DIY: How to display art like a pro

When hanging art in a gallery setting, we usually position the vertical center of the piece at eye level. Although I do this at home, there are no set rules. After all, it’s your house we’re talking about, not a sterile white box.

Whether you favor a more formal or eclectic presentation style, here are some handy tips and creative ideas for showing off art like a pro in your home.

 

Gallery Height

The most typical, and perhaps most often used hanging method for flat or two-dimensional art, is to place the center of the piece 57” above the floor (approx. 145 cm), although many galleries now use 58″. This is perfect for one or two larger paintings on an otherwise blank wall without furniture. If your family tends to be taller, shorter, or if the proportions of the room call for a slightly different height, feel free to adjust accordingly.

Paintings by Juan Pierri, courtesy of DAC Gallery
Paintings by Juan Pierri, courtesy of DAC Gallery

1) Measure the height of your art and divide that number in half. For this example, my piece is 36″ tall, half being 18″.

TopMeasure
Measure the distance from the taught wire (or from the edge of the wood structure) to the top of the piece.

2) Measure the distance from the hanging wire to the top of the art. Make sure to pull the wire taught to get an accurate fit. If your piece is particularly heavy, you might want to use two nails or screws, in which case I suggest pulling the wire with two fingers several inches apart, creating two points of tension (rather than just one at the center). If you plan on hanging a stretched canvas from its wood structure, measure from the edge of the wood frame to the top of the piece. For this example, I’m going to assume the distance is 2″.

3) Subtract your second measurement from your first (in my case, 16″).

4) Measure 57” from the floor and make a small mark on the wall. From that point, go up the distance of your third measurement (in my example, 57″ + 16″ = 73″). This is where your nails or screws will be located.

Typical gallery height: 57" from the floor to the center of the piece, although some galleries now use 58".
Gallery height: 57″ from the floor to the center of the piece.

5) One screw or nail should suffice for wire hanging, especially if the piece is light, but use two if the art is particularly heavy, or for added stability (as described above). Of course, you will need hanging implements suited to your walls, such as toggle bolts for plaster, or drywall anchors. If you are hanging directly from the canvas bars, use two nails or screws evenly spaced out from the center of the piece. Don’t forget to use a level!

6) If you plan to display two or more pieces together, make sure to distribute the spacing equally on the wall.

 

Salon Style

(ISBN 978-3-9502734-0-3 p.169) [Public domain]
By B. Perat, via Wikimedia Commons
The term Salon Style comes from “Salon de Paris”, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Baux-Arts in Paris, France, which, at the height of its popularity (1748-1890), exhibited paintings floor to ceiling, using every available inch of space.

In the home, this usually involves a creative grouping of framed works above an interesting piece of furniture. It’s a beautiful way to display a collection of smaller works. You can even use empty frames to create this effect… but why would you, when you have all this amazing art?

If design is your thing, the key to creating a successful grouping is to establish a visual link between pieces. This could be done in a number of ways, such as using a similar frame shape or color, or through a common element in each piece (let’s say, a splash of red).

jwkstyle.blogspot.com
jwkstyle.blogspot.com

If you are more eclectic, the most beautiful arrangements sometimes come together intuitively, using a hodgepodge mix of art, frames, and colors.

Eclectic Living Room by Seattle Photographer Kimberley Bryan
Eclectic Living Room by Seattle Photographers Kimberley Bryan

Whichever you prefer, here are a few tips for salon style hanging:

1) For standalone groupings, find the horizontal center of the wall, and the vertical “eye level” point, located 57” above the floor.

2) If the grouping is to be placed above furniture, the vertical point may have to be adjusted accordingly. Make sure the furniture has room to breathe; for couches, consider where people’s heads will be when leaning back in their seats. Depending on the height of your ceilings, it may be a good idea to position your grouping between the top of the furniture, and the top of the wall.

3) You can either wing it and start by aligning the center of your largest piece to the center point found in #1, placing others around it as you go, or if you’d rather have a master plan, you can trace the outline of each piece on butcher paper, cut it out, and tape it to the wall. Don’t forget to mark the location of nails on the paper. These templates can be repositioned again and again until the arrangement suits you. Remember, breathing room is important! Eyeball the negative space, and try to distribute it evenly. When you are happy with the final placement, position your nails and/or screws as indicated on the paper, and hang your art, using a level to make sure each piece is straight.

 

Grid

Whether in the home or in a gallery setting, the grid is a visually striking way to create focus and interest. Because grids are more formal, it’s best to use the exact same frame for each piece, and for the content to be similar in tone or color. For example, grids are perfect for a collection of black and white photographs, or a series of works by the same artist.

