Master picture hanger John Verhoeven talks about the business of hanging pictures.

After 12 years and hanging 20,000 pictures all over Sydney, we've learned a thing or two about placing paintings, photographs, sculptures and other artworks on any kind of wall you can think of. 

Not everyone can afford a professional picture hanger (although it might not be as much as you think), so to help out our master picture hanger, John Verhoeven, has distilled some of the most important pieces of advice about how to hang a picture into these 15 questions you should ask yourself before putting any holes in your walls!


John Verhoeven on the secrets of hanging pictures

1. What is the wall made of?

This might be the most important question you ask. It will limit the size and weight of the artwork you can hang.

In Australia the most common interior walls are made from Gyprock or plasterboard attached to timber or metal studs.

Then we have brick or rendered brick, in which cases we have to factor in the age of the building. Victorian and Edwardian homes generally have poor walls — no quality control in those days.

Concrete walls are great, but you will need a rotary hammer drill because concrete can be very hard.

Of course there are other materials used, but these are by far the most common.

2. Will the wall support my painting?

I would love to say here, use your gut feeling, but I shall refrain. When in doubt, don’t hang and get an expert. (Also refer to answer 1.)

3. Shall I anchor the artwork at one or two points?

Great question, if it’s for sharing the load on say Gyprock, or it’s a windy area, then two points can be good. However if the wall is strong — or the painting is light — generally a single point is good. Having said that, large and heavy mirrors generally come with two D-rings fitted by the manufacturer.

4. What is the correct height? (Not as simple as it sounds)

Ok, this in my humble opinion is the Holy Grail of picture hanging. It took me many years to arrive at the sweetspot.

Next time you’re at a serious institutional art gallery, take note of the height. Ah, I hear you ask, the height? By height I mean that point you stare into. Generally it will be the same for all of the artworks, so when you’re travelling through the exhibition, it’s the mid point that will be constant.

I could write a medium-length book on this subject alone. And of course there are exceptions to this rule — overmantels, above bedheads, stairwells etc.

5. When hanging two or more artworks, what should the gap be between items?

As a general rule, there should be a gap of let’s say three centimetres. If the artist had not wanted a gap, he or she would have had the diptych or triptych as one. Then again, sometimes — but not often — the works should be touching. Confused?

6. How do you create a photo wall?

My clients are always very happy they got an expert in. Why? Because it is very difficult for families to hang the family photos in a fair and equitable way. Who goes where and why? So bring in someone who has no family connections. They’ll hang organically with no bias. The aesthetic should prevail. Personally, I don’t like a photo wall to look like a complex mathematical algorithm. Freeflowing is the key, done in a way that leaves room for the collection to grow over the years.

7. How do you hang in a hallway?

The hallway is a very important place. For visitors, it is often the first taste of what is to come. It introduces visitors to the occupant, and can be a wonderful showcase for exhibiting a series of paintings or prints. They might be botanic in subject or engravings. And as hallways are generally darker than other rooms, this bodes well in preventing fading. Where possible, I like to position artworks in a zig-zag pattern, meaning no two are directly opposite one another.

8. Should you mix and match your collection?

Definitely. And unless you are creating a theme, alternating black and white with colour works well. And here is a little hint: if you have a wall that ends in a window or sliding door leading outside, try to have the stronger artwork nearer the window. It stops the energy at the last painting. Weird I know, but it works.

9. What is the best system for the back of paintings? Wire, cord or D-rings.

If it’s very heavy, D-rings, or swaged stainless cable. Nylon cord is OK. But for me in a perfect world, I would love to see plastic coated wire on the back of most artworks, because when you’re hanging multiple works next to others of the same size, it’s nice to be able to hang them all then pull down ever so gently the ones slightly higher. The plastic coated wire has no “memory”, so it wont creep back up but nylon cords will.

10. Should I be brave or conservative with my sense of the aesthetic?

I say be brave, see what happens. Push the envelope, break the rules, have some fun, experiment… After all, it is art and it is your wall. And if all that fails, call me and we shall fix it.

11. Hanging in voids and stairwells. The dangers and benefits.

Generally dangerous, a special ladder is the minimum requirement. Ladders are responsible for a high percentage of indoor accidents. But the effect of hanging art in voids and stair wells is generally spectacular.

12. Should I use an interior designer?

A good interior designer is worth their weight in gold. Even an average interior designer is worth their weight in Silver. But remember, a good interior designer is like an artist: they all have their own specific style or fingerprint. I have walked into many serious residences and immediately known who did the design.

It’s a collaboration, and the great designers are really worth the time and investment, and they have access to wonderful things that are unique. Having said that, have some fun, spend time going to open houses and reading interior magazines and see what the experts are doing.

13. What are the advantages of using a tracking system?

Quite a few. If you’re a landlord, using a hanging system means the tenants will be able to hang their art but never damage the walls. And if it’s your home, it means you can move you art around, and if you have a serious and extensive collection, you can rotate it.

14. What will my friends and family, and importantly, you, think of the end result?

If you decide to do it yourself, it might look great, but it will probably take a lot longer than using a professional. Imagine calling in an expert, who has a real sense of the technical and aesthetic, and who has hung more than 20,000 paintings. I would say that would be money well spent.

15. Why not use a handyman?

And in closing, some people say to us, ”Why not use a Handyman?” That’s ok if you know exactly where you want every artwork. But imagine a person, like myself, who arrives and says, “You’re in good hands, you can stay or leave, but you will be extremely happy with the end result.”