Getting the hang of it

Hanging art. Easy, right? Measure, bang a nail in, stick it up. Done.

Given this, it always amazes me at how wrong people can get it. I hear all the time about someone who stuck a gazillion holes into their walls in an attempt to get their recent art purchase hanging just right. It is actually very simple, if you know how.

I will let you in on a little secret, one that makes hanging art on your walls simple. One that saves your gyprock/drywall. In future you will only ever need a single hole. I warn you, however, it does involve a little bit of math. Normally, I am not a fan of math, but in the name of getting art on the wall I will go almost anywhere, including division and addition. And maybe just a little subtraction.

It is based on a small fact that all art galleries use when installing exhibitions. Average eye height is 150cm/60 in.

Say you are a gallery, you want people to experience your art with as little interference as possible, hence the white walls, the perfect lighting, the uncluttered spaces. You want most people to view the work without having to crane their necks, bend their knees or ruin their backs. So you hang it with the center of the work sitting 150cm/60 in from the floor.

This way most people look at it smack bang in the center. This rule even works when you have pieces of different sizes to hang, you just hang them all so that their centers sit on 150cm/60 in. And they all look just fantastic.

This is the principle I used when hanging our 2011 Christmas-present-to-us art work in the new place:

Tanya Clarke: from her ‘Liquid Light’ series

We actually didn’t plan to buy any art work, but the beloved and I were taking advantage of a child-free weekend away (thank you G), wandering around checking out Venice Beach in LA in November, and chanced to duck into Altered Space Gallery. Who just so happened to have an exhibition of Tanya Clarke’s work on at the time.

We are suckers for anything remotely industrial-looking. We loved the combination of found old plumbing fixtures and hand-made glass, and the use of LEDs to make the glass glow with light. We persuaded ourselves (without a lot of effort) that we really should buy one for us as a Christmas present. We have been impatiently waiting ever since for the new place to be ready to hang it.

I am so excited to finally have it up!

First I measured the height of work:

Height = 32 in

Because I want the center of the work to sit on 60 in, I halve the height of the work to figure out the center. 32 divided by 2 = 16.

This work hangs from the top, so I simply add 16 to 60 to get the height of my upper holes. 16 + 60 = 76. I measured 76 inches up from the floor, and made a light mark with a pencil.

My next job was to find a stud. No, not the he-man kind of stud! There is a wooden frame inside your walls that holds your house up; the wood beams that make this up are called studs. If you want to hang something heavy: an art work, or put a shelf up, or whatever, it is much better to screw it into a stud if you can. If it is tied into the frame of the house, there is no way it is going to fall off the wall.

The tap part at the top of this work is h.e.a.v.y and there was no way I was going to be able to screw it directly into drywall/gyprock and not have it pull straight out again.

So I cracked out the trusty stud-finder.

Stud-finder in action

This wonderful little piece of equipment will sense the studs through the drywall. You depress the button on the side, and gently slide it over the wall until the red light comes on and it goes ‘beep’. There is your stud.

It doesn’t do so well finding the he-man kind of stud, though. I don’t need one of those in any case, so it is all good.

Luckily there was a stud right in the middle of that section of wall. I marked where the first hole would go, then drilled it, and screwed the piece into that hole. I then lined the piece up, and the beloved held the work in place while I drilled and screwed the other holes in turn.

Drilling the holes

And there it was. Fantastic.

I love this work, I cant wait to see it at night! I had to wait the 5 hours until dark, but with the magic of the internet, I can show it to you straight away:


Aha! I hear you say, but I am taller/shorter than average. That is simple, you do not live in a gallery, so simply adjust the 60 in/150cm up or down to suit you. As long as you keep the measurement constant for every work you hang it doesn’t matter.

I am taller than average, but I stick to the 60 inch rule, because numbers slip out of my brain like water down a drain, and you can be sure I would forget if I used 61.35 or something like that. 60 inches sticks in my head, perhaps because I used to work in a gallery installing art works years ago. It is indelibly etched in my brain.