Contemporary Living Room by Gibsons Interior Designers & Decorators Dawna Jones Design
Contemporary Living Room by Gibsons Interior Designers & Decorators Dawna Jones Design

Although grids are powerful design elements, they can also be used to convey a narrative. Symmetry and repetition tend to pull viewers in; as they come closer, they begin to see each piece as part of the whole.

Hanging a grid is a little tricky. The math will be easier if your frames are square, but nothing stops you from using rectangular ones. It’s important to make sure the edges of your grid line up, and that the spacing is evenly distributed vertically and horizontally between each piece.

1) Find the horizontal center of the wall, and the vertical eye-level center located at 57” above the floor. Make a small mark. Adjust the vertical center up or down accordingly if you are placing your grid above furniture.

2) Determine the size of your grid by how many pieces you wish to display, the dimensions of each piece, and the desired spacing. For example, if I want 5 pieces across and down, each measuring 10” x 10”, with 5″ spacing everywhere, my grid dimensions will be 70” x 70” (5 pieces x 10″ + 4 spaces x 5″ = 70″). If my frames measured 8″ x 10″, my grid would be 60″ wide by 70″ high. Mark the edges of the grid out from the centerpoint found in #1 (for 70″ x 70″, the edges would be 35″ left, right, above and below this point).

3) Take note of the measurement from the uppermost edge of the frame to its hanging implement. For example if your frames have sawtooth hangers positioned 1″ below the top, your first row of nails will be placed 1″ below the top edge of the grid. To find the distance from that point to the next row down, simply add the height of the piece to the height of the desired spacing (in my case 15″) and make your next mark. Repeat for subsequent rows, and don’t forget to use a level.

4) To determine the nail positions for your columns, divide the width of your pieces in half. For example if they are 10″ wide, your first column of nails will be 5″ in from the left edge of the grid. To find the distance between that point and the next column, simply add the width of the piece to the width of the desired spacing (in my case 15″) and make your next mark. As above, repeat for subsequent columns, and use a level.

Grid template
Grid template

5) Be sure to use a measuring tape as you install the artwork to distribute space evenly, and a level to square everything out.

 

Other ideas for displaying art

Ledges

If you have a substantial collection of small works, an interesting way to display it might be to install ledges. And although you can certainly start with a single ledge, nothing stops you from adding more. I love the clean look of these built-ins, allowing the art to stand out.

Contemporary Family Room by Columbus Home Builders M/I Homes
Contemporary Family Room by Columbus Home Builders M/I Homes

 

Rail, rod or wire systems

Hanging systems
Overstock.com

Although I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to displaying art (I don’t particularly like to see cables or rods), these types of hanging systems can add a touch of old world charm to a room – think masculine dens or traditional settings – especially when mixed with highly decorative frames, and old-timey lighting fixtures. For those of us who prefer something a little more discreet, there are now very sleek hanging systems well-suited to modern or contemporary works, with thin rods or cables, and rails that can be tucked away behind wall molding.

Contemporary Dining Room by San Francisco Architects & Designers Nick Noyes Architecture
Contemporary Dining Room by San Francisco Architects & Designers Nick Noyes Architecture

Transitional Home Office by Los Angeles Interior Designers & Decorators Kenneth Brown Design
Transitional Home Office by Los Angeles Interior Designers & Decorators Kenneth Brown Design

Leaning

If you bore easily or prefer a change of scenery once in a while, the flexibility of a leaning art display is a definite plus, and a great way to create a layered look without damaging your walls. We already talked about ledges, but art can just as easily be propped against the wall atop a bedside table, dresser, fireplace mantel or cabinet. If you don’t have small children at home, try positioning the art directly on the floor, against a wall, a bookcase, or an interesting piece of furniture in low-traffic areas.

 

Contemporary Dining Room by San Francisco Architects & Designers Mark English Architects, AIA
Contemporary Dining Room by San Francisco Architects & Designers Mark English Architects, AIA

Contemporary Bedroom by Los Angeles Interior Designers & Decorators betsy burnham
Contemporary Bedroom by Los Angeles Interior Designers & Decorators betsy burnham

.

Protect your art

1) Always hang art away from direct sunlight as it can cause damage to the piece.
2) Avoid hanging art in high humidity areas, such as bathrooms, or where steam can escape (stovetop, sink, dishwasher, etc.), or in poorly ventilated rooms. Moisture can be very damaging to art, and it’s not uncommon in these cases to discover mold on a canvas, of for a rippling effect to occur on paper or mixed-media works, even when professionally framed behind class.
3) Avoid hanging art close to heat sources, such as fireplaces, wall heaters or vents.
More from Nat George

Should you start an art collection?

Facebook Twitter Google+ LinkedIn E-mailFor most of us, today’s art market can...
Read More