5 Things to Think About Before Hanging New Paintings

Hi All!

In my time as an artist I have hung A LOT of paintings. From my years at University when I helped friends hang their painting theses shows or installed my own art work for a gallery exhibition to more recent times where I've hung several preview exhibitions for the Cambridge Studio Tour at the Grand Cafe in Cambridge, Ontario with my lovely wife, Kit Daven. I've hung A LOT  of paintings.

In keeping with the spirit of getting it right, here is a handy dandy list of 5 things to think about before hanging your new painting(s).

1. HEIGHT - "How high should it be?"

Chances are, this is an idea you've never thought about, "How high should my painting be?"

Well, if you're a Rockerfeller you can probably hang that painting as high as yyou damn well please what with your 20 foot ceilings, but for most people, regular home walls are between 8 and 10 feet tall and there is an optimal hanging height for paintings.

When I was in University and hanging all those shows with my classmates, Mike, Jeff and a few others came across an article in which the optimal height of paintings was ascertained. It was based on the average height of people's eyes and those eyes meeting the very center of your painting. This way, the greatest number of people would be viewing from the optimal height, not too high that they'd have to crane their necks, and not too low that they'd have to cast their eyes floorward to take in the show.

At that time, I think the optimal height was around 62.5 inches. Today's number has changed a little and looks to be sitting at around 60.5, that being the average height of someone in North America (66.5 inches) minus 6 inches (give or take) to find where their eyes are situated in their skull, a few inches below the top of their noggins.

If you want the greatest majority of people to enjoy your latest acquisition aim to put the center of your painting at around 60.5 inches, give or take a couple of inches. And before you sink that hook in the wall exactly half a paintings height up from the center of your piece, don't forget to measure where your wire comes to rest relative to the top of the painting / frame! Hang it from your finger if you can and get a measurement with a tape so you can get it right, first time :)

2. SPACE - "Let the big boys breathe!"

Believe it or not, paintings need space to breathe.

I know, i know, it's a strange concept but paintings, especially BIG paintings need space; to stand alone and fill you with their majesty, to shine and vibrate the way they were designed without the interruption of other paintings or excessive distractions in the form of furnishings / accoutrements etc.

Have you ever walked into a gallery and seen a 50 foot wide wall with a 10 foot painting at its center and nothing else? This is why. Paintings need room to breathe. There's something special about that painting and the display team wants you to look at nothing else but it.

I've been to countless shows where artworks are crammed in side by each where the artist has an 8 foot wall and must hang 6 paintings on that wall leaving an inch of space between each. This is a huge mistake and often detracts from the overall impact of the work. In this case, hanging fewer works would be desirable. The ideal of "less is more" can really make your paintings shine!

3. SPACE 2.0 or "DON'T let it breathe." - Taking the salon route

Alternately, if you have a high number of paintings, and most of them are small in nature, you may want to opt for the Salon style display, so named for the French Salon exhibitions of the 18th and 19th centuries. In these exhibitions every inch of available wall space was covered by paintings; from floor to ceiling, from doorway to corner regardless of size. If you'd like to read more about the history of the French Salon, check out this article on Wikipedia.

That's right, instead of giving each artwork "space to breathe", you give none of them space to breathe and use the lot of them to create one, overwhelming display of unique vignettes to blow your visitors out of the water! I have done this in my own house and the effect is really quite stunning.

This technique works best with small artworks but can be used with paintings of a medium sized nature too. Stack them above, below and to the left and right and the more wall space you can hide, the better!

4. OUCH! IT BURNS! "Why the sun IS NOT a paintings friend."

The sun is great! It warms the planet, allows plants to grow and gives us all a healthy shot of vitamin D. Who doesn't like the sun? Your paintings, that's who.

It turns out that there is a scientific reason why sunlight discolours artwork. It's called photodegredation and has to do with UV light, visible light and  solar heat. Over time, these natural culprits will break down chemical bonds in the pigments of your paintings and slowly bleach them out. Check out this article to learn more about the process.

Of course, there is a very easy way to avoid this issue and that is not to hang paintings in direct sunlight, EVER. But of course, paintings can also react badly to large doses of indirect light especially watercolours. Watercolours should be hung in a shaded spot — period. Hanging paintings obliquely to a window or even on a wall with a window so no direct light is hitting your paintings can help too.

Now, acrylics and oils will withstand the most abuse from the sun but you should still think twice about hanging them in a room with a ton of natural light especially if your purchase isn't just for fun, but part of your overall personal wealth strategy. Don't let the sun undermine your investment!

5. THE BATHROOM - "Painting DOES NOT need to relieve itself!"

I always find it curious to see paintings hanging out in a bathroom. I didn't realize that they needed to use the facilities? I guess you learn something new every day ;)

The truth of the matter is that artworks in general, not just paintings require a certain level of temperature and humidity to remain resilient and stand the test of time. Having a painting dry out can cause the surface to crack but even worse is having a painting be too wet...and causing it to grow mold.

Yep, just like any hot, humid and enclosed space, bathrooms are great places for mold and fungi to grow and where you don't want those jerks growing is on your paintings.

Bathrooms are funny places. They remain cool and dry for most of the day, then someone uses the shower and BAM humidity and heat galore. Condensation then collects on everything because of course, everything in the room has been cold all day. This is a prime opportunity for mold and fungi to get into a painting and once it's there, it's there; just about impossible to get rid of.

The take away here? Never hang a painting in the bathroom, EVER. Besides, there's no couch in there to hang it over — unless you're a Rockerfeller of course ;)

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