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Hanging Your Art – The Easy Way

If a room in your home lacks the "Oomph" you yearn for, chances are it is crying out for good accessorization.

Just as the right pair of earrings and heels catapult a simple t-shirt and jeans from ho-hum to WOW, well- framed and well-placed art can bring a boring room into star status.
A case in point: I had dinner the other evening in a new restaurant in my area. The food was excellent, with an ambiance to match. The diningroom was not a high budget affair. It consisted, basically, of simple tables arranged on a floor which had been polished to a high sheen, brick walls lined with Fine Art prints, and good lighting. If one were to remove those pictures, all that would be left was an empty shell. Yet, the room smouldered with intimacy and coziness. Why? You guessed it.

We talked about selecting the art that's right for you in our September Newsletter. At the risk of being redundant, I repeat: if you love the image, if it does wonderful things for you when you look at it - if it calms you down or peps you up or fascinates you in some way, then it is your "right" choice.

So. You have fallen in love with some prints which you want to feature in your livingroom. You know they'd be perfect hung over your new sofa, because you read last month's article on selecting and framing art, and these prints meet all your criteria. You have done the planning and measuring. In fact, they have been magnificently framed. Now (drum-roll...), they are ready to be hung.

Not so fast.

Here are a few practical considerations which need to be made before driving in those nails: 

  1. Weigh your picture.
    If it was framed by a professional, generally you will have been provided with hooks appropriate for the weight of your picture(s).
    If you framed your own picture, you will need to purchase the hook (or hooks) which will properly support the weight of your picture on your particular wall. Discuss the matter with someone at your hardware store, to be sure that you have the correct hardware. See the section called "Hardware" for more info. 
  2. Use a stud finder (or compass - see the Tips and Articles section in SHOPSICLE) to locate studs for secure hanging. If no studs are present, there are hollow wall anchors available.
    Now, in this example, you already know that you want to hang your pictures above your sofa. All that remains for you to do is to read the following tips on placement so that your pictures will not be hung too high or too low (most of us have a tendency to hang pictures too high). Using the "template trick" described below will make it very easy for you.

How High? How Low?
There are some tips to keep in mind around placement of art on your walls. The objective is to integrate the pictures into the over-all composition, relative to the furnishings, ceiling height, and other dynamics of the room. The finished effect should be a "seamless" flow of relationships and shapes. This is not difficult to achieve. It just takes a little awareness. Your eye will do the rest.

As mentioned above, a common mistake is to hang your pictures too high, which produces an odd "out of touch" look in relation to the furnishings.
Another "no-no" is to float a single, small picture in the middle of a large expanse of wall, where it can relate to nothing and looks 'lost in space'.

Generally it's a good idea to hang your picture(s) at eye level, about 5 1/2 feet from the floor. If in doubt, too low is better than too high. Consider whether this art will be viewed most often sitting or standing.

When hanging your pictures over a piece of furniture (such as a sofa), place them 6" to 8" above the piece.

Finding the Right Layout
The following are some ideas to consider for your own home:

  • Try grouping a collection of smaller items together, to give decorative impact that might otherwise have been lost if displayed separately.
  • A handsome effect can be achieved by hanging a grouping of pictures which all share the same mat color and matching frames.
  • Allow yourself the luxury of changing your picture arrangements from time to time. Art often loses its impact because the eye is accustomed to seeing it in one spot, and you don't even see it anymore. See it again for the first time by moving it to a new spot!
  • The way you hang your art can change your perception of space, sometimes dramatically. You can use art to direct the eye and create illusion. For instance, hanging a large canvas higher than usual will direct the eye upward, a handy device when dealing with the soaring ceilings of contemporary homes with high architectural details. Conversely, hanging art lower than usual creates a cozy feel and can play down a ceiling that is otherwise too high to allow for a feeling of intimacy in the room.
  • In a narrow room, hanging a group of pictures straight across will give the illusion of width. A great trick to remember when designing a tiny nursery!
  • Rooms with low ceilings can be oppressive and claustrophobic. A narrow vertical grouping, reaching almost to the ceiling, will produce a feeling of height and airiness, as will a pair of tall, narrow, vertical frames, hung side by side.
  • A large work demands some space. It has an energy field which creates an impact. Plenty of space around the work will help to balance it.
  • To open up a small or narrow room, hang a beautifully framed mirror, or prop a floor mirror on one wall.
  • Avoid hanging a valuable work on a mantel above a working fireplace, where it could possibly be damaged by heat or soot.
  • To keep a sense of visual order, create a geometric shape (re: the outer edges of a grouping), and plan for at least one or two straight lines to run through the arrangement.
  • Hang items in a grouping relatively close together so they will "read" as a unit.
  • Be sure that all visuals in a grouping "balance". For example, hanging a delicate watercolor amidst a group of bold graphics will most likely not be pleasing to the eye, and will not do justice to any of the art.
  • Try propping your art instead of hanging it. For instance, mantels, chests, and wall shelves often look wonderful with art sitting on the surface rather than hanging above. Note: be sure to secure the art to the wall with a hook if there is any chance of it falling forward. It can look nonchalant, but you don't want any accidents!
  • If you are featuring art in a room, create an atmosphere which will show it off beautifully. Galleries and museums usually hang works against white walls. While there is nothing wrong with white or ivory walls, it could be too limiting for domestic environments. Your art can also work well against a backdrop of bold color. Vivid brights, dark, rich tones, or soft, earthy shades can be powerful backgrounds for art. Experiment, and keep it simple. Unless you want a specific "parlour" effect, be cautious about hanging your art against busy, patterned walls. It can look great when done well, but it is tricky territory.

