Keys to Successfully Hanging Art on the Wall #1 in the Series

I get a lot of requests for help hanging art on the wall. It seems to be challenging to get it right; where it should go, how it should relate to the rest of your room, how high it should be, and how to actually do the hanging.

We’re going to start here with hanging ONE picture on the wall.  In this post we’ll cover all the why’s of hanging art, so we can focus on the ‘art’ of arranging it in later ones.  Then we’ll move on to a row or column of art pieces; and then to groupings.  Finally, I’ll show you lots of unconventional options for displaying your art including some guidelines for making that work.


Let’s say you just found a piece of art your really love; and you want to hang it up right away.  You have a wall in mind, but you’re not sure if it will be right in that spot.

Here are some things you will want to consider:

  • What colors are in the art?  Do they coordinate with the colors in the room?
  • Will this be a focal point, or is there something else in the room that draws most of the attention?  If so, will this art support that other object or compete with it?
  • What else will be around it?  Lamps, draperies, cabinets or furniture that stand away from the wall?
  • How big is the wall upon which you want to hang it? Does the art fit the wall?


The most important thing to remember about good design is that everything, EVERYTHING, is related.  Nothing exists in isolation.  You might find something you love in a store only to bring it home and discover it is all wrong in your space. (TIP: take photos of your rooms with you when you go shopping to help minimize this.) So, let’s go through the list above one at a time to make sure you’re choosing the right place to hang your beloved art.


Does the color in your art reflect or coordinate with what you already have?  It doesn’t have to match, but it should relate.  There should be a color in it that is carried through in some way to other objects in the room.

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In this image, the grays of the rocks relate to the gray sofas. The overall impression of the colors in the art enhances the color scheme of the space.


A focal point is the one thing to which your eye is most powerfully drawn in a space.    Here are two examples in which the art is the focal point.  Which one feels better to you?

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My eye is so drawn to the image on the left that I would have a hard time giving my full attention to the people in the room.  The one on the right is better proportioned for the space and for human interaction and comfort.  These are examples of scale, another aspect of how how things relate to each other in a space.

Here’s an example in which the art isn’t the focal point of this room during the day.  At night it would be.   Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 1.17.28 PM

What catches your attention in this space first?  That’s the focal point. For me, it’s the windows. During the day, my eye would be drawn to the view through them. At night, my eye would go to the well-lit painting.


As noted, nothing exists in isolation.  Often you have other things on the same visual plane with the art you’re wanting to hang.  This is not a bad thing, and is the norm in most styles of living. (Urban and Minimalist styles are the typical exception.)

In this image, there is a lot to look at; lamps, pillows on the sofa, accessories on the table.  The art here coordinates with the color, scale and placement of all the other objects.  Your eye is drawn to it as the focal point but there are other things of interest to look at as well.

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Does it feel good to you?  Are the other objects distracting or do they support the art and vise versa? (Hint: there is one object that feels out of place. Can you identify it? What makes you choose this object?)


Now to the crux of the matter.  Does your art fit the wall upon which you want to hang it?  Is it too big, too small or just right?  The next step is to determine the relationship of the size of your image to the space it will occupy.  It should fill between 1/3 – 5/8 of the space.  Anything smaller than that feels lonely.  Larger feels crowded if not given room to ‘breathe’.  The more dramatic the art the more true this is.  More subtle art can be bigger and not feel overwhelming.

Here are some images that will help you SEE what I’m talking about:

This oneis deceiving, but expresses scale well.  The picture is hung at about the right height, but looks too high due to the extremely low sofa and the change in wall color above. It’s more of an eyesore than an effective focal point.  It also makes the art look too small on the wall.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 1.08.13 PMWould you feel comfortable in this space? Does it feel balanced and pleasing?

Here the image is clearly too small for the space and appears lost, having no relationship with anything around it.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.09.56 PMHow would you change this (assuming it’s the art you’re in love with) to make the picture fit better in the space?

This image shows art that is too big; and in which the subject matter exacerbates the problem.  The larger-than-life human reference overpowers the room.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 1.13.15 PMDo you agree, or do you feel that the power of the image sets the tone for the room?

Here, the picture, although small for the wall upon which it is hanging, demonstrates good scale between the lamps that flank it.  it would be better if the lamp shades were more interesting; a unique shape, something painted on them, some way to draw your eye other than just their whiteness and linearity.Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.06.45 PM

What would you to to improve this space?  It’s a great start but falls short of great design.

Ok, so now let’s assume you’ve figured out the best location for your art.  Next , I’ll help you determine where on the designated wall to hang it.


  • Draperies
  • Moldings
  • Cabinetry
  • Furniture
  • Light Fixtures
  • Centered or not?

First – measure the width of only the blank wall.  Do not include anything that your eye will not see, or that is interrupted by an object like lamps or moldings (or even a change of plane or color).

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Measure here from drapery edge to drapery edge,not window to window.

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Measure here between the drapes and the corner.

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This example shows what happens when the draperies are not factored in. Do you see how the painting looks crowded into the corner?

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 2.39.56 PMMeasure here from the outside edge of one  molding to the outside edge of the other to get the space between them. Notice how the window molding is wider than the door molding.  If you measure frame to frame, the picture would end up off-center just a little bit, which would be very disturbing in such a small space.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 1.14.47 PMThis one’s pretty obvious.  Measure the plane/color upon which the art will hang.

