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Techniques for Wiring Paintings

Art collectors typically receive art that's ready to hang in their space. For artists, this puts the responsibility on you to do a professional job with your hanging hardware. Here are some do's and don'ts for wiring your work so that it will hang straight and secure, and to prevent damaging the canvas in the process. I've included resources for hardware and tools. Tips can be applied to small or large pieces of artwork. This blog focuses on wiring original art on canvas from the wood stretcher bars, for a clean and contemporary gallery wrapped canvas look.

What Tools You Will Need

The tools I use to wire my artwork do double duty as jewelry making tools, so they have paid for themselves many times over. I use a crimper (blue handles) and a needle nose plier with a wire cutter (red and black handles), The handles stay open until you grip them closed due to a spring loaded mechanism, so they are easy to handle. I got my pliers at Ace Hardware, where buying sets of tools is very practical. I love tools, so the more the better! You need to go to a jewelry tool supplier to find a crimper. The crimper tool allows you to pull the wire tight after setting it into the hardware, then grab and wrap tightly until you reach the end of the wire. It's much easier on your hands to use a crimper than doing this bare handed. If you have other tools you use that you find handy, please mention this in the comments. I get by with these two tools regardless of the size of the canvas. You can find many jewelry tools here. You'll also need a Philips head screw driver.

I don't recommend a power drill for screwing in the hardware unless you use one regularly - on the low speed - and you intuitively know when to stop before going in too far, stripping the screw, bending the hardware, and possibly cracking the wood. Use a Phillips head screw driver and I promise you that this next tool will make it easy. The one power tool I use is a rotary Dremel in order to pre-drill pilot holes where I will be mounting my hardware onto the frames. I strongly recommend pre-drilling pilot holes to prevent the screws from cracking the stretcher bars (or frame) and to make the screws easy to insert. Those screws will go in like a hot knife through butter. You will not regret investing in a rotary Dremel because they do so many other things. Please not that the smallest size drill bit (1/32") is what I use for pilot holes on my artwork. Also note that my photo shows an older model which has been well loved. Click on the photo to see the newer model of the rotary Dremel tool. Attachments are sold separately, including drill bits. This is the most expensive aspect of correctly applying hardware to your artwork, but it's amazing and will inspire you to try other things with it. I also use it with drill bits to drill holes for hardware insertion on my art tile pendant jewelry. I consider it a staple tool in my studio.

What Wire You Will Need

You will need to buy wire for your artwork and you will need to choose it by wieght. How much does the painting weigh? I'm personally working only with gallery wrapped canvas artwork these days, but the same goes for framed art. Most artwork will be under 10 lbs, but if you work big you might need to double the wire when hanging or buy a higher weight bearing wire such as 20-30 lbs. Figure out the wieght of the work and choose your wire by the pound weight. Always go higher than what the painting weighs if you have to round off. I never go lower than 10 lb wire. Braided wire is better than straight steel wire for anything over 10 lb because it's stronger. Here are some examples of wire. The first one is Hillman wire that can be bought locally at most hardware and arts and craft stores. You can see on the label it says 10 lb wire. It's good for small to very small works. You can buy professional hanging wire of all sizes in bulk here.

This picture wire came in a large coil and was ordered on Amazon. Sometimes budgets are tight, and when working with grant funding it can be hard to cover the cost of all the supplies, so I sometimes source hardware from Amazon. I double this wire up on large paintings.

What Hardware You Will Need

I prefer to use D-Rings on my paintings. They can be purchased in small quantities at the local hardware store, or you can buy in bulk on Amazon. I buy 100 at a time. You can also get sets of D-rings and wire with screws in sets on Amazon which is very economical if the quantity is sufficient for your needs. I tend to buy all my hardware at the beginning of each year and get the best for my money, but I also insist on good quality. I love the OOK brand, but it is a bit pricey compared to these bulk packages on Amazon. Single hole D-rings are sufficient unless you are wiring very heavy pieces, then I would suggest the double hole D-rings with two screws. Make sure the framework of your painting can accomodate a double holed D-ring or you won't be able to screw in the second screw. I also recommend getting an extra bag of screws in the same size because they are easy to lose.

For very small scale art on canvas, it's difficult and excessive to use D-rings. For those pieces I use eyehooks, AKA screw eyes. An eyehook is just a cuphook with a closed loop. You can find them at any hardware store or art supply store. They look like this.

Placement of Wiring and Hanging Hardware

Always measure before you start drilling into the wood. Follow the "2/3" or two thirds rule. This means that two thirds of the painting will be below the wire line and 1/3 will be above it. This can be a ballpark estimate, but make sure it's even on both sides before you mark your holes with a pencil and drill the pilot holes so it will hang straight. Use a ruler to avoid having to re-do your pilot holes. See example below on this 5x7" landscape painting.

Placement of Eyehooks and D-Rings

For eyehooks drill holes on the inner edge of the stretcher bar frame and insert the eye hooks. Measure the length of wired needed, leaving enough to go through the eyes and wrap the ends securely on both sides. The art will sit flush against the wall when hung. For D-Rings drill on the back facing side of the bar and insert the screw through the ring plate and down into the stretcher bar. In this case the wire loops through the ring, making for a very secure hardware and wire.

Because the D-rings are on the back of the framework, they do not sit quite flush, so it's best to use one of many options for bumpers on all four back corners of the artwork. This also helps the art to stay straight on the wall over time. They can be foam, rubber, or plastic, as long as they stick on and stay well. You can find them at hardware stores or on Amazon. I like to buy cabinet bumpers for my larger paintings.

Wiring Miniature Artwork

As you can see with this 3x3" gallery wrap painting example below, wiring really small pieces is not an easy task. It's really hard to get inside the wood frame to get the eyehooks in, but it can be done. I also have to squeeze in my business tags and a price tag before wiring. Normally a business card is easily added to the back of a canvas with doublefaced tape. With small works I have to cut down the cards and insert them.

What Not to Use for Hardware

I am not a fan of sawtooth hangers, even though they are easy to apply. They are not secure, and most galleries will refuse to display work with this hardware on it. You can use them for crafts at home, but not for your artwork products going to customers. Also, no coat hangers or upcycled wires. Your work deserves better than that, and collectors expect better.

Wiring Large Paintings and Artwork

Follow the same procedure as you would for the smaller artwork, being sure to use the right weight bearing wire, the right size of D-rings, and a proper set of bumpers for the inside corners.

Final Tips for Wiring Paintings and Artwork

I recommend that whenever it's possible and practical, you do your hardware and wiring before anything else happens at all on your canvas. As long as you know the orientation of the work that's going to be painted on it - horizontal or vertical - you can do this. Here's why: It's a great task to get out of the way early in the year in the slow winter months. Get your canvases for the year in January, wire them up, and get them all coated in gesso. When you paint you can pop your dry artwork right up on the wall to cure. Later you can varnish, let dry, and pop it back up again to cure. It's now ready to go. No worrying about accidental scratches or tears on the finished artwork when wiring and applying hardware after the art is done. It's heartbreaking to ruin a piece of finished art because of a slip when wiring. It takes discipline to do this, but if you start running behind on your project plans later in the year, you won't have this time consuming step to do, and it's great to be able to hang pieces and see how they look the moment they are dry enough. Most of us are up against show and art call deadlines and it's nice to not have to worry about finding time to do this step. If you can't do it all in the beginning of the year, do it in batches throughout the year. This will make your studio time more productive.

Good wiring makes for good paintings, and that makes happy artists and happy customers.


Mary E D Ryan Art

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