actually help you create a really personal style. And don’t try and “match” your art to your furniture or accessories – invariably if you choose art simply because it matches your sofa then you will soon tire of it – real art should be a long-term investment in pleasure.
So what is so difficult about hanging art? And how exactly can you be sure that you’re hanging your new (or old) artwork in a truly flattering way? Follow our insider tips and tricks to learn about the perfect way to display your art.
And remember to watch out for these common mistakes:
- art hung too high – you have to tip your head back to look at;
- small pieces of art all over the house that would look better grouped together;
- art that is too small for the space in which it is hung.
Before you begin hanging art consider the following:
Are you filling a large or small space?
Unless hanging in a group, smaller pictures should only be hung on small or narrow wall spaces and larger pieces on a large wall space. As a rule of thumb – if there is more than twice the width of the picture between the picture edges and the wall edges, or twice the height of the picture between the picture edges and the ceiling or floor (or object beneath) then the art work is too small for the space.
What tone are you hoping to achieve?
Carefully consider your intentions regarding a room before hooking that great new masterpiece on the wall. If the room is neutral, a dramatic, colourful piece of art can add a dramatic statement, but a very loud painting in an already busy interior will just create a sense of chaos. It would be ideal to base your room scheme around a great piece of art but, practically, this is not always possible, and you may have to work with the room decoration you already have.
Are you looking for a formal or casual feel?
You can emphasise the formality of a room with vertical lines as they add the illusion of height. Horizontal lines will widen a space and typically create a more casual feel. Interestingly enough, horizontal lines are also said to be quite calming.
Whether hanging several pieces of art or just one painting, the proper placement is critical to displaying your art in the most flattering way. The most important considerations for placement of artwork are the scale of the room and the art itself as it relates to the wall space and furnishings.
There is a general rule of big art in big spaces, and small art in small spaces and another general rule that art should be hung at eye level. These rules can be broken but it takes a very sophisticated eye to make a non-conventional arrangement work well.
A properly placed group of artwork, or a large single piece, can make a strong enough statement to serve as a room’s focal point.
Artwork should be hung with the centre of the picture around eye level and if you are at all unsure, it’s better to err on the lower side. In a gallery or exhibition display the frames are not lined up by their top or bottom edges but the pictures are all centred at the same height.
Insider Tip: Eye-level for the average adult is approximately 155-170cm from the floor.
Large artworks often look good when placed over pieces of furniture or a fireplace. But to do this successfully, make sure that the art is NOT longer than the furniture or object.
Insider Tip: The artwork should be about 2/3 to 3/4 of the length of the object over which it hangs.
For pictures hung over a piece of furniture don’t leave more than 30-40cm of wall space between the base of your picture and the object over which it hangs. Anything more than this will cause the eyes to focus on the wall rather than your art.
For large statement pieces of floating art which are not hung above an object then the centre of the art should always be at eye-level, which is around 155-170cm from the floor.
Try to group small pieces wherever possible. Using similar or matching frames and mounts will bring unity to the set but is not necessary if the theme or colours of the paintings already provide unity.
If you have a small painting and it is not possible to group it with others then either hang it on a small or narrow wallspace or anchor it visually by hanging it low and close to furniture so it doesn’t appear to be floating on the wall.
One of the most interesting ways of displaying art is in groupings. They can be used in large or small spaces and they can be symmetrical or asymmetrical depending on your personal taste.
While some people love symmetrical groupings, it is not a requirement to create a beautifully displayed collection. It will certainly add balance to an arrangement, but symmetry also adds an element of formality to the feel of the room. The predictable placement of art is also quite calming but for a fun, casual feel, asymmetry will be more effective.
Insider tip: Always treat a group as one large piece for placement purposes.
Groupings of art should complement each other in scale as well as framing. Framing doesn’t need to match but should stay within a style. For instance, a traditional home would look best with a framing in that style, even though the frames can differ within that look.
Depending on the wall space you have available and, of course, the art itself there are several ways of grouping your art collection. For more ideas of different layouts see the section below “Professional Layouts for grouping your Art”
Professional Layouts for Grouping your Art
This type of arrangement is perfect for displaying a number of different artworks in a small space and creating a calming, casual feel. Hang the pieces next to each other, centred along a horizontal line, with the frames approximately 1cm apart. The individuality of the artworks and their various sizes can be emphasized by their close proximity. This type of display works best with an odd number of pieces with the largest piece in the middle and pieces getting smaller towards the outer edges of the display.
This type of arrangement is perfect for displaying a number of artworks in a tall narrow space such as a fireside alcove. Hang your artworks centred along a vertical line with the frames or picture edges approximately 1cm apart. If you have a range of frame types and sizes try and ensure the artworks have a common theme, colour or medium. Otherwise think about re-framing certain pieces to make the grouping more cohesive.
This type of display can be very effective when it fills a narrow vertical space from floor to ceiling.
This type of arrangement is perfect for displaying a large number of pieces of various sizes in a relatively small space. Start by lining up the outside pieces for a consistent square or rectangular outer edge and then fill in the remaining space. The distance between pieces can become uneven towards the middle but the overall effect will be stunning because the outer edges of the display form a regular shape.
This can create a dramatic art wall as shown below.