Sometimes there are cabinets, bookcases, corners, etc. that surround or are adjacent to the space upon which you want to hang your art. Similar measuring rules apply, but may need a little extra clarification.

Hanging a piece of art in a  corner like this is tricky because one rarely sees it straight on.  In this case, because it’s over the sink, it’s appropriate to hang it on center, so measure from the wall to the cabinet to find that point.

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In this image, there is a deeper cabinet to the right, and upper cabinets to the left, and the viewpoint changes as one moves through the room, so locating it’s best spot is challenging.  Measure from the upper cabinet to the larger one and find center.  Try it out with help while you move through the space and center it where you’ll see it most of the time.  Also, keep in mind balance.

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Here is a great example of a challenge we sometimes come up against, but is rarely considered.  There’s a door that opens against the wall upon which this art is hung, and a cabinet to the right.  Consider whether the art is viewed when the door is open or closed (as in a bathroom). Here,  as the door is mostly open, measure from the end of the open door to the cabinet and center it there.

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In the case of the bathroom, it might be viewed mostly when the door is closed, so it would not be a factor.


Do you want to hang your art as part of a grouping of other objects in which it won’t be hung in the center?  If so, you need to find balance in the space between what is next to it and the opposite end of an object that is ‘grounding’  the composition you’re creating; a table or a sofa or a carpet.

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In this image, the balancing object is the lamp on the right; and the grounding object is the table.   Find the center between the visually heaviest aspect of the balancing object (in this case the lamp base) on the side and the end of the grounding object. You may need to make adjustments for visual balance, so be willing to experiment a bit until it feels right. Creating vignettes is more of an art than an engineering project.

Anything that is asymmetric is always a balancing act.  Vignettes that are asymmetric are more interesting and graceful than perfectly symmetrical ones.  I’ll be covering this in greater detial in an upcoming class on arranging accessories and creating vignettes.


Most of the time, your art should be placed so the most important aspect of it, the focal point within it, is at eye level.  For most people this is approximately 5′ off the floor.  If you are very short of very tall, there is a danger of hanging the art too high or too low in relation to the rest of the room.  Use the 5′ measurement unless there is a compelling reason to raise or lower it.

One reason to raise it might be that there is a molding, a fireplace or paneling below, or picture rail above, that makes the 5′ placement feel awkward, or simply not fit at that height, as shown in the two images below.                                                                                                                                   Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 1.07.25 PMScreen Shot 2015-04-15 at 6.36.42 PM






A reason to hang art lower than the 5′ normal height is for the purpose of incorporating it in a vignette, as shown in the off-center image above, or if you’re hanging art in a child’s room (another subject for another blog.)


Here’s the skinny on how to actually hang that art, now that you know exactly where it should be hung.

Step 1.  Once you’ve identified the center of the space, or the location you want to be the center of the image (if off-center on the wall), place the art against the wall at the height you’ve determined will be best and draw a light pencil line on the wall at the top of the art at about the center.  If you can get help with this, your helper can hold the art on the wall while you smile and point and tell them to move it up  or down until you’re satisfied that it’s right.

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Step 2.  Mark the center point of the  wall, ( or the center of the art if hanging off-center) with a light vertical pencil line.  You can hold a small level vertically and draw the line down a few inches from the horizontal line marking the top of the art.

Step 3.  If the art is light weight and only needs one hook, hang the wire on the end tab of a tape measure (resting it lightly on the instep of your foot for support) and measure from where it’s hanging to the top of the art piece.  Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 7.47.30 PMStep 4. Measure down that distance from the horizontal line along the vertical line you drew on the wall, and make an X..  This marks the BOTTOM of the hook that you’ll use to hang it .

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Step 5. Hold the hook firmly agains the wall and slide the nail into the angled slot.  Tap gently on the nail so it makes a depression in the wall.  Keeping a firm hold, tap again to get the nail engaged in the wall and then hammer it in, making sure the hook doesn’t slide down as you’re hammering.


Step 1. Divide the width of the art by 3 and mark these lightly on the back paper about 1″ above the relaxed wire.

Example:  The width of the art is 24″.  24″/3=8″.  Mark two points on the back of the art paper, one at 8″ and one at 16″ from one side.

Step 2.  Divide the distance between the hooks by 2.  Measure that distance in each direction from center to find the location of the two hooks.

Example :8″/2=4″.  On the wall, mark one point 4″ to the right of center and one 4″ to the left of center.

Step 3.  Hold the wire at the two points with a ruler in one hand, pick it up slightly off the floor, resting it lightly on the instep of your foot for support, and check the dimension between one of the hanging points of the wire and the top edge of the art.

Tip: Measure twice to make sure you’re done it right!

Follow Steps 4 and 5 above, only instead of 1 center point, you’ll make an X at the 2 points you made on the wall.

Hang your art and level it using your level along the top edge and checking the little bubble to make sure it’s centered in the window.

So, there you have it.  Getting this right might seem daunting at first, but after you do a few of these you’ll get the hang of it (pun intended) and it will go more quickly and come more naturally.


If you need more support with anything I’ve addressed within this post, please ask in the comments below!  There are so many different situations that you might encounter that I haven’t covered here.  Others might be helped by whatever clarification I can add before we move on to the next level of hanging two pictures along a horizontal or vertical line.