Lighting Your Art
While it is not necessary to light every work of art you hang on your walls, the use of good lighting to feature certain pieces is a powerful tool. If you are hanging work in dark corridors or corners, it will certainly get lost without proper lighting. Not only will it service your art, it lends a beautiful soft finish to your rooms.
There are many options available for lighting your art. In fact, lighting is such a broad topic, we may focus on it in an upcoming Newsletter. Discuss your specific needs with a professional lighting expert. Here are just a few ideas for maximizing the drama and impact of your art, with great lighting:

  • Avoid direct sunlight when hanging valuable works. Sun can damage paper, dry out oils, and badly fade watercolors and pastels. Acrylics are less vulnerable, but sun damage is always a threat regardless of the media.
  • Avoid hanging art where there is a glare, either by sunlight, the reflection of a spotlight bouncing off a glass surface, or a spotlight shooting across a room. Glare can produce headaches, and will certainly ruin your art. Check and re-check your art from all angles.
  • "Clamp-on" spotlights can be affixed to shelves near your artwork, to produce a modern, loft-like feel in the room.
  • Miniature tracklights (with wall-washer lamps) can be run across the ceiling and aimed at art. Low- voltage tracklights in front of the picture can produce a narrow beam of intense light.
  • Traditional clip-on picture lights will work for oils and acrylics, but will produce a glare on glass- covered artwork.

Hardware for Hanging Pictures
I get nervous discussing this topic, just as I get nervous every time I hang a heavy piece of art. It is not my area of specialization, and I urge every individual to be extremely careful when hanging heavy art. Check with your hardware store to be sure you are using the proper hardware - hooks, nails, anchors, etc. Better cautious than sorry, is my motto. Each wall, each picture, is unique. One size does not fit all.
That being said, here are some general and important guidelines:

  • You must anchor a heavy object into a wall stud or it will tear a hole in your wall as it comes crashing down. You can, however, hang lighter objects between studs using a hollow-wall anchor.
  • When installing screws in solid wood, be sure the threads are long enough to reach a joist or stud if you are installing a weight-bearing screw through sheetrock.
  • If using hollow-wall anchors: molly bolts, toggle bolts, etc, be sure to follow directions carefully.
  • Check out a product called "PowerHooks", which claims to hold very heavy items on ½" drywall (anywhere on the wall), and up to 150 pounds on 5/8" commercial drywall. We have no personal experience with this product, but it does sound worthy of investigation. When it comes to very heavy items, I recommend turning to a professional hanger to get the job done securely. A local gallery or framer would be able to refer one.

Hanging the Easy Way
Keeping these guidelines in mind, let's begin.
You'll need the following materials:

  • Craft paper (or some old, cheap wrapping paper which you don't ever plan to use on a gift - avoid newspaper, as the print can rub off and soil the walls.)
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Tape measure
  • Ruler
  • Level (Laser levels are great but not necessary)
  • Soft-stick masking tape

Using a pencil, trace each picture you wish to hang onto a large piece of craft paper. Cut it out as precisely as possible. Label the paper "template" to identify which picture it is (the sailboat, Kandinsky abstract, etc). Draw a line vertically down dead center of the paper template. This will come in handy later. Now turn the actual picture over, and holding the hanging wire taut (as it would be when hanging), measure from the center of the wire up to the top of the frame edge. Measure down your paper template, along the center line, and mark that spot. This is the point on which you will drive your nail.

Note: If hanging extra wide frames, you can use two hooks, spaced about 1/3 of the way in from each side. Use a level to be sure the hooks are correctly aligned.

Go through this process with each of the pictures you are planning to hang.

Paper templates are light, easy to handle and take all the stress out of creating a pleasing arrangement. They are particularly wonderful when establishing a grouping of pictures of different shapes and sizes. Trying to do it using the pictures themselves is almost impossible, and can easily result in a wrenched back, broken glass, or a divorce. No need to fumble around with heavy pictures.

Using the paper templates, experiment with finding a pleasing composition on your wall. Use the masking tape to tack them up. Don't be concerned about measuring yet...just establish the general placement that works. If you have the patience to leave the templates in that position for a day or two, it will enable you to come and go, observing the arrangement, to be sure that it truly the one you like best. You may, during that day or two, come up with something you like better, and you'll be glad you took your time and didn't drive a nail yet.

Once you are happy with the composition you can measure and shift the templates into their perfect positions. Use your level to double-check. Be sure the tape is secure, to prevent sliding. Drive your nails right through the paper template(s) at the point you marked. When the nail is in, just pull down the template, and hang the picture. Use your level to be sure the pictures are straight. If there is a stubborn picture which refuses to hang straight (sometimes this occurs in older homes), just put a bit of tape, rolled sticky-side-out, on the lower corners.
Now stand back and ooh and ahhh. Isn't that gorgeous?!

- Karen Saloomey


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