Hanging art can be a calling or a challenge

Published 7:17 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2018

There’s no doubt that hanging pictures, whether they’re personal photographs or artwork, can really change the character of a room.

Some people have an eye for it. Others don’t. Hanging art on walls is an art in and of itself, and most make some pretty common mistakes when trying to get that piece in just the right place.

“I think there’s a lot of potential, from a design standpoint and décor standpoint, that you can do by hanging art. And a lot of times, people have great art, but they don’t know how to hang it,” said John Butler. “If you hang art the right way or the wrong way, I think it sends a message to your visitor about who you are.”

Butler and partner Richard Smoot own Elmwood 1820, a historic bed & breakfast on West Main Street in Washington. The two are also owners of an extensive art collection that hails from countries across the globe. Butler has plenty of practice with hanging art, and he often rotates artwork depending on the season.

“My biggest pet peeve is definitely when pieces are too small for a wall,” Butler said. “The biggest mistake I see is that people tend to undersize the art on the wall. They tend to go small when it could be larger or a grouping. You’d think that it would draw more attention to the small piece but it actually dwarfs the small piece and it can get lost.”

Butler said that when confronted with a blank space, one should determine what size piece would fit there, then crank it up a notch — go bigger.

For Contemporary Art Exchange owner and artist Tina Jandrow, it’s all about height, and the fact that most people abuse it.

“Height is important. Most people hang their stuff too high,” Jandrow said.

Jandrow said a very common mistake is in hanging a piece with the bottom of the frame at eye level — people miss the full effect of the work because they don’t take it in all at once.

“The artwork particular in dining rooms in just hung too high. It really should be at shoulder’s height. I tend to go mid-torso, especially on larger pieces,” Jandrow said. There’s nothing wrong with hanging pieces even lower than that, particularly on stair landings. Big rectangles are great. You get to look at it as you’re walking up and as you’re walking down.”

Jandrow said if she’s factoring in color when hanging pieces, she goes with complementary colors. She said she never groups artwork based on matching colors, because they’ll simply blend into the background.

“If everything is light pink, then the entire wall is just light pink,” Jandrow said.

“Don’t be afraid to go bold,” Butler advised.

Butler said fear sometimes prevents someone from purchasing a piece because it may not blend with their existing art, furniture or other décor.

“You don’t really even have to question, ‘Does this piece of art work with my furnishings?’ If you like it, and you like your furniture, then eventually it will come together in your style,” Butler said.

To that effect, Butler recommends that a new couple, before they buy a house or decorate a single room, go out and buy a piece of art together — one they both agree on, that will represent both of their styles in a single piece.

Here are some tips to hang artwork the right way:

Plan on hanging artwork at 57 inches on center — “on center” means the middle of the photograph or painting will always be at 57”, as this measurement represents the average human eye height. This height is regularly used as a standard in many galleries and museums.

When the goal is to hang multiple pictures, treat the entire grouping as a single unit. This means creating the layout and finding the center of the middle piece of the grouping. To make picture grouping easier, use paper templates with arrows to indicate whether the artwork will be hung horizontally or vertically. These templates can then be easily taped to the wall and rearranged until the grouping is ideal.

Be sure to take the weight of the picture into consideration when selecting hanging hardware. Wall anchors may be needed if measurements determine a wall stud will not help secure the artwork — to keep the frame sturdy in the drywall. Home improvement resource Today’s Homeowner also suggests using self-adhesive rubber bumpers to the bottom corners on the back of the frame before hanging so that the picture will not damage the wall and will help it hang level.

Jandrow has another tip: “If you’re hanging (a piece) over a sofa, and you have a facing chair, sit in that chair and look at where the art should be.”

Some people are born with the talent, others may have honed it with years of practice, but with the right space and the right placement, any room can be enhanced with art. And one can always draw on the professionals’ knowledge when in need.

“When in doubt, ask a gallery owner,” Butler said. “They’re experts at hanging art.”