Which brings me to another exception to this rule. I don’t live in a gallery, I own furniture, and this has an impact on how I hang things. Sometimes hanging on 60 inches would mean your painting hung down behind a sofa or something. Not a good look.

Take, for example, my beautiful Stephen Nothling painting. You can just see it tucked behind the rocker in the photo below, waiting to be hung.  My plan for the Nothling, is that it will sit directly behind the dining table. Now we have decided on the permanent position of the dining table, I can finally hang it.

The space waiting for Stephen Nothling 'Untitled'

If I hang it based on the 60 inch rule, certain people (who may or may not be my children) may crash their chair backs into the painting when they get up from dinner. And then I will have to kill them.

So in the interest of the survival of my offspring and parental sanity, I will hang it higher. In this instance I am going to center the painting between the top of the chairs and the ceiling. First I have to do some serious measuring:

Making and calculating the measurements

First I measured the distance from floor to ceiling: 96 inches. Then I measured the height of the chairs: 39 inches. By subtracting the chair height from the ceiling height I calculated the size of the gap: 96 – 39 = 57 inches

To figure out the center of the gap I halved it: 57 divided by 2 = 28.5

I then added this to the height of the chairs to get the new height from the floor: 39 + 28.5 = 67.5 inches

So, instead of hanging the center of the painting on 60 inches, I was going to center it on 67.5 inches.

I then had to figure out the center of the painting. The height of the painting is 33 inches, so the center point is 16.5 inches. But now comes the tricky part (and this is the point where most people start making mistakes and lots of holes in their drywall).

You MUST make allowance for the hanging wire. With the Clarke piece I hung earlier, I just added the half-height measurement of the piece to 60 in, because it hangs from the top of the work. But most paintings hang from a wire, which is lower than the top of the painting. So you have to subtract the difference.

First you measure the distance from the top of the wire to the top of the painting:

Distance from wire to top of painting

Stretch the wire by catching the tape on it so it is taut, then measure. In my case it was 4.5 inches. I subtracted this from the half-height of the painting: 16.5 – 4.5 = 12 inches.

I then added 12 inches to the center wall height. 12 + 67.5 = 79.5 inches

I figured out where the center of the table was on the wall, and marked the height at 79.5 inches. This is where I would attached my picture hook.

Because paintings are relatively light, you don’t really have to worry about finding a stud, unless they have a particularly weighty frame.

We live in the Bay Area of San Francisco, and for this reason I have decided to use ‘earthquake proof’ picture hooks on the paintings I hang in the new place.

Earthquake proof picture hooks

The last quake we experienced was within 15 miles of the beige palace, and it rocked the light fittings and made the pictures go askew. And that was only a magnitude 4.1. I would hate to be in an earthquake and have all the pictures crash off the walls. It might damage them. Never mind damaging us.

These hangers are quite clever, and have a locking mechanism for the hanging wire:

Earthquake proof picture hooks from the side

I nailed one of these into place and hung my Nothling:

The dining area with Stephen Nothling's 'Untitled'

Now it is starting to feel like home.

This painting is so powerful, I could look at it all day. I never tire of it. At first glance it looks so pretty and innocent, but takes on a sinister dream-like quality the longer you look at it. The flowers seem to float above the ground of the painting, and the way he has positioned the plate off the edge of the work gives the whole thing a sense of tipping and sliding: out of the picture and onto the viewer.

Stephen Nothling: 'Untitled'Stephen Nothling: 'Untitled'

I confess I would prefer it hanging lower (ie on 60 inches) but I prefer my children alive, too. So on balance …

Here it is with the Tanya Clarke piece:

Our living space is starting to come together!

So here is the picture hanging formula:

1. figure out the height of the painting and halve it

2. Subtract the height of the wire from this number

3. Add the result to 60 inches

4. Measure this height up from the floor.

5. Attach your hook at this height.

6. Hang your picture

See, hanging art really is easy!


7 responses to “Getting the hang of it

  1. Wow! Nice lesson! I love that fixture you hung!!

  2. That tap is really cool

  3. Such a simple lesson in hanging around! Thanks, Quirk!

  4. Im looking for a product tester in earthquake prone California.

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