How To Hang Artwork Using a Story Pole

How To Hang Artwork Using a Story Pole

Richard Popovic
Jul 20, 2011

It can be a laborious process to hang multiple pieces of artwork in the same room when the goal is to get them to the exact same height. One way to do it involves continually extending, locking, unlocking and retracting a tape measure with one hand while making a discreet pencil mark with the other. And anyone who has hung art on a freshly painted wall knows how easy and maddening it is to have the hook of the tape measure leave a heartbreaking scratch. When I was recently faced with hanging the Counting Birds series of prints, I employed a technique I learned while installing clapboards on an old New England farmhouse. It involves using your ruler once to create a story pole, which is a nice name for a marking stick with every measurement you need laid out as plain as day.

What You Need

• A long flat piece of wood, like a yardstick, or a similarly sized piece of stiff cardboard
• Small nails or picture hooks
• Masking Tape
• Pencil and pen

• Tape Measure
• Hammer
• Level


1. Using the tape measure, establish the height of the top of your picture. Then, establish the distance between the adjacent pictures, center to center.

2. Measure the distance from the hanging hook or wire on the back of the frame to the top of the frame. Add that number to your height measurement. In this example it was only 1/8th of an inch, so my total height measurement was 19 3/4" + 1/8"=19 7/8".

3. Place some tape on the top of your stick and mark it 'TOP.' This step seems simple but is very important, trust me. Then measure down to your height measurement, add some tape to that area, and mark the measurement with a line. Label the line so you remember what it means.

4. Do the same for your width measurement. I like to use a different color pen to help eliminate mistakes.

5. To hang your first picture, figure out where it needs to be horizontally. This will determine where the rest of the pictures go, so take your time in figuring it out. Once you have determined where the center of that picture will be, make a light pencil mark, either on the wall directly or on a small piece of masking tape applied to the area.

6. Butt the top of your pole against the ceiling (or in this case the upper trim board) and lay the level against it to make sure the pole is plum. I apply some tape to the back of my level to protect the paint on the wall from scratches. Where the mark on the story pole intersects your mark on the wall is where you want to drive your first nail.

7. (If your artwork is all at the same height, go to step 8). Use the method above to determine to correct location of your second picture, and drive your second nail.

8. With your baseline picture (or pictures) established, it is now a simple process of using the marks on your story pole to measure from each nail to get the correct horizontal placement and continuing to intersect those marks with ones taken from the ceiling to determine height. Work your way across the wall, making marks and driving nails.

Additional Notes: This method works well for accurately placing hooks, shelves, outlet boxes, etc. and is useful whenever you need to repeat multiple measurements accurately. If the floor, ceiling or trim you are measuring from is not level, however, you will have to decide how things will look their best and adjust accordingly.

(Images: Richard Popovic)

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