Just splurged on your first original work of art at a gallery or market. Or you’ve brought home a stunning new piece to add to your growing collection. Now, you are wondering “where is the ideal place for hanging your art?”
Perhaps you have moved and as you are unpacking the boxes you realize that your art will look different in the new home. The colours of the walls are different. The windows face east rather than south. You’ve purchased some new furniture. The whole look of this home is unlike anywhere you have lived before.
When any of these events happen in my life, I give serious consideration to where my art will hang. I just cannot help myself! I usually spent hours agonizing on where the nails will be placed. Sometimes art will sit on the floor for days, maybe even weeks, before it will find its rightful place on the walls. That is because I need to answer these six important questions before I can decide.
What is the piece of art about?
While this is the starting point – it is only that – a place to start the study of your collection.
Some art just decides for itself where it should best be placed. Our martini glass by Bernard Buffet has always found its perfect spot in the dining room of every home. Although I always enjoy a good drink at any time of the day, I cannot imagine ever taking Mr. Buffet to bed with me – so it’s always the dining room and never the bedroom.
By the same logic, I could not imagine trying to fall asleep with the eyes of my self-portrait glaring down on me. But that same self-portrait keeping an eye on me while I work in my studio-office reminds me that I am an artist and a writer. This is a much better location, based on the content.
This type of logic applies to nudity as well. You may love the nude body and think that if Rembrandt nudes can hang in famous art galleries then they can do the same in my home. That’s when you have to ask yourself “why” when choosing a particular location. If you chose a piece for your own enjoyment, then place it where you will enjoy it most. If you bought it to prove that you have a good eye for art, especially evocative pieces, then definitely place it where others can enjoy it too – but also a space where they can avert their eyes if they don’t share your same joy of the old master’s style of nudity. But don’t hang erotic art where every time they raise their eyes to converse with you your dinner guests are subjected to thoughts of how quickly they can finish dinner .
Whatever attracted you to a piece of art should also be considered when you select its place to hang – whether you will share it with the world or keep it all to yourself. If you have an exceptional piece and it hangs in your bedroom where guests rarely wander in your home, you can still invite them in for a personal viewing. In fact, maybe an art tour comes with cocktails before dinner and will form the centre of an ice-breaking conversation over dinner.
How does the piece speak to you?
Is it saying something quietly, shyly, subtly? Then perhaps it needs a small corner where it can whisper at you every time you walk by. On the other hand, a soft piece sometimes needs to be part of a larger collection to make its voice heard, sort of like a very young soprano in a choir.
Does a painting make a bold statement? A large piece like our large “moonscape” would be too much for a group. Every time I look at it, I am mesmerized by the shapes. I wouldn’t want any other art form or even furniture to distract me from studying the colour and shape of each overlapping circle. This will often happen when a piece is very large or very colourful. It needs room where you can stand back from it and/or get up close to study it. These pieces generally “look their best” when hung on a wall with no furniture nearby or as a feature above a single piece of furniture like a sofa or a couple of chairs. You don’t want to distract from what it has to say. However if you do, it is best balanced by a small piece that complements rather than steals the show.
If your pieces are sentimental or memorable, then place them where you will see them often. I never see the point of placing your favourite piece in a guest bedroom where it is seen by house-guests a few times a year or when the room is cleaned. That doesn’t mean this spare room doesn’t deserve great art – just not your memorabilia.
And never dismiss places like the kitchen, bathroom or a hallway leading to the place you spend the most time in. These are often ideal spots for you to enjoy a memory. I have my Georgia O’Keefe print hanging right beside the fridge so a trip for a cold one on a hot day brings back great memories of one of my favourite artists and of Sante Fe, the city where I saw her exhibition.
Who should / will see the piece?
Most of the principles that you need to apply to this question were covered in the first section.
Did you buy the art for yourself, your friends, your family or as an investment? Is it a classic or modern? Does it speak for itself or require explanation?
Theoretically, art should be admired by everyone at any time, which is why we have huge public galleries all over the world. In all likelihood you will have visitors to your home at some time, who will probably admire your works too. However, do you want to be explaining your erotic art collection or macabre dark originals to your six year old nephew at the next family gathering? Do you want to feel like you are seducing a friend as you secret them off to see your most valuable works that are all hidden in the master bedroom, with the door shut.
Place your work where you – and also the guests to your home –can admire them without feeling intrusive as they prowl into a private lair. This might mean just having a welcoming open-door policy if you want to share art that’s in a bedroom or office. on the other hand, if you do own art that is intended for “your eyes only” it should remain in rooms that are considered “by invitation only”.
Will the piece be a part of a collection or is it a stand-alone?
Some pieces are too large for a collection (like our moonscape). Others are so unique or sentimental that you always want to admire them on their own without distraction. A few are absolute stand-outs in style or colour that they would appear the “odd one out” if placed beside another piece. These should always have a place of their own, often a wall of their own.
And perhaps you are the type of person that believes each piece of art that you own is unique and deserves its own wall just like in an art gallery.
But even in art galleries, items are grouped for effect and/or because there isn’t enough space to give each own its own wall. This may be the case in your own home if you are a prolific collector.
So, if you are grouping your work into a collection of any size, consider what the commonality between the pieces is and then how they blend. Also consider which will be feature pieces within the group?
