When shopping for a painting, size is nearly as important as the composition of the piece. An improperly sized painting can either overwhelm a room or allow the room to overwhelm the art, neither of which is aesthetically pleasing. For many, art is both a passion and an investment, and when it comes to the latter, you should take the time to buy something that’s perfect for your home.
The right-size painting is proportional to your wall and surrounding furniture or fixtures.
1. Measure the length and width of the wall where you want to hang the painting. If it is going over a bed, couch or other piece of furniture, only measure the open wall space, from the top of the furniture to the ceiling rather than from floor to ceiling.
2. Account for what is on the wall already when deciding on a size for the painting. Paintings hung over furniture should be less than 75 percent of the width of the furniture; for example, a painting over an 84-inch-long sofa should be 63 inches wide or less. Artwork hung over a fireplace tends to look best when the painting is as wide as the opening of the fireplace (no matter the size of the mantel).
3. Follow the three-eighths rule. When working with an otherwise empty wall, the general rule is to choose a piece that will leave empty space in the amount of three-eighths of the width of the painting on each side. This means that you can determine the perfect size painting by multiplying the width of the wall by 0.37; for example, a blank wall that is 120 inches wide requires a painting that is around 44 inches wide. When working with nonstandard-shaped painting (like a circle), use the widest point of the piece. With this same example wall, a circular canvas would need to be 44 inches in diameter to work on a 120-inch-wide wall.
4. Calculate the space between paintings if you’ll be hanging more than one. This includes hanging paintings over furniture, a fireplace or on a blank wall. When choosing a painting to hang next to an existing piece, the space between the two should be included when using the ratios described. For example, if you need to cover 68 inches of the wall with artwork to meet the three-eighths rule, subtract the width of the existing piece plus the space you plan to leave between the current painting and the new one from the 68 inches. If you have a 24-inch-wide piece hanging and plan to leave 4 inches of space, the new painting should be 40 inches wide (68 – 24 – 4 = 40).
5. Factor frame size into your choice. This isn’t necessary when working with unframed canvases; however, even a moderate 2-inch frame will add 4 inches of width to your new painting, altering the ratio between the artwork and the size of the wall.