Once in a while we come across a book so simple and extraordinary that we can’t believe we survived without it. HOW TO HANG A PICTURE: And Other Essential Lessons for a Stylish Home by Jay Sacher and Suzanne LaGasa is definitely one of those books. As such, we couldn’t resist sitting down with Jay Sacher to find out what inspired him…
Q&A with Jay Sacher, author of HOW TO HANG A PICTURE
SMPCraft: I’m always curious when I come across an author duo – so tell us, how did you meet & why did you decide to write this book together?
Jay Sacher: For many years, Suzanne and I both worked at a publishing house in San Francisco. I was an editor and Suzanne was a designer, but we rarely if ever worked together professionally. We became friends over our love of art—making it, discussing it, seeing it. We both lived in Maine for two years, where the idea for How to Hang a Picture came up over a dinner conversation. Hanging art well is one of those things that’s a perennial issue for people, and it comes to the forefront whenever you move into a new place. It’s not rocket science, but it’s easy to overlook or misunderstand. Exploring this topic just felt like a great intersection of both things we love and questions we wanted answered.
SMPC: People are definitely going to ask – can you really write a whole book about HOW TO HANG A PICTURE? (i.e. Give us some insight about the surprisingly wide range of cool things you cover in the book.)
JS: We’ve always looked at hanging art well as a hallmark of personal style; it’s one of those little things that can make a big difference. What we found as we researched the book, talking to curators, gallerists, artists, home-décor experts, and just folks with cool style is that while there is no single “right” way to hang a picture, there are plenty of wrong ways—it’s one of the reasons we’re all so intimidated by the process, or why we tend to put it off to the last possible moment. Everybody has that pile of art sitting under their bed or in the closet, waiting to be framed and hung. We wanted to write a book that would provide some simple guidelines to follow so that you can develop your own style without ruining your wall or your art in the process.
We cover the basics of both aesthetics and mechanics—how do you determine the best height for hanging your art? What if you want to create a salon or gallery-style wall? How do you integrate your art with the furniture and lighting of a room, how do you work with color? What if you need to hang art on a pre-war plaster wall, or brick or cinderblock, how do you use picture-rail hangers? What’s the best way to tie picture hanging wire or fishing line? What if you want to hang something really heavy? How much should you worry about museum quality or archival frames and materials? And should you want to frame art yourself, we show you the cheapest solution that doesn’t sacrifice from the overall aesthetics of your art, a DIY-light approach of store-bought and custom-cut materials.
Along the way, we asked our artist and designer friends, and other people whose homes we admired, to send us photos of their spaces with art hung with style and verve. I used those to paint the watercolors, showcasing the various lessons in the book or simply to act as inspiration for your own style.
SMPC: Have either of you been published before?
JS: Suzanne has designed numerous books, and I’ve written a few pop culture/history/what-have you books, including most recently, A Compendium of Collective Nouns (Chronicle Books & Woop Studios) which came out this past September, and a book on the history of the Lincoln Memorial, which publishes in 2014.
SMPC: Other than being authors and art-hangers, do you have day jobs & what are they?
JS: Along with her book design work, Suzanne is an art director at an advertising agency, and I’m an editor at the visual culture publisher, Princeton Architectural Press. I live in Brooklyn, New York and Suzanne lives in Portland, Maine.
SMPC: What in each of your backgrounds led you to knowing about and having a propensity towards the topics covered in the book?
JS: It comes down to a love of art. I’ve got the messy, haphazard artist’s approach, and Suzanne has an art director’s eye and love of precise detail—of things placed just so. Our tastes and skills meet on the common ground of both loving the emotional and aesthetic power of art. In the end, we both want the art on our walls to look good and do its job. This book was all about the two of us discovering the best, cheapest, and simplest ways to do so.
SMPC: If someone is moving into a new apt & has a variety of art to hang – what are the five tools that they should have in their toolbox?
JS: Measuring tape, sturdy fishing wire (much easier to use than the metal picture wire stuff they use on the back of frames), a whole boatload of various “museum-grade” picture frame hangers, clean hands, and somebody to stand behind them and tell them it looks like hell.
SMPC: Have you ever had any “art-hanging” disasters?
JS: Almost everything I do is a disaster at first go, but trial and error is the key. The biggest lesson I took away from this book is it’s essential to plan things out when hanging art. For instance, if you’re cleaning your glazing (the glass of your frame) just before you hang your piece, you might be tempted to dry it with a paper towel rather than be patient and let it air dry. But that will cause static electricity buildup and probably leave you with an overlooked piece of lint stuck to the inside of your glazing in the worst possible place.
Don’t eyeball anything. Don’t assume you know what’s behind your wall. Measure twice and cut once and all those Boy Scout clichés are the TRUTH.
SMPC: What is the most ambitious art-hanging project you’ve ever taken on or helped someone else with?
JS: I’m most proud of our work on the centerpiece salon-style wall in Suzanne’s home. Suzanne had a vision to use some reclaimed wood beams from a 19th century church to build a series of low slung shelves for her art and design books, with a salon-style wall showcasing some of her favorite art above it. We did it in the dead of winter, sanding the soggy muddy beams in the freezing cold on the roof, and planning out a wall of staggered art that stretches across about fifteen feet. An illustration of a portion of the wall is in our book.
SMPC: Do you have a favorite wall of hung art?
JS: Looking at the art in New York’s Frick Museum always makes me think of my dad as an art student at Queens College forty-five years ago, and the crazy floor-to-ceiling arrangements in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston are the best example of personal vision trumping any sort of art-hanging “rule” you’ll ever find.
SMPC: The pictures in the book are so great! Who did those and are they based on real walls or are they made up?
JS: I based most of the watercolors on real life spaces from friends whose walls we loved and tastemakers we reached out to, the real spaces are all credited in the book. Others are amalgams of things we’ve seen or that speak to lessons we wanted to convey, but the majority are based on real spaces. Some of the rad folks who let us paint their homes include people like Christine Schmidt from Yellow Owl Workshop, the textile designer Lena Corwin, the artist Mike Perry, the design studio Wary Meyers, and Lisa Wong Jackson from Good on Paper.