Sometimes a collection is so eclectic that it has no cohesive element in either its art-form (original painting, photographs, oil, acrylic, watercolour, colour vs black-and-white, etc.) or its presentation (e.g. framing, art media, sculpture, theme, etc.). Then just go for a presentation that ensures a focal point that captures the eye attention and keeps you interested.
That brings up the point of who will view the work. Even if it is hidden away in a study or office room (that only you will ever see),make sure that the ordering of the pieces starts with, and works to complement your favourite piece. That doesn’t mean your favourite piece is always at the centre of the collection. Perhaps it is at the top right or bottom left and your eye travels up or down to it.
I have several eclectic collections in my place.
The first is a series of art pieces all collected from places that I have lived. It includes photographs, wood art, pottery, posters, even postcards as well as original art. It works because I hang it in the hallway wherever I live and the small space to view it highlights the art forms as well as the location-content.
The second is a grouping based on water. All of the pieces are sentimental such as photographs that I or family members have taken and a watercolour that my son did at six years old. Several are reprints of famous paintings that I saw in art galleries and bought at the gift shop on my way out of the exhibition. One is an original, beautifully framed to embrace the essence of the artist’s style. This grouping is complemented by three other pieces in the room. All three of these are originals – each given their own unique space – but also based on the water theme. The sentimentality carries through as one is my own painting and one of the others is an original of our wedding done by a friend.
The third collection that I love is based on a unique “copper-colour” scheme. Each piece reflects not only the copper but the greens and blues that copper creates when oxidized. And all three are distinctive art forms in themselves – one a copper plate, the second a piece of “found” wood that I coloured with food colouring, and the third is an original water colour of gum tree leaves (a gift painted by a friend). They come from three distant places: Arizona, Montreal and Australia. Be bold when placing work together. Just decide why they are similar – to you. That way when you look at them every day you don’t just see the three individual pieces but the beauty that attracted all of them to you. In this case for me it was the colours. In our current location, these pieces also complement our bronze nude because their size create a balance to the overall space.
What will light do to the art?
Considering the “light” is important for two reasons. The first is that direct light may impact the work of art by fading it or damaging the colour. If this is a case, some pieces need to be protected from the light or encased in museum-quality glass so that they are not diminished in value or completely destroyed.
The second is the effect that the light has on the artistry. In some rooms, works of art look different at various times of the day because some types of light (sunshine vs. electric) reveals more details or characteristics than others. On the other hand, some pieces may become difficult to enjoy fully in a particular lighting. Sunlight glaring off ordinary glass over a framed photograph may make the image hard to see. Art with shiny surfaces may not show as well in a dark hallway as they might in a brightly lit dining room.
Select the light that shows your art off the way you might select a V-neck dress to accentuate cleavage, while still being modest and appropriate for the spectators.
From what perspective is the art best viewed?
This concept applies to both the height of hanging the work and which wall it is on.
For example, I have some low hanging pieces in a hallway that is very narrow. Because there is little room to stand back and admire the pieces from a distance, I want them at eye-level so the viewer can look directly at them. Because there are many pieces, I have the ones that are best looked at from a distance up high so they are further away from the eye. And I place the smaller pieces at or below eye-level, to ensure that a guest can see the detail without straining.
Don’t forget the corners or small spaces of your home. A tiny bit of wall beside a closet door can be the perfect place for that piece of pottery or driftwood art you bought at the beach.
Another aspect of hanging for the viewer is the choice of location within a room. To help explain this concept, I will use a personal example. I find my ‘water’ collection (described earlier) to be very relaxing. I could have hung the collection in an attractive arrangement on the main wall over the bed. However I decided that in that location they would only be viewed when entering the room – by myself or anyone else. So instead, I selected the wall at the foot of the bed where I can stare at the water before I go to bed and see it every morning as I rise – setting my mood for the day. This fits well with the concept of feng shui, which says that what we see in our homes as we rise or leave our homes can influence our entire day. So this collection was hung for my every day personal benefit and not that of the occasional visitor to the room.
Art should also complement the furniture rather than compete with it. That does not mean that placement cannot emphasize your eclectic taste. It simply means do not place pieces on or near furniture that will have the viewer stopping to analyze the incongruity every time they walk by. They should be admiring both the art and the more functional furniture as unique rather than seeing a clash that makes them uneasy. That is, unless of course your art or decorating style is to be provocative. Then anything goes! And you can and probably will ignore everything that I have said. And that works too.
The ultimate goal is to be comfortable with your choice of location. Your art should add to, rather than detract from, the relaxation that you find in your home.
More Tips for Hanging Art
Now that you have considered where you will hang each piece of art, I suggest that you place them on the floor or on a chair (table or box will do also) in the general area of where you have decided they will look best. Wait a day or so before hanging the art. Then if it feels right, get out the hammer and start banging those nails in the wall.
While I have given you some concepts for placement, check out this article on My Movefor some ideas on how to measure the exact location of your placement.
This Better Homes and Garden slideshow gives you some great tips for grouping pieces when hanging art.
The Spruce agrees that you should “take the time to try out various heights and locations before you punch holes in the wall for picture hooks.” They also give good advice on how to determine eye level, which in my home is probably always lower than average because I am not quite five feet tall. But I think that is okay since I am the person most frequently admiring the art hanging on my walls anyway.
And if you need more inspiration for interesting groupings, see the photos in this article on “Organize my Home“.
What issues do you have when trying to hang a single piece or grouping of art? What has worked best for you? What was your worst hanging experience? What advice do you have for others?