How you display your art can actually be more important than which art you choose to hang. No, seriously.
Badly hung art is a distraction at best and a total room-wrecker at worst. It might seem complicated, but hanging really comes down to balance and thoughtful consideration of space. When in doubt, though, get advice from a pro.
Today’s hanging tips come from Todd Rector, the founder of On the Wall, a Columbus, Ohio-based art installation company that beautifies walls around the city. “Everything has its own specific problem,” says Rector. “You have to sort of visualize [the art] in the space first and know what you don’t want to do.”
“Also, you’ll have to do some math,” he adds, with a sly grin.
Great. Pull out your calculators and let’s get started.
Hardware like you mean it
First things first: You have to get your art ready to install—you know, nails, screws, wire, stuff like that. Here’s Todd’s list of essential supplies and how to use ‘em:
Picture hooks: When installing hooks in that sweet, eye-level spot on your wall, always use two. “I always use two hooks for everything,” says Rector. “When and if you ever dust, you don’t have to go back and straighten. It will also hold [the art] tighter to the wall. If its strapped loosely, if you only use one nail or hook, the piece wants to lean off the wall.”
Plastic-coated picture wire: “I like plastic-coated wire for hanging,” says Rector. “It won’t fray like uncoated wire.” He also cautions against using string in place of wire. “String stretches, so it won’t stay in the same place,” he says. “Wire is also gauged for weight. There’s 15-, 25- and 43-pound gauged wire. Anything heavier than that, don’t trust a wire. Most paintings are not that heavy, but some frames can get really heavy.”
D-rings: There are a couple of different options when it comes to securing wire to your piece. Most people use d-rings, hooks, screweyes, or sawtooth picture hangers. “The sawtooth hangers are really cheap and easy,” says Rector. “I’ll only use them if whatever I’m hanging needs to come off the wall easily. As a rule of thumb, I don’t like them. D-rings are gauged for weight. You can also use screweyes or hooks, but the d-rings are more secure.” Generally, you want to place the hardware ⅓ the way down from the top of the piece.
Drill and/or hammer: “For a plaster wall,” says Rector, “always drill first. Plaster is thicker, but it’s also denser, so it can crack. You shouldn’t try to nail into plaster. Just use a drill bit that’s smaller than the nail you’re using.” A hammer works fine for drywall.
Stud finder: Only use stud finder if the piece is really heavy. “If it’s under 20 pounds, a regular picture hook is fine,” says Rector. “They make 5-, 10-, 25-, 50,- and 75-pound gauged hooks. My go-to is the 25-weight picture hook.” If the piece is over 20 pounds, find a stud for security purposes. Some drywall isn’t very strong and will crumble when you drill into it.
Level: Use a level to make sure pieces with two hooks stay straight.
Metal yardstick and/or measuring tape: Metal usually works fine for hanging purposes, but if you need to forgo measuring in a straight line, bring along some flexible measuring tape.
Ladder: For those hard-to-reach spots.
Painter’s tape: Easier to remove than pencil, cheaper than hiring someone to hold their finger on your measurements.
Hang your art at eye level
“You want art to be at eye level, unless it’s over something, like a desk or a mantle. Then that mantle becomes part of that piece,” Rector says. “When a piece is just in the middle of the wall, not above anything else, the center of the piece should rest at 58-60 inches, which is the average eye height and the industry standard.”
Now, there are rarely hard and fast rules to hanging art, but here’s a quick step-by-step formula offered by Rector that you can use to find where the center of your piece should fall on a wall.
Step 1: Remember to wire the piece first
Step 2: Measure the distance from the wire to the top of the painting. This distance is called the drop height. Make sure you pull the wire all the way up, as if the piece were already hanging on the wall
Step 3: Measure the height of the piece in inches and divide by two
Step 4: Add 58 inches to that number
Step 5: Subtract the drop height
Step 6: The final number is the distance you’ll measure from the floor up. Mark this point with painters tape. You can also use a soft pencil, but be prepared to do some erasing.
Step 7: You’ll also need to figure out the center from side to side, but only if you want the piece centered on the wall horizontally. Just find the halfway point from wall to wall. From there, you’ll find the point where the vertical eye level and horizontal center intersect. Mark that point. It’s where you’ll install your nails, hooks, or screws
Or, use the shortened formula to find the eye height of any piece:
Painting height(½)+ 58 – drop height
It’s that simple.
Rector also notes that average eye height might seem a little lower than you’re used to, but as he explains, “You shouldn’t have to look up at artwork. It should be right in your face.”
Give your art space to breathe
Now that you’ve mastered eye level, you want to get that painting up ASAP. But how do you know if it’ll actually look good on your living room wall? To solve your dilemma, let’s take a look at the principles of negative space (i.e. the space around your art).
“All rules can be broken,” says Rector, “but if a piece has more space on either side of it than its own width, then it’s not big enough for that space. Then it becomes like it’s floating, and you don’t really want a piece of art to get lost on the wall. To fix that, you need to anchor it off of one of the walls.”
To remedy this, Rector suggests hanging the piece closer to the edge of a wall, a window, or a piece of furniture. “There are lots of times hanging on center doesn’t work. So then there’s more space on the other side, which is fine.”
Rule of thumb: Go for the center, but feel free to experiment if there’s too much space on either side of the painting.
A short note about framing
Talk with a pro about your framing options—before you start hanging. “The main point of the frame is to finish the art,” says Rector, “so you don’t want to start hanging before the piece is really done.”
Now that you’re on your way to beautifully designed walls, don’t forget to snap some pictures and share with us!