The Care and Feeding of Acrylic Paintings Part III – Hanging

October 19, 2007 at 1:20 pm

There’s not a lot of trickery to hanging a painting, but I do have a few tips that I picked up while working in an art gallery.

The quick and dirty way to hang a painting is to pound a nail into the wall and just hang the darn thing up! Or even better, reuse an old nail that’s already there.

That works well enough.

But if you want to hang it slightly to the left, or slightly higher, or it’s heavy and you’re worried the nail will fall out, maybe it’s time to get a little more serious about hanging.

First of all, I recommend using special picture-hanging hooks rather than plain nails. These special hooks do a fantastic job and are much less likely to pull out of drywall or plaster than a plain nail. The hook holds the nail at a fixed angle and doesn’t allow it to wriggle or bend. It’s the wriggling and bending that cause nails to fail. These hooks are shown below.

Ook Hooks These hooks are made by the “Ook” company, and are available in home-improvement and home decorating stores.

Second, I recommend using two hooks for all but the tiniest paintings. This will keep the painting hanging straight even if it gets slightly brushed or bumped. With only one hook, paintings get skewed very easily. Also, with two hooks, the possibility of one hook failing is less likely (because each is only holding half the weight) and even if one does fail, the other one is your safety backup.

If you insist on using ordinary nails, I recommend that you position at least one of them in a wall stud. Use a stud-finder (available at any hardware or home improvement store) to locate your wall studs, and pick the one that’s closest to where you want the painting. The second nail (you ARE using two nails, right?) doesn’t necessarily have to go into a stud (though that would be great), just position it so that the painting hangs where you want it. The center of the painting will rest exactly halfway between the two nails, assuming you put both nails at the same height. (Below is a detailed description of measuring for precise hanging from two hooks).

Let’s hang that painting precisely where you want it.

First, pick the location for the painting. Make a tiny dot on the wall with a pencil that shows where you want the top center of the painting to be. Measure this carefully, because everything counts on this being accurate. If you can recruit some help, have your assistant hold the painting where you think you want it, so you can step back and view it from all angles to make sure you’re happy with the placement. This is easier than hanging it up and THEN deciding you want to move it.

If you’re only using one hook (tsk), hook the end of a tape measure from the center of the paintings’s hanging wire, hang the full weight of the painting from the tape measure, and measure the distance to the top edge of the painting. Place the hook that distance down from your dot on the wall. Make sure you’ve got the bottom of the hook, the part the wire actually rests in, at the measurement. I’ve nailed more than one hook in with the nail on my mark instead of the bottom of the hook. It’s an easy mistake to make! But if you get it right, when you hang the painting the dot on the wall should be exactly at the top edge of the painting as you intended. (If you’re within 1/4 inch, that’s pretty good.)

If you’re convinced that two hooks is preferable (yay!), the measurement becomes slightly more complicated, so bear with me.

First you have to decide how far apart you want the hooks. I’d put them about 1/2 to 1/3 of the picture’s width apart. So, for a 24-inch-wide painting, put the hooks 8-12 inches apart. To make sure, look at the wire on the back of the painting. Depending on how it’s wired, you might be constrained in how far apart the hooks can be. If the wire is only 12 inches long due to the construction of the painting and its frame, you’d better keep the hooks no more than 6 inches apart.

Now that you’ve chosen a reasonable spacing for the hooks, measure that out on the wall, centered on your dot. You need to put two more dots at the same height as your original dot, each half the hook spacing from the center dot. You can erase the center dot now. You’re left with 2 dots, spaced the same distance apart that you want the hooks to be. But they’re at the level where the top of the painting is supposed to be. Now comes the hard part.

Use your tape measure to figure out where the hooks will land on the wire on the painting, e.g., 12 inches apart or whatever your spacing is. Hold up the painting with one finger on the wire at one hook’s location and with the end of a tape measure at the other hook’s location. You want your finger and the tape measure to hold the full weight of the painting, because the wire stretches a little when it’s hanging. Measure the distance to the top of the painting (or the frame) for the one hook. Now transfer that distance down from both dots on the wall. Those are where the bottoms of the two hooks should be when you nail the hooks into the wall.

Hang the painting on the hooks. If you can only get it on one hook, don’t worry. Just scootch the painting, still on the one hook, all the way toward the other hook. That should free up more wire and give you enough slack to reach behind the painting and pull the wire over the other hook. Once you’ve got both hooks on the wire, slide the painting back to the correct location to straighten it. After you’ve done this maneuver once or twice, it becomes second nature.

If the painting is slightly tilted, you’ll need to slide it slightly to the left or right to get it to straighten. Once you think you’ve got it centered, knock it slightly to make sure it’s stable. If it tilts when bumped, it’s not quite perfectly centered. Once you’ve got it centered, slight bumps won’t knock it out of alignment. Cool, eh?

Check how close you came to your target marks on the wall. If you’re within 1/4 inch, you did really well!

If you’re not happy with where the painting is hanging, figure out how far up or down (or left or right) you want the painting to move from where it’s hanging right now. Then take down the painting and move both hooks by that amount. You want it higher by an inch? Just move both hooks up one inch, and you’ll be fine. The easiest way to remove those specialty picture hooks is to twirl the nail to loosen it from the wall, then pull it out gently. They leave very tiny inconspicuous holes, which is another benefit of using them over regular nails.

Congratulations! You’ve selected some beautiful original art and successfully hung it in your home! Stand back and enjoy it, you’ve earned it.


Entry filed under: Art Appreciation, Conservation.

The Care and Feeding of Acrylic Paintings Part II – Lighting The Care and Feeding of Acrylic Paintings Part IV – Cleaning

Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

I invite you to sign up to receive my free email newsletter, in which I list my upcoming shows and talk about my latest work. I send it irregularly, a few times a year.

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Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

A bunch of my abstract dot paintings

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