How's it hanging?: Finding the right frame

Whether you have Hockneys or holiday snaps, there are rules for showcasing pictures at home

Last week, we suggested some good places to go to buy affordable art. So, assuming that you rushed out with your credit card and your first piece has now arrived, what are you going to do with it? Framing and hanging is often harder than choosing the work of art in the first place.

How to choose a frame

Many limited editions will come with a suggestion from the artist about how they envisage their work be presented. Of course, you can ignore this, but often it will add to the value of the work if you take their advice. If no specific instructions were given, ring the gallery and ask them for professional advice.

How to select a framer

You could start by phoning the big local galleries and asking where they get their framing done. Don't go for just any old place – framing is an art and not all methods will preserve the work of art in its best condition.

How much does it cost?

There are no set prices, but Richard Law, of Darbyshire www.darbyshire., whose clients include Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin as well as the White Cube and Serpentine Galleries, advises always aiming for the best glass you can afford. "There is a move towards museum standards in framing, to preserve and conserve your art for future generations," he says. "The best glass acts as a UV screen, protecting the work from sunlight. If you hang a painting in direct sunlight without this, it might disappear completely in 12 months' time."

As a very rough guide, Law says that a 12in square painting in a simple frame with UV glass should cost around £75 plus VAT.

Should the glass benon-reflective?

Many of us assume that this is best, but Graham Powell, owner of Graham Fine Art, the most successful gallery in North London, says that is not always the case.

"The greater the distance between the work and the glass, the more blurred it will be with non-reflective," he says. "Bearing in mind that you should never hang a picture in front of a window anyway, you won't need non-reflective glass, so you can use the ordinary reflective stuff and keep the image much sharper."

What about the mounting?

Always ask specifically for acid-free mounting. If you don't, many framers will use the cheapest materials, which can have a detrimental effect over time.

And the hooks?

Powell says that you must always use proper hanging cord strung between two hooks, and then make sure that the hook is drilled, rawl-plugged and screwed into the wall. "Many old houses are too solid to bang in those little pins, and as you only use one hook, the picture is always leaning. Anything less than a proper screwed- in fixing could result in the work falling off the wall. And check the integrity of the hanging cord once a year – wire breaks, string rots."

If in doubt, is a plain black frame best?

The frame needs to enhance the picture, not distract from it, so try to choose something that won't kill it. Black frames or matching colours look good when you are hanging groups of pictures or photos, and there's no reason why you shouldn't go for cheaper frames, such as those from Ikea or Habitat. Ornate gold frames work best in stately homes, and, unless you are showing off pictures of your ancestors, then picture lights are out.

How to group pictures of different sizes

As a rule of thumb, the centrepiece should be placed at roughly 1.5m above the floor – that's average eye-level. Then you can add the rest from there. Law says: "It's a good idea to lay the pictures out on the floor first to see what the finished effect will be, and it gives you a chance to play around with the arrangement before you start drilling into the wall."

Go for different effects – you can hang pictures of different sizes in similar frames in vertical lines, creating a stripe effect, or you can group them close together in a random shape.

Where to hang pictures

It used to be thought "common" to hang family photographs on the wall, but for those of us who don't have a grand piano on which to display them, the wall will have to do. Try hanging them up the stairs, where you will be able to see them as you go past, and they won't have to be in a straight line. This also makes it easy to add to your display, as you can just keep going onwards and upwards.

Where not to hang pictures

Avoid direct sunlight, as mentioned above, and don't hang above radiators as they can cause the paper and wood to warp and dry out, and, ultimately, the glue to fail. You should also wait at least six months before hanging anything on newly plastered walls. And while over the fireplace might seem the obvious choice, the harmful effect of the heat is the same as above radiators.

The professional's tips

By Graham Powell

* Consider the whole room, not just the one wall where you are putting your work. You might be starting with one piece but you will add to it, or hang a clock or a mirror.

* Try the top-line principle, where all the tops of the frames are in a straight line, perhaps on a level with the door frame. This will mimic a picture rail and also give you a staggered bottom line. Or reverse it so the bottom line is level and you have a staggered top line. Use both on the same wall to fill it with pictures of different sizes.

* Alternatively centre the height of a row of pictures. Choose the main piece and hang all the others so their centres line up to give a staggered line at the top and bottom.

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