How To Hang Art Like a Pro, Part 2. - Let's Actually Hang It!

So, now, it really is time to hang the show. Good thing you got all of the pieces properly set up with D-rings and such beforehand, no? Who has time to do all of that when you only have a day or two to get the stuff on the walls?

Well, let’s just do one wall at a time. Here we have five pieces that are going to go on this wall here. This is a spur wall, meaning it is a smaller wall that juts out from one of the main walls of the space. To the left you have a corner where the spur joins the big wall, indicated here by a shadowy dotted line. To the right the wall leaves off out in the main space. Corners matter.


There are five pieces that are going on this wall. There’s portrait, a landscape, a dog, an abstract, and a pretty little butterfly. Somebody dropped them off there and it’s your job to make it look nice.

There are some loose rules for hanging things that are determined by the image itself. The guy in the portrait is looking to the left, into the corner. That’s not great. When artwork has a directional aspect, you don’t want it heading right into a corner. It can feel really cramped and awkward. The dog is directional, too. The others don’t have this issue. So move those things around until it looks better, and that guy’s nose isn’t in the corner.


Ahh, that’s better. The dog and the guy are the same size, and make for a nice little pair. The dog faces out, the guy faces back at him and they’re relating to each other like that. Just size wise, you wouldn’t really want the abstract next, because that would leave the two smallest on the end, and once they were up it would be a big, long arrow shape. Arrow shapes are generally frowned upon. The landscape breaks that up where it is, and there’s kind of a rhythm formed. Tall-tall-short-tall-short. That looks pretty good.

(You can act all fancy and say you “curated” the wall, and ultimately the show, but really you laid it out-- curation is the intellectual formulation of a show, and then the process of purposeful selection of works based on the idea or theme, works that illustrate this greater idea. It’s an academic pursuit, often akin to writing a large paper. Curators curate shows; you and I are laying out some works someone else already selected for us.)

Real quick, let me mention here, before we start measuring anything, that when you record the size of an art object, it is always height first. Always. This is not an opinion of mine, but an industry standard in the world of art. The dog is 20 x 16, not the other way around. At the risk of being stuffy, people that don’t know how to measure art will be smirked at, or worse. And it matters a huge amount. If you tell me, your gallery guy, that you are bringing in 5 works that are 10 x 30, I am expecting some very wide landscapes. If you bring me 5 very tall narrow pieces instead, I will be pissed at you, because I left this huge space for your nonexistent landscapes, and the show is now screwed up.

Okay. Now that you’ve got a layout, you need to figure spacing.

Time for your tape measure. This wall is 112 inches wide. And as you measure across the tops of your pieces here and add that up, you see that you have 75 running inches of artwork.


112 - 75 = 37 inches left over. Say we’re going to hang these with uniform spaces between. There are 6 spaces: 1 to the left of the dog, 4 in between, 1 to the right of the butterfly. 37 divided by 6 = 6 inches and change for each space. But six inches isn’t much room for that dogs rear end in the corner. (Corners matter, right?) In order to stand in front of a picture with only 6 inches over to the corner, you’d really have to have your shoulder against the other wall, and that’s no good. So let’s kick that dog out a bit from the corner. There isn’t a huge amount of extra room to work with, but you can give him 9 inches, and reduce the in-between spaces a bit, say down to 5.5 inches. And you will still have plenty of breathing room on the far side of the butterfly. We don’t want him crammed right up against the end of the wall, either.

So go ahead and roughly space the pieces out along the wall how they’re going to hang, give it a last look. Good? Good.

Now to hang. We’ve decided to have 9 inches of wall to the left of the dog. So it’s 9 inches plus the extra distance from the edge of the frame to the center of the first (left) D-ring. Measure it. It can vary widely, and all depends on how you mounted your rings. Let’s say it’s .75 of an inch. So the measurement out from the wall is 9.75 inches. Now how far is it from D-ring to D-ring? It’s probably about 14.5 inches, if the D-rings are each mounted .75 inch in from the side. But measure it. Write these measurements down: 9.75 for the left, and 14.5 over from that to the next. So that’s side to side.

Now for the up and down measurements. You should have an idea of what the sightline should be in your space. The sightline is an invisible line at a set height that passes through the very center (top to bottom) of every piece hanging on the wall. The sightline should be sort of “eye level” for most of the probable audience. You can’t help it if there’s interested toddlers and/or a basketball team that stop by. But a lot of people are...5’8”? That puts their eyes at about 65 inches. 65 is fine, higher might be a bit high. 62 is okay, any lower might be a bit low. Let’s hang this show at 64 inches. That’s our sightline.

