In this segment of the series, we’re going to address hanging a pair of art pieces. This assumes they are hanging together. If there is something large between them like a window, a door, a mantle or bed, etc., treat them as individual pieces and refer back to Keys to Successfully Hanging Art on a Wall for those tips.
Key #1: Treat the Pair Like a Single Composition.
You want the two pieces to complement each other and be seen together as a single composition. The way to do that is to keep the distance between them proportionately small relative to the size of the art. We’ll talk about what that distance should be in the hanging instructions, but the goal is to allow the eye to see them as a unit.
Here you see how the small distance between the two paintings creates a single visual composition.
Here, where the two paintings are placed further apart, they are seen as separate, to be viewed individually:
Key #2. Make Sure There is a Clear Relationship Between Pieces
There should be something the two images share in order to be successful as a composition. The two examples above are also helpful in demonstrating this. The pair in the first example is similar in size and is related by subject matter, color and painting style. The second pair doesn’t share any clear visual relationship, so again, is seen as two separate pieces to be viewed individually.
Other examples of related elements could be color, texture, shape, or perhaps having the same kind of frame. The art can be anything that can hang on a vertical surface, whatever suits your fancy. Just remember their relationship must be clear. Here are a few examples:
In this first example, the subject and the frames are related, as are colors and textures.
Here are two variations of a theme, sharing the same frame and size.
Here, color, sensibility, subject, size, all relate to each other.
Key #3 Use The Relationship to Help You Arrange Your Art
You want your art pair to be seen as if the two are “speaking” to one another. Look at the focus, or movement, or color flow, or lines, etc within the art pieces themselves. There are two principle ways you’ll see this.
Movement: Pretty much every piece of art contains movement depicted in some way. It could be the strokes of the paint brush, the way color flows through the image, the texture, or orientation of shapes. Look at them – feel them if it’s not obvious – and lay them out to see how the two will move toward, rather than away from, each other.
In these two pieces, you can see that the horses seem to be moving toward one another.
In the paintings below, you can see how the branches of the trees seem to flow from one piece to the other, connecting them visually.
Rhythm/Repetition: Another type of arrangement might be based on how the image repeats itself in a rhythm. This is used more in a collection of images, but it can be noticed in just two as well.
Here the repeated element is the shoreline and the presence of a cove in the lower half of the images.
Here the keys are not only facing one another, but the pattern within their design repeats – the curving shapes leading down to the vertical line anchored by a nob at the bottom.
Key #4 Create a Relationship Between Your Art Pieces and the Rest of the Space
Where you hang the art is also important. As I discussed in Part 1 of the Series, keep in mind the overall composition and how the art relates to it. Everything in a space affects everything else and the overall feeling you get when you’re in it. We are sentient beings, and can feel a space more than we see it. Our bodies work as a sort of antenna to help us navigate through our environment safely. The overall ‘sensibility’ of a space is determined by the relationships among all the elements within it – whether they are in harmony with one another, or in discord.
Here is a graphic example depicting on the left, how a chosen piece of art can appear out of place, or ‘off’ if placed on the wall with no relationship to other elements in the room, and on the right, how that could be done (somewhat) better. This shows only one piece, but the the same is true regardless of the number of pieces you are hanging.
Notice below how the art is off balance with the rest of the arrangement. The two pieces feel like they’re hanging out in space relative to the furniture. The overall composition would feel more balanced if the art was centered over the sofa and there were two lamps connecting them to the furniture pieces. Also, art over a sofa should not be larger then, nor extend beyond it.
TIP: Art over a sofa is best proportioned in relation to it when it is between 2/3 and 3/4 the width of the sofa.
If you have an empty space adjacent to a piece of furniture or a grouping of such, make sure the art relates to that in a pleasing and cohesive way.
In this example the art is on an adjacent wall, but still feels like it belongs to the arrangement of the dresser and the vignette created on it.
Art can also act as a visual extension of furniture, and placing them close together will successfully evoke this feeling.
