You have purchased a wonderful work of fine art and are ready to hang it on a wall for its best possible display. Now what? Here’s how to hang a single work of fine art on a wall using centerlines.
1. Your first consideration is where (on what wall) to hang the art. Ask yourself these questions that will help you make the right decision:
- Are there adjacent architectural elements that it must center on or within, such as a wall recess, wall opening, overhead arch, or built-in lighting fixture(s)? Or, must it align vertically or horizontally with the centerline(s) of other adjacent artwork? If you intend to display the work centered, or symmetrical about a centerline, a centerline hanging method is the best way to install the artwork.
- Must it align vertically and/or horizontally with the edge(s) of some other element? If so, an edge line approach is the best way to ensure proper alignment. I’ll discuss that approach in another blog.
2. Once that you have answered the above questions, you know on what wall, and where on that wall, you will be hanging the art. Now you need to gather the tools that you will need for the installation:
- Hardware: The hardware that will support the art work is the most critical item. It must accept the hanging hardware already installed on the back of the artwork (typically wire, hooks or cleats) and must carry the weight of the artwork. It also must be designed for the wall construction that it will penetrate and anchor into (typically wood, drywall, steel or concrete). To keep the plumb and level installation over time, I recommend two hangers, unless the artwork is small (less than 12-inches) in hanging width.
- Wall Anchors: When the hanger fasteners are screwed into drywall, “wallboard anchors” will help the screw to anchor into the drywall. For smaller screws, the plastic type that are driven into a smaller diameter hole that is pre-drilled in the drywall will work fine. For larger diameter screws, the zinc type that screw into the smaller diameter, pre-drilled hole are stronger.
- Toggle Bolts: If the artwork is heavy, and you must anchor to drywall without being able to screw into a wood stud behind the drywall, you can use through bolts with toggle nuts to grab the backside of the drywall and distribute the load. In such case you will pre-drill a hole that is large enough diameter for the folded toggle nut to pass through. The toggle nut then opens after passing through the drywall and snugs up against the back of the drywall as you tighten the through bolt.
- Tools to drive the hangers’ fastening hardware (usually nails or screws) into the wall. A hammer (if nails) or a screwdriver (if screws), either Phillips or Flat Head to match the screw heads. For heavy-duty installations, I recommend a corded power drill where screws are used. If pre-drilled holes are used for wall board anchors, the drill is necessary for pre-drilling the holes in the drywall.
- Layout tools, including a level (with both vertical and horizontal level indicators), a tape measure (with a brake) and a pencil to locate and mark the exact points where the hangers are to be fastened to the wall. A particularly useful tool is a 24″ long level with the markings of a ruler along one edge.
- A step stool or ladder if the artwork installation will be at the limit of, or beyond, your comfortable reach range.
3. Preliminary Precautions:
- Be sure to clear anything that could be broken or damaged by falling items from below the installation before beginning the work. It’s too easy to drop a tool, hanger or fastener during the installation process.
- If using a nearby tabletop or countertop as a work surface, or a hearth or furniture to stage from, be sure to put a protective cover over the surface to protect it from damage by the tools, your work and any falling debris.
- With these precautions taken, and the necessary hardware and tools in hand, you can now begin the installation.
4. Determine the viewing height of the work of art. This is the vertical height (above the finished floor surface) location of the center of the artwork being viewed.
- Most commonly this height is set at eye level for those who will likely view the work. For example, if the work is to be viewed in your home, measure the height of your eyes above the floor that you are standing on, and the height of the eyes of others who live with you, find the average height and use this for installing the artwork. A generally acceptable standard is 5′-0″ (60 inches), although the general range is 58 to 62 inches, above the finished floor surface.
- Alternatively, if the artwork’s horizontal centerline is to align with the horizontal centerline of an adjacent work, object or opening, the viewing height is set by that existing condition.
5. Determine the vertical hanging height of the work of art. This is the height where the wall attachment hangers will be installed.
- Measure the overall height of the artwork and divide that by two.
- Measure the distance from the hanging hardware (usually a wire or hook) on the back of the artwork to the top of the artwork. If the hanging hardware is a wire, measure it at full tension with either one or two intended hanger locations however you intend to hang the artwork.
- Take the viewing height, add to it one-half of the overall height of the artwork and then subtract from that sum the distance from the hanging hardware to the top of the artwork. The remainder is the vertical hanging height of the wall attachment hangers above the finished floor surface that the viewer will stand on.
6. Determine the horizontal viewing position of the work. This is the center of the object where it will be viewed relative to other objects and/or elements to its left and right sides, such as adjacent art work, door or wall opening jambs, wall corners or sides of an architectural recess.
- Most commonly this position is determined by locating the vertical centerline between two (left and right) objects or edges (of wall openings, door jambs or other adjacent artwork).
- Alternatively, this centerline may need to align with the vertical centerline of an object(s) or wall openings above and/or below where the artwork is to be displayed. In such case, the horizontal viewing position is determined by these existing conditions.
7. Make a light pencil cross mark on the wall where the vertical hanging height (a horizontal mark) intersects with the horizontal viewing position (a vertical mark). This is the vertical and horizontal center of the hanging location.
- If one hanger is used to attach the artwork to the wall, this is the location point of that hanger.
- If two hangers are used, they should each be placed the same distance horizontally, in opposite directions (left and right), from this location point.
- If two hangers are used because the artwork has two hooks on its back (instead of a wire), measure the horizontal distance between the vertical center lines of the hooks on the back of the artwork, divide by two, and position each of the two wall attachment hangers this distance horizontally in opposite directions (left and right) from the cross mark at the vertical and horizontal center of the hanging position.
8. Install the wall attachment hangers. If using a fastener (nail or screw) supported hook, be sure to position the bottom of the hook on the hanging location mark, not the nail or the screw.
9. Hang the artwork on the hangers.
- Use two persons for the installation if the artwork is larger or heavier than one person can handle comfortably and safely.
- If installing with two hangers, install the artwork over one hanger at a time.
- Ease the artwork into its final position without releasing support of the artwork, until you are certain that the hangers and their fasteners are fully and safely supporting the artwork.
- If a hanger or fastener fails, you have protected the artwork from falling and you can then remove the artwork and replace the hanger or fastener with a stronger one.
10. Using the level, adjust the artwork so that it is plumb and level. If it is not plumb and level, remove the artwork, adjust the hangers as needed and re-hang the artwork plumb and level.
11. Provide and adjust the lighting as needed to properly enhance the display. I’ll talk more about lighting the artwork in another blog.
12. Clean up any mess created by the installation work, and re-position any items that were moved aside for precautionary reasons.
Now enjoy your fine art to the fullest, as it is displayed for the most appreciation and enjoyment!