Choose a number of paintings of different sizes and shapes with a common theme such as colour, subject matter or even frame type. Artworks should be centred along a vertical and horizontal axis and lined up around these axes. Horizontal and vertical spacing between each piece must be the same to avoid the presentation appearing too random.
This is a simple, yet perfect, way to display a related collection of artwork of the same size and in the same frames. Hang the pieces with the same distance between them either in a single row or multiple rows to create a grid effect.
If you have three artworks of different sizes to display in a limited space, it is possible to create a balanced asymmetrical display by hanging the larger piece on the left and the two smaller pieces on the right, stacked and centred on the larger picture.
PLANNING YOUR OWN ART GROUPING
Follow these easy steps and you can display your art like the professionals.
Before you hang the Art:
- Decide which art you are going to group together. This decision is based on finding a common element that allows the art to work together i.e. theme, colour, style, frame type etc.
If your budget allows, consider reframing some pieces where this would make the grouping more cohesive, but remember that the frames do not have to be the same for a grouping to work and look professional.
Also consider adding pieces to a group that create an element of surprise such as a bold abstract with monochromatic paintings. As long as the monochromatic paintings are large enough and strong enough not to be overpowered by the abstract this can work really well.
- Decide which layout you are going to use – Mosaic Display, Horizontal Display, Salon Display etc as discussed above.
- Measure the wall, top to bottom and left to right and the sizes of all the individual pieces to be hung.
- Arrange the art works on the floor in your chosen layout with 3 – 6 cm between each piece. Whether you’re creating a grid of equal sized frames or composing a collection of various sizes the rule of spacing is the same. Try out different arrangements until you find the one you prefer.
- Transfer the arrangement to the wall. Here are two options to planning the image layout without damaging any walls.
- On paper.
Place the pictures – in their frames – on top of some old newspaper or wallpaper. Trace the outside of the frame and cut out the shape, making sure to label it if you’re working with similarly sized pieces. Stick your life-sized paper replicas onto the wall using low tack masking tape. You can further adjust these if necessary to ensure a perfect layout without making any holes in the wall
Take a digital photo of the individual pieces of art you are planning to hang. Add the art photos to whatever photo manipulation software you have (Photoshop, Paint, etc.) and lay them out on your computer screen to find the perfect composition. A word of warning – make sure every photo is to the same scale.
Hanging the Art
- Determine the number of picture hooks you need. For pictures with a width less than 75cm you will only need one picture hook placed at the centre. If a picture is wider than 75cm use 2 picture hooks.
- Determine the size of hook to use. Check the weight of your picture(s) and buy the appropriate size picture hook. The various sizes of picture hook available all have a maximum weight guideline.
- Mark the horizontal position of the hooks on the wall. Using either your life-sized paper replicas or the picture itself make a short (1cm) horizontal pencil line across the top of the picture and then a short (1cm) vertical line down at the centre so that you have made an upside down ‘T’ at the top of the picture. If the picture is over 75cm then you need to make 2 more marks. Measure from the centre point out on each side to a distance of 1/6th the total width of the picture. Rub out the central mark and you will now have 2 upside down ‘T’s at positions 1/3rd and 2/3rds across the width of the picture.
- Mark the vertical position of the hooks on the wall. If the picture has a wire (or string) then find the centre and measure the distance from the wire when it is taut to the top of the picture. If the picture has a ‘saw tooth’ canvas hanger then measure the distance from the bottom edge of the hanger to the top of the picture. If, for example, this distance is 10cm then you will need to make another pencil mark exactly 10cm below your original upside down ‘T’ mark(s). It is best to use a level to make sure these marks are lined up.
- Hammer in your hooks by placing the bottom of the hook where the ‘T’ line intersects and hammer in on a diagonal. Give it a tug to make sure it is in solidly.
Insider Tip: Many people put the picture hook nail at the T mark but it must be the bottom of the hook for the position to be correct.
Insider Tip: place a piece of masking tape on the wall where you plan to insert the hook. This will help prevent the plaster from cracking.
- Problem Walls. Depending on what type of wall you are working with you may not be able to use a standard picture hook when hanging art on problem walls.
Hard masonry walls
If you have very hard walls you will not be able to simply bang in the picture hook nail with a hammer. Your only option is to drill a hole and use a plastic rawlplug and screw. Note: Use a domehead screw which has an edge to hang the picture on – not a countersunk screw.
Note: Never drill above or below light switches or plug sockets, where electric cables may be concealed. Always use an electronic tester to check for wires and pipes before drilling.
Cavity walls in older houses are made from lath-and-plaster and in more recent homes from plasterboard (“drywall”). In both cases, these are thin, soft walls attached to a lattice of vertical and horizontal timbers which means a heavy picture can easily pull out nails and screws.
You can try and locate one of the timbers by tapping on the wall – you will hear a more hollow sound between the timbers. This would give you a solid fixing for a screw or nail but the chance of a timber being in the exact location you wish to attach you picture is quite unlikely.
Insider Tip: Depending on the width of your picture and the distance between adjacent vertical timbers you can fix a horizontal wooden batten between the timbers to give you a solid fixture onto which to attach your hook or nail.
There are, however, some clever devices to get around this problem such as a Spring Toggle or Hollow Wall Anchor. Find them at any DIY store.