In this example the art becomes the focal point in an otherwise monochromatic and potentially boring setting. The dramatic nature of the art is enhanced by the neutrality of the sofas and invites you to come close and be part of this scene.
TIP: Balancing act… Be careful with this. In this space, there needs to be something dark to anchor the drama of these paintings. A dark coffee table (smokey stone would look awesome), or a rug with a strong geometric pattern. Balance is critical. (A story for another time…)
Key #5. Pay Attention to Scale
Not only do the two art pieces need to relate to each other in scale (one tiny one with one huge one would look silly), but the composition they create should also relate in scale to the space in which it is placed. Go back to the earlier examples and notice how the wall art fits into the visual context of the room. The more of the space they take up, the more important they become. When they are small relative to their surrounding space, they can get lost, look skimpy or become unimportant. Your eye isn’t drawn into them, but instead wanders across the scene looking for something to settle on.
Below, the green wall draws your eye more than the pictures do. If the wall were white, those pictures would be lost on it. (Coloring accent walls is another way to create context, but that’s a subject for another post.)
This image is a great example of what NOT to do with art on the wall. Too high, to far away from everything, to small and completely unrelated to anything else in the room. Your eye goes right to them, but for all the wrong reasons.
Here again, the art is very small. Too small even for this mantle vignette. They would better serve the overall effect by being placed on the mantle on easels as part of a cohesive composition. Overall, this vignette is scattered and unrelated.
Key #6 Create a Relationship Between Your Art and YOU
Not only do you want your art to relate to what is around it, but it also should relate to YOU. Your perspective of it will either enhance your experience of it or detract from it based on where you place it on the wall.
Hanging art above your line of sight detracts from your experience of it. Larger pieces placed too high make you feel insignificant and small. Small pieces placed to high become insignificant in themselves and are typically ignored.
Here is this photo again. Need I say more?
Here’s the key to how high to hang art:
Set the center at eye level (in general about 57″- 60″ off the floor).
If there are people of considerably different heights in your home, average out their eye levels and place the center of the art or grouping half way between that of the tallest and shortest people.
If the pair of art pieces are tall, and are aligned next to one another, place the focal point within them at eye level, as in this image.
If you have two pieces hanging over one another, the center of those two pieces should be at eye level.
In this image, due to physical constraints, the art is hanging at proportionate distances from the floor and the ceiling on an empty wall, treating the entire wall as a frame for them. You may run into these constraints, and the rules can always be set aside for a grander vision of the composition as noted in Key #4.
Exceptions to the rule!
When there’s a piece of furniture below the area in which you’ll hang the art, go back to the images above and note their relationship to those objects. Notice where art is hung relative to a table and a lamp; a sofa or a chair. The most visually pleasing and harmonious relationship among all the pieces including the art, is the height at which you should hang it. The height above a sofa or chair is typically 8″, but you should determine what looks best and feels most harmonious in your space. Generalities sometimes don’t apply.
Key #7 Determine the Best Way to Align Your Art
You can do as you see above, aligning the pieces horizontally. But they can also be aligned vertically if space allows,
Or you can offset them. Notice how the devil and angel sculptures nest into each other in the photo below, expressing their relationship (I like how the angel is higher, too… perhaps an unconscious affinity expressed by the person hanging them?).
This works well with non-rectangular pieces, and can also be utilized to hang two pieces of different sizes or proportions.
Be careful though. Sometimes Relationship and Alignment can be stretched beyond the limits of what works as a pair. The photo below demonstrates this. The two images really aren’t having much of a conversation. They have two entirely different sensibilities. This is a hard factor to quantify but you can usually ‘sense’ the difference. Also, the offset doesn’t enhance your visual experience f the pair.
So, now that you’ve got the design factors all settled, it’s time to actually hang these pieces on the wall. I’m only going to address framed art in this post, as this is where a smallest mistake can make the biggest difference. But if you have other objects you want to hang and need help, post an image of them in the comments section below. It’s likely that other readers will benefit from your question and the answer.
