Style: 4 tips for creating knockout artwork displays

Mary Carol Garrity

Have you ever suffered from art-hanging paralysis? Frozen by a nagging fear that if you try to hang your lovely pieces of art, it will look bad or wrong? You’re not alone. For some reason, many of us are afraid to take hammer and nail in hand and get going on those big, empty walls. To my husband’s dismay, I have the opposite problem. I just start pounding. If I don’t like what I see, I pull out the nail and pound away in a new place. (For that reason, I usually wait until he leaves to hang my artwork — it’s easier on his nerves!)

Hanging art doesn’t have to be hard or intimidating. I asked Dillon, who designs and installs all the artwork displays at Nell Hill’s, to share his secrets for creating gorgeous galleries on your walls. Here are his top four tips:

Mix up your displays: My favorite rooms are those where the artwork displays on each wall are different from one another. Here are a few of Dillon’s favorite types of displays:

Groupings — When creating artwork groupings, Dillon likes to blend together a wide variety of sizes, shapes and subjects. Too often people make the mistake of hanging one medium-sized piece of art on a too-big wall, were it gets swallowed up. Another mistake, he says, is to cluster too many small pieces together, which gets too busy.

When designing a grouping, Dillon starts with the largest piece of art, places it, then fills in with other pieces. He often staggers each piece so none of the frames line up.

Sometimes, he says, not every piece you want to hang will fit in the display. And, sometimes, you will need to get more art to finish a grouping. Don’t force what doesn’t look good.

He also suggests that when you create groupings, you pull the pieces together tightly, leaving only a few inches between.

Grids — Grids can be the simplest to plan but hardest to execute, Dillon says. The key to success is to measure. If you are off by even a fraction of an inch, the grid won’t look right.

A Big Picture — When you have a large piece of artwork, you may want to showcase it all by itself. Hung by itself in a stairwell or over a sofa, it’s really dramatic. If you have a large wall, you can flank a piece with two smaller pieces of art.

Have a plan: If you are like my husband, and hate the idea of putting more nail holes in the wall than necessary, it may be a good idea to do a scale drawing before you start pounding, to ensure the pictures end up where you want them.

Sometimes Dillon lays all the pieces on the floor, moving them about until he comes up with a configuration he likes. Then he uses a tape measure to find the center of the grouping and marks it with a Post-It note. He takes a photo of the grouping with his cellphone so he can reconstruct the look on the wall. Once he hangs the first piece, the rest fall into place easily.

Assemble the right tools: One key to making picture hanging easier is to have the right tools. Dillon uses:

■Ladder or step stool

■Tape measure

■Claw hammer

■Nails and anchors

■Paper to record his calculations

■Post-It notes

Instead of putting little pencil lines on the wall to mark where a picture is supposed to go, Dillon has come up with an ingenious system: He marks the spot with Post-It notes. One note indicates the top of the art, the second the bottom. Seeing the notes in place helps him decide whether the art will be too low or too high, so he can change its location without pulling out a nail and starting over.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at She can be reached at