You’ve bought your perfect piece of art and now have to decide how to hang it. A search on Pinterest or a similar site will suggest many ways of hanging your art on the walls of your home. Is there a right way to do it? Ultimately, the decision is a personal one.
Over the years, broad principles have been developed that allow art to be appreciated at its best. Guidelines exist that take into account such concepts as balance, symmetry, flow or even our natural preference for a straight horizon. They each have value and strong followers. But it is your home and your art, so you are free to ignore them if you wish!
Take a moment to choose
You may have accumulated many photos of your family and holidays over the years, or have a collection of small prints of your favorite animal, perhaps elephants. Not every photo or piece of art deserves to be boldly displayed in your living room. Some do, but quirky subjects or blurred photos that have sentimental value may be better adorning the walls of your study or bedroom. Or not displayed at all.
Choose images appropriate for the room in which they will be hung. An Andy Warhol print will not necessarily complement antique furniture and a marble fireplace. Some topics lend themselves to certain rooms: depictions of food and the kitchen, for example. Up the stairway might be a good place to display photos of the family and children through the years as they grow up.
Standard gallery practice is that artwork should be hung at eye level, with the centre of the picture positioned 57 inches (roughly 145cm) from the floor. This is based on a person of average height looking at the art in an average-sized room with a ceiling 8 feet high. If the pictures are going in a child’s room, their eye level will be lower so the art might be hung correspondingly lower.
A group of pictures should be thought of as one, so visualize the center of the group and take that as the eye level point.
What you hang and where also depends on the type of art. Photos and prints typically contain detail best viewed close up, so hanging them on a wall behind a large table or piece of furniture would be unwise. Abstract art, on the other hand, is best appreciated from a distance, so it should be hung on a wall where the viewer can step back and enjoy it.
The words ‘balance’ and ‘weight’ are often used when discussing how to hang art. As you look at something, your eye is naturally drawn to any unusual features. For example, if you look at a sheet of white paper that is blank except for a black blob in one corner, where do you automatically focus? On the blob in the corner.
When you are arranging pictures on a wall, the same is true. Anything out of the ordinary, or that throws out the symmetry, will attract the focus of the viewer. That might be a large painting among smaller ones or a color photo among black and white ones. This is not necessarily a bad thing and can be used to achieve interesting results. In fact, by changing the balance or weighting of size and colour, you can influence how the viewer looks at your art collection.
When you hang your art, you want it to be visible but glare coming in through windows can make good viewing impossible. You might consider aiming spotlights or lamps to draw attention to a group or a specific picture. If you do, ensure they highlight the picture but do not cause reflections off the glass, if there is any.
One way around the problem is to use non-reflective glass. This reduces reflection and allows a clearer view of the picture on sunny days or under bright lights. The downside is that it can change the colors slightly and obscure very fine detail.
Initially, when you look at a blank wall all you see is the clear space. Look again and you may see a radiator to one side, light switches, thermostats and a host of other things. Any one of these may draw the viewer’s eye away from your skilfully hung pictures or throw the whole arrangement off balance.
Before hanging a picture over furniture, ask yourself if you will be rearranging the furniture or often move the table? This could influence your decision. It is common to allow about 8 inches (20 cm) from the top of a couch or table to the bottom of the picture and, where possible, center it over the furniture.
If you might move the furniture, then use the standard eye level positioning.
Grouping for effect
With the other considerations taken care of, you now need to decide how to arrange your pictures. When you are hanging art on a wall, you have a reasonably large area to play with but how that space is used is important. A single small photo would be lost on a large empty wall, while a large oil painting would dominate a small wall. The secret is to create enough space around the pictures to allow them to attract the viewer’s focus, without be distracted by the ceiling, other walls or furniture.
To avoid a single picture looking lost on a large wall, groupings can be very useful in producing eye-pleasing effects. Three common types of grouping used are:
Square: This is the simplest and involves ensuring that the group creates a symmetrical shape, with clean horizontal and vertical lines. If the spacing between the pictures is kept consistent at about 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm), it looks stylish and attractive. This works well when all the pictures are the same size and shape, sharing a common frame color. Photos look good in this format.
Gallery Style: If your pictures or photos are not the same size, then gallery style is ideal. This involves hanging them in a non-geometric pattern, with large and small mixed seemingly at random, with no obvious border. To obtain the best weighting place the largest pictures in the center and the smaller ones around them.
Mosaic: This can be very effective but takes longer to get right. The objective is to have pictures of different sizes arranged in such a way that the outer edge creates a rectangular (or square) border.
Although the groupings mentioned above are common, there is no limit to the way your artwork can be grouped but you will want to keep some balance in the display. This is to prevent the viewer’s eyes being drawn to one end or the other by a brighter or bigger picture, unless that is the effect you want. Some authorities favor putting larger pictures at the bottom of groupings while others advocate putting them toward the top. Decide for yourself.
It’s your art…
Ultimately, the artwork you show in your home is for your enjoyment. What you choose to hang and how you arrange it is a personal choice. A search the Internet will give you many ideas and these guidelines will help but remember – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Enjoy it!