Key #8. Hang Your Art in Perfect Alignment
If you are hanging two pieces horizontally, and the tops are aligned, perfect alignment is essential. When the pieces are off, by even 1/8″, it will be jarring to your eye. Even if your eye doesn’t pick up this level of difference, your inner sense of balance will. So let’s get down to brass tacks about how to accomplish this.
- A long level (long enough to reach across at least half of each image.
- A tape measure
- A pencil (test in an inconspicuous place to make sure your pencil marks will come off with an eraser, a ‘magic eraser’, or a sponge. )
- A Hammer
- Adjustable picture hangers (available online here as well as other sources. Search “adjustable picture hangers” to find them). They ‘re long, between 3’ and 4″, so make sure your art will allow for this behind the picture without showing above the top. If this won’t work, you’ll have to be even more careful that the hooks you use are perfectly placed when hanging the images.
- Measure the height from the floor at which the center, or focal point, of the pictures will hang and draw a horizontal mark on the wall (about an inch long).
- Then measure from the center point on the picture to the top of the frame. Measure that distance up from your mark on the wall and make a second horizontal mark there.
- Place your level (making sure it is level) at this mark and draw a line across the wall long enough to reach at least half the total width of your two pieces. This will be the line you will be using to make your adjustments on the hooks.
- Now it’s time to determine how far apart you want them to be. To get this dimension, lay your pieces out on a table or the floor and visually note how they will best speak to you as one. The distance you choose will depend on the size of the pieces and the space in which they’ll hang. The larger they are the farther apart they can be; 1″ being minimum and 6″ being maximum – 2″ to 3″ being most common.
- Now, look at the space in which you’ll be hanging them to determine where on the wall they will best fit into the overall composition of that space. Remember Key #4.
- Measure the width of the space in which you want to hang the art pieces. and find the center point of that space. Mark that with a vertical mark on the level line.
- Measure the overall width of your two pieces, including the space you’ve determined between them and mark the outside points of that dimension on the wall with vertical marks on the horizontal level line.
- Lean the art pieces agains the wall to double check that their width will be proportionate in size to the width of the space in which they’ll hang and that they are in good relationship to the other objects in that space. Make adjustments now.
- Next, you need to determine how far down from the top of your pictures, the top of the adjustable hook will be when hanging. To do this, using your hook, pick up the picture by the wire and measure from the top of the hook to the top of the picture. If the two are off by a little bit, you’ll have to make adjustments on the hooks once the images are hung. Using the shortest of your two measurements, measure down from your horizontal level line and draw another one of similar length at that point. Again, assuring your level is level.
- Now measure the width of each piece individually. Divide that dimension in half and add HALF of the amount of the space between. For example:
- Total width of framed piece = 24″
- Half of that is 12″.
- Space between them is 2″.
- Half of that is 1″.
- So in this example your next measurement will be 13″.
- Measure out the actual distance you calculate from the center line you drew across the lower level line in both directions and make vertical marks at each point. This marks the center TOP of the adjustable hook you’ll be hammering into the wall.
- Place the center top of of the hook where these lines cross for each image and attach according to the directions on the package. Hold them as steady as possible so they don’t move while you’re hammering the nails into the wall.
- Erase or wash off the lower level line and the center of the top level line.
- Hang your pictures and adjust the hooks to make sure their tops are in perfect alignment!
If your images are small and lightweight, you can alternatively use removable Command hook and loop hangers to hang them. In this case, you’ll draw all your centering marks on the TOP line and skip steps 10, 12 and 13.
TADAA!!! You did it! Your pair of art pieces are hanging in perfect alignment, in perfect placement on your wall and you have created an overall composition in your room that is really lovely. Congratulations!
If you have questions, or want to post an image of your success, or want to add anything to this post, please do so in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.
The final post in this series will be “Keys to Successfully Hanging a Grouping of Art on the Wall”. Check back soon!