Now’s when your trusty calculator comes out. There is a math formula that makes everything simply hang on the sightline. If you do the measurements and math correctly, your show will hang correctly. Don’t blame the formula if it doesn’t, because math works. I don’t like math; I barely barely passed college algebra. But I can use a calculator. The formula is: half the height of the piece, plus the sightline, minus the distance down to the hanger from the top of the frame. And we put our hangers on at 3 inches, right?

((height of frame).5) + sightline - hangers = magic

Or, for our doggie:

(20 x .5) + 64 - 3 = 71


10 + 64 - 3 = 71

That’s the big mysterious math that I’ve literally had people tell me, “Oh, those formulas are too complicated for me, and sometimes they don’t work. I just eyeball it.” Which usually means 3 tries for each nail, lots of extra holes in a tight pattern that destroys the wall, a sightline that looks tipsy, and clumsy spacing. (Now, I do know one person that eyeballs it and things come out looking pretty great-- cheers to your spatial acuity, Pamela! Everyone else I’ve known that said they could eyeball it usually produced a really questionable hang.)

Okay, so you have all the measurements you need to hang this dog. First, pick up that dog and move it off to the side, a few feet away from what you’re doing. Tools and art don’t mix. If you drop your tape measure or hammer, or even just a nail, you do not want that piece getting hit. Do not leave art below where you are using tools.

Measure out 9.75 inches from the corner, roughly at eye level, maybe a little higher, and mark it with a |. Now measure up from the floor to 71 inches, overlapping your 9.75 measurement mark, and mark it with a —. That leaves you with a nice little + mark on the wall. This is where the left D-ring will go. But first, let’s make the other mark. Since you carefully mounted your rings at the same place on both sides of the frame, the height will be the same. And you wrote down that the D-rings were 14.5 inches apart. From that little + you just made, measure over 14.5 and mark it.

Choice time. Do you want to measure up 71 from the floor again, or use the level? Do you genuinely believe that the floor is level and smooth where you are? Then you can measure up from the floor. Make sure that your tape is running straight both times if you want to do this & go for it. Most places I’ve hung work, the floor isn’t remotely level, sometimes to a surprising degree. That’s why God gave you your trusty level. Line up the bottom-left edge of the level with the horizontal mark of your + and level it out. (You know, bubble in the middle. ) If your level is a longer one, it probably reaches the 14.5 inch mark over to your right, and you can just mark it. You might have to bring your 14.5 inch mark up or down to create a + mark. Now you have 2 cross hairs, and you know for a fact that they’re level to each other. You also know for a fact that the D-rings on your piece are level to each other. This is comforting.

Now you can grab your handy hanger and nail, and your hammer. Position your hanger so the bottom of the trough rests just upon the + and nail it in. And now the other, also positioned so the trough rests just upon the +. Consistency. And now the dog; make sure the rings are angled out, hook one over and then the other. Make sure the ring is catching the actual hanger, and not the nail or the top edge. On two hangers, the dog is secure, straight, won’t ever go crooked, doesn’t lean off the wall. If, God forbid, one of the hangers came out of the wall, the other is enough to hold it up and it won’t smash on the ground.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Measure over 5.5 from the edge of the dog frame, plus the extra distance in to the portrait’s first hanger. Measure distance between the hangers. The frame size is the same & your hangers are uniform object to object so you know it’s 71 up again. Etc. etc. With the landscape the measurement will be

(12 x .5) + 64 - 3 = 67


6 + 64 - 3 = 67 inches up.

If you’ve decided to go with wires instead of D-rings, you will add half of the width of the piece to the spacing, so it would have been 9 inches to the frame, plus 8 inches to the center of the frame, thus 17 inches over from the corner. And then you have to pull the wire taught & measure the height to the top to get the hanger distance you would subtract in the calculation. See Pt. 1 of this blog for why hanging from wires will give you less attractive results. In this case, it is very likely that the dog and the portrait won’t really end up level to each other-- a big deal when things obviously should be precise one to the other-- and that will look crappy. If you are going to hang from wires, I would discourage trying to have perfect pairings. A sloppy pair is a lot worse than just breaking it up with something of a different size/shape so no one will notice.

You want your final product to look rather like this:


An appendix for the decimal/fraction challenged.

Your calculator and measuring tape ARE speaking the same language, it might just be one that you don’t know. In my experience, eighths are entirely necessary, sixteenths are pretty much not. The eye will detect a 1/8 inch difference in height between 2 frames, a 1/16 inch difference will generally be edited by the brain. Just remember to generally round in the same direction. Translations:

1/8 = .125
1/4 = .25
3/8 = .375
1/2 = .5
5/8 = .625
3/4 = .75
7/8 = .875

You are going to have these decimals come up on your calculator. Know them!

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Comment by Chroma Studios on March 25, 2008 at 4:56pm
More people NEED to read this! I have artist friends that give me a hard time when I get out the tape measure for hanging. Thank you!


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