The Art of Picture Hanging and How to Break the Rules

Why is it that hanging a picture gives us pause?  Putting a hole in your newly painted living room wall seems so permanent…and destructive.  Let me show you how to hang a picture properly for your space and in certain occasions break the rules. 

  Let’s start with the simple concept of negative and positive space.  The negative is all the wall, the positive is everything else that takes it up.  For example the positive are objects you hang, architectural features and pictures.  Below is an example of a wall with negative and positive space.


Photo by Phil Crozier  Interior Design by  Erica Coo

Photo by Phil Crozier

Interior Design by Erica Coo

Pretty simple when you look at it that way?  But wait there is more.  Not only do you have to balance the spaces, but you have to make sure they are spaced properly and in scale.  Spacing doesn’t have hard rules, but in my professional opinion, 2” is a good spacer between artwork and objects on a wall.  You can break the rules and have more space in between, but that would apply if you’re trying to fill the space with art.  The example that follows is one, it wouldn’t look as good to have these grouped closer.  They also have more impact individually. 


Image courtesy of  Studio McGee

Image courtesy of Studio McGee

   Scale…, not the one in your bathroom.  It can be a hard concept to understand, for example what if you go shopping and want to buy a dress.  The dress is so beautiful you have to have it, but wait it’s not in your size.  So, you wouldn’t buy it, why? because it wouldn’t fit your frame.  It’s the same concept, you wouldn’t buy a teeny tiny piece of artwork for a large wall would you?  Unless you are grouping it with other artwork, it wouldn’t make sense.  How do you know it’s the right size?  Well, I can tell you, it just will look right.  But, that doesn’t help when you are ordering or purchasing remotely.  Here’s a trick to remember, grab some butcher or newspaper and make a life size template of the dimensions.  Hang it on the wall.  How much space is around it?  By keeping a border on the sides of 1/4 the width of the piece it will be a good balance. Would it look better with a companion?  This can be answered by following the previous rule of having the border on the sides. 

  Oh that’s great you say, but how high should the artwork be??  Standard is 57” on center.  So that means that smack dab in the middle of your artwork it should measure 57” from the floor.  This is museum standard and deemed the perfect height for viewing artwork.  Another standard is eye level.  Now this is very tricky.  I once had a client that was very tall and he hung the artwork at eye level….see where I’m going?  There’s also the standard of if you’re hanging artwork in a room such as your dining room you want to enjoy it while sitting down and keep it at eye level seated.  Confusing? I can see your head spinning.

  The most important thing is to keep a balanced wall, if you’re grouping of course not all the art is going to be eye level, 57” on center or eye level when seated.  So, break those rules.  I’ve seen artwork hung low, I mean really low that you could kick it.  Does that mean it’s wrong?  No, not if it’s a whole group that is balanced.  Like this bathroom.  It keeps it interesting when you are ummm….predisposed and there are no magazines. 

  Ok, so yes you know where to put the artwork, but how do you hang it?  Remember the paper template?, after it’s centered and leveled and in the right area, measure how far down the hook is located.  Mark that area and nail or screw right through the template.  Rip the template off and hang.  This is not fail proof.  Sometimes measurements can be off, don’t be discouraged (see #5). If you are hanging a grouping, use that level! 

Here’s a recap of rules to break:

1)       2” between pictures..unless the artwork can fill the space and is interesting.

2)      One quarter the width of the artwork for a border of wall on each side.

3)      Groupings can extend all the way down, usually these are seen in bathrooms.

4)      Picture height, 57” on center, eye level and eye level seated.  Or throw it out the window and keep it grouped and maintain a border (see #2).

5)      Don’t be afraid to make holes in your wall, that’s why we have spackle.

6)      Use a template before you hang, if you’re feeling adventurous…eyeball it (see #5).


Happy Picture hanging!! I would be more than happy to answer your questions in the comments, or show me your successes!  And remember there is always spackle.

Now go do it,