Gone are the days of the World's Columbian Exposition but salon-style hanging when done right, is timeless, engaging and unbelievably effective. During the 18th and 19th century, expositions and competitions would show paintings floor-to-ceiling, in a matter that is rarely practiced today.
There are ways to convey the richness of salon hanging in contemporary methods. I've hung numerous shows in this method and while it's difficult to understand the balance of color, shape and scale in practicing this method, it's an incredibly satisfying aesthetic. Most of us don't have large oil paintings in ornate gold frames, but our photographs, prints and smaller scale paintings work just as well for this type of hanging. First and foremost, unless it's a painting done on canvas and stretchers (a wood frame it's built on), your pieces should either all be framed or not framed at all. (Framing is a whole other matter and perhaps I'll do a post on that another day).
To get started, make sure you have enough work to show. You'll need quite a few pieces for this method since covering an entire wall or area is no easy feat. If your pieces are framed, make sure their backs are secure and that wires are intact and strong. If you're depending on the eyehooks or hanging mechanism on the back of a manufactured frame, make sure they're stable. If not give them a good coat of glue, nail reinforcement or what ever care they need and let it sit for 24 hours.
If your pieces are unframed, my best recommendation for showing them in a consistent manner would be to use T-pins. They're inexpensive and lend an air of "art school crit" to the look. They work especially well for photography with borders and edition works such as prints (etchings, lithography, monoprint). Map pins are much shorter but with a variety of colors to choose from, they make a wonderful presentation and are easy to push in the wall. Keep in mind that when you take them out, sometimes the heads pop off leaving a short, sharp pin in the wall. Please, use caution when removing and make sure you take all pieces out with pliers if needed.
You will need a level, pencil, measuring tape, hammer and nails or pins. They're not necessary but bumpers for the backs of works are nice to have on hand especially if you have eggshell or matte finish paint on the walls. This will keep the works from marring the walls. Also, use the proper weight nails for pieces. Some specify the weight allowance they can handle and I suggest investing in a picture hanging kit if you're going to hang things that are heavier than 10 pounds on a regular basis.
GETTING IT RIGHT
Regardless of whether you have an entire wall or a section of a wall that's offset because of furniture in front of it, find your central spot. Keep in mind, your center may not be exactly in the center of the wall, but rather, where you build your structure of pieces out of. Think of it as a starburst. A great tool I use is laying the pieces on the ground and arranging them exactly how I envision them on the wall. That way, I can make changes before I put any holes in the wall. Once you have your order, hold the first piece by the wire or hanging bracket against the wall and use a pencil to mark a spot where the nail will go. (My rule of thumb for any type of two-dimensional work is to have the center of the piece at 60 inches from the ground up. That's the prime viewing height which people generally miss as they tend to hang things too high on the wall).
The center yellow box is the starting point. Notice that the surrounding pieces are not uniform in size and structure but that there are a few rules in place. First, note the red lines where invisible lines relate pieces to one another. Not every line from the center has to be plum, but it's nice to have a few pieces have order. Surrounding them, varying sizes and shapes fill in the space with a uniform amount of space between each piece.
There's no one way to do this but visual balance is essential. You don't have to have symmetrical or frames that mirror one another on either side but think of it this way. A large horizontal frame on the left would balance two small vertical ones on the right. Every time you hang a piece, use the level to check your work and move on to the next piece. You can also integrate plates and other art objects into the equation for visual interest.
You'll get the hang of it. But if you don't, shoot us an email. We'll bring all the tools and hang it for you!