Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to Hang a Massive photo wall

Okay folks, here we go.

If you want ideas about how to plan and hang a basic gallery-style wall, you can check out this old post.  If you want a little inspiration, you can check out walls I have done here, here, here, here, and here.  And some other people's art walls that I have blogged about here, here, here, and here.

Today we are assuming you're in it to win it, and talking the logistics of actually planning and hanging it all up.  There are lots, so settle in!

1. Determine your outlines
First you need to decide exactly where you're going to work.  Not jut which wall, but where ON the wall.  No matter what, you want your arrangement to relate deliberately to your architecture.  In this case, we chose the long wall of the conference room, visible from the office entry.  The adjacent wall has a wall-to-wall window, and we decided to create a wide band that basically followed its path.  (I can't believe I don't have a picture of that!)  To create the outline, I measured down from the ceiling to the top of the window, then took that same measurement along the picture wall, and taped a straight (enough) line across with painter's tape.  Then I measured down from that line and taped the bottom edge in line with the bottom of the window, all the way across.

2. Create an organizing principle
Generally, a large group of photos or artworks are going to tell some kind of story.  Your job is to author the story, as it were.  In this case, my job was easy: as all the photos were of one family, we created a chronology.  Since we had a horizontal band, it naturally "reads" as a timeline from left to right.

Once you have your concept, you can decide on frames.  Do you want to unify, or divide, your subjects?  Do you want to call more attention to some subjects than others?  To unify, use matching frames.  To call special attention to one image or work, use a different color, weight, or size of frame.

3.  Divide the space
This is not strictly necessary, but it sure helps, both in keeping organized and in creating a grid to work within as you start to hang things up.  Here I used two pairs of portraits of the patriarch and matriarch, early in their marriage and later in their lives.  (The photos are being worked on, so they aren't actually in the frame yet!  They will also get oval mats to further set them apart.)  Using larger frames and a pair of sconces helps to visually break up a big expanse.  (Mirrors would work, too, or inserting circles or ovals into a field of squares and rectangles.  You get the idea.)

This also helped me in organizing the photographs in to sections.  The far left became pre-marriage, marriage, and life with their first children; the middle is the entire family into young adulthood; the right section features the next generation.

To further delineate the middle section, we chose portraits of each of the five children and printed 5x7s, just slightly larger than the rest of the photos, which are all 4x6.

4. Lay it out
Clear the floor!  It's time to lay it all out.  Even if you have followed all the steps above, there is still organizing work to do.  When I was in the early stages of planning this wall, I considered several options for arrangement.  Once I divided the space with the portraits, my left over space pretty much dictated that the rest of the pictures would fall in to columns around them.

If you are working with photography in frames and need to edit your photos down anyway, you have some flexibility to plan your frame layout first, and then choose the photos to go in to the layout.  But be prepared to change!  I had a layout that I was happy with that had a ton of horizontal frames, only to discover we had more vertical photos.

5.  Prep your frames
This is a step that takes a tremendous amount of time, and people don't realize it.  Again, this applies only when you are framing things yourself.  You need to open up the frame, center the photo, tape it in place, and clean the mat and glass, then carefully reassemble it all.  I mean, you don't have to, but it's kind of a shame to skip it when you're doing all this work.

You will want:

I have always just used paper towels and spray glass cleaner in the past, but it was slow going, and we discovered that lint-free microfiber cloths do a bang-up job on the mats, and glass wipes are far superior to spray for the glass.  You'll thank me for this.  (Or, actually, thank my aunt, who figured this out!)  As for the tape dispenser, you really just need something you can use one-handed; disposable plastic dispensers just don't work.

6. Start to hang
Here's where dividing the space really comes in handy!  where do you start with a project of this size?  Well, in this case, you start with the sconces and the large frames that create the division in the overall project. Then the portraits.
It is critical that you get this spacing right.  Mess up now, and you will be putting a LOT of extra holes in the wall.  With such a wide expanse (my wall was 25' long), tape measures get finicky and the math gets complicated.  I had to re-hang several of these portraits to get it just right.  You can see here that the spacing was off at first:

(Oh, hey, if you look at the left side of the picture, you can see the corner of that window I mentioned.)

To get hanging, you will want:

Okay, duh, you also need a hammer and nails or picture hooks.  

With each picture, use a SMALL and lightweight tape measure to measure your placement and mark the top center of the frame on the wall. Then measure down the back of the frame from the top of the molding to the bottom of the hook, then measure that distance from your mark on the wall, mark with the pencil, hang the frame.  Add small dots of blue stik or other sticky adhesive to the back of the bottom corners.  Use a hand-held level to straighten the frame, then press gently until the blue stik adhered.  This may sound like extra work, but it's worth it: If each frame is level as you go, you have a stable reference point to work from as you hang more frames around it.  One wonky frame can have a ripple effect through the whole wall.

7. Do the math
With a grid like this (or even just columns), hanging the rest of the frames is simple math.  For example, a column of 5 frames in a row will have even spacing--say 1 inch apart.  So measure the frame from hook to molding, add the 1" (or whatever specified space), then measure that distance down from the existing frame on the wall, and place your hook.  Works the same horizontally.

8. When in doubt, level it out.
Yeah, I just wrote that.  Do you see how long this post is?  A trick in keeping a column straight.  Do the math as above for the vertical spacing.  Then, to be sure the frames will line up side to side, use a level to ensure that the hooks are in a vertical line.  Does that make sense?  So, hang one hook, hang the picture.  Then do the matht o place the hook for the picture below it.  Now take the first picture back down, and before you hammer in the second hook, use a long level to line up the existing nail with the spot you have marked for the new nail.  You may need to adjust a bit to the left or right.

8.  Fill it in!

I'm not going to lie: this was a pretty big undertaking.  Once we had our general plan and had all of our supplies on site, it took a couple of hours to lay it all out, finalize the arrangement, and edit the photos.  Then it took about twelve hours to prep and hang it all.  And that was me and another person.

So there you have it.  I'll show you again when the sconces are installed and the proper portraits are in the large frames.  Maybe I'll even use a real camera, and show you the rest of the office, too.

If any of the details don't make sense, or if I need to make drawings to explain the math of it, just let me know! 

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