LAST week, having surveyed the various dioramas of ornamental and sentimental stuff heaped up on every shelf and table surface, we decided to fly a good grab of things up onto the relatively blank walls. A few sharp words, a whirling power drill, a level, sliced cork (more of that later), wall-plugs and a few mirror hooks; what a relief and a surprising aesthetic refresh.
Putting it all out there — your taste, your choices, your collecting history — curating walls can seem an unsettling challenge. So, here’s just a few hacks to make effective decisions to not only get your collection to gallery standard, but to push those walls around, visually tweaking awkward, odd spaces with creative placements.
Think about where you might be, in space, when looking at every picture/artwork/object. If you’re collapsed on your favourite squashy chair, we want the picture scaled to suit and low enough to take in the detail. Standing, or on a high stool, we can bring the hanging height (along the centre of the piece) to around the eye level of the adults; that’s around 145cm to 160cm, go lower for a petite audience. Go too high and the piece will be diminished visually and totally disconnected from the room.
Despite any guide, there will be a naturalness, a ‘rightness’ to a good position. Your eye is a very sophisticated instrument – trust its little gimble. You might have a deeply personal reason to place an object and a painting in a close relationship, even set in a dense, wider gallery wall filled with artwork. Keep in mind that direct sunlight will create glare on glass and damage many artworks, including photographs, prints and watercolours set on paper even behind UV protected glass.
How present do you want the artwork to be? Explore the sight-lines as you enter the room, considering the impact on your surrounding colours and furniture arrangements. Can you draw attention to and away from things to suit yourself? Take a really good look at the proportions of the nook or area of wall and the height of the ceiling. You can hang things up not only on walls, but on the panels of your cupboards, up onto stairwells, even from the ceiling like Ray Eames did in her home in California.
Small pictures set on walls that are not closely approached will be sad orphans; choose something bigger and more showy.
The overall style of any framed piece should be looked at in toto. Various styles of box frame or Rococo gilding can sit together in interesting, but harmonious ways. Mismatching is actually often more satisfying than identical frames struggling with very different contents.
Hanging a group or row (and presuming the bottom edge doesn’t interfere with passage past it), that 145cm-160cm will run through the determined centre of a group if we’re taking a standing start. Lining up the top edge of the frames instead can work, but similar frames in dull rows can be just that — dull.
Mark your ideas up on the wall with strips of low tack tape and work around it with newspaper cut-outs to mock up hanging positions. Try hanging groups vertically, off-centre rather than in the centre of a wall. Stand back, shift them around, ask opinions and have someone hold the signature anchor pieces up for a viewing before you start belting in nails. Then take the actual pieces and put them out on the floor as a second step. Record the various results with your phone’s camera.
You can start small with a single, grow to a group or use the entire wall or staircase in what collectors term a ‘salon wall’ which might include some small shelving to hold sculpture and other wry, interrupting objects that are not framed or stretchered pictures. Try mixing things up in your salon, as they would be in an accrued lifetime collection of photographs, drawings, impasto oils, and kids’ kindergarten masterpieces. Try forming identically sized frames of matching images (say ornithology or botanical prints) into one work by keeping them less than 5cm apart. Then take that work and immerse it into a wider gallery wall.
Generating a relationship between hanging pieces requires a pleasing rhythm for a horizontal group of singles, and the right distance and overall outline to bring a group together. Try a cruciform to a very large grid of pieces. Starting with singles and furniture — again, mock up the piece and bring the position down, lower and higher over the side-table or sofa back until it clearly sings. For large pictures, don’t be afraid to make the connection between hanging artwork with floor-standing pieces very apparent. Often one dramatic picture across one wall will be less fussy than studding the wall with disparate framed pieces.
For four to six or even more pictures, experiment with both running them off predetermined vertical and horizontal lines, and by framing them together with one indicated outer edge with which all the outside frames of a square or rectangular group agree. If you set this up with tape, you can move them around inside the indicated frame.
Two or more small pictures and a large picture can be composed together in a variety of ways — two smallies horizontally over, big below.
Two or more smallies flanking the big piece on a central line. Two smallies, one over-the-other to one side of the large picture. Place the bigger pictures first, adding those satellites, again, trying it all out on the floor. There are dozens of tricks regarding finding a position for wire/string for central hooks (if that’s your hanging choice). Paper mock-ups taken from the reverse of the piece (rather than pencil marks) are probably the easiest way to determine where to site the nail or screw without marking up the wall.
Hanging frames from both sides using mirror plate or two nail/screw positions for a supporting wire will keep the pieces far more stable. Ensure you choose the right anchors for your wall type and that they are suited to the load — double up if needs be. Nail-free products like Alfta adhesive hooks (Ikea from €2 a four-pack) are only intended for very light frames.
I like to use slices of wine cork secured with Blu-tac, to set the bottom edges of the frame out from the wall with a pleasing level shadow (hack courtesy of a brief, highly enjoyable stint helping out at exhibitions at our gorgeous Crawford Gallery in Cork). This finishing touch is really sleek for contemporary works.