Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Painting Scraps and Composition

Back when I first started painting in pastel, everything I painted was a custom size.  I cut my paper to fit the scene.  Instead of  9x12s, 12x16s and so on, I ended up with sizes like 13x17.  This meant that every framing job was a custom job - and thus somewhat expensive.  On a beginning artist's budget, it didn't take me long to figure out that painting to standard sizes would save me money, because I could buy readymade frames and precut mats.

I did this for years.  But standard formats began to cramp my style.  Sometimes, a landscape would demand something other than a 9x12 (or a 3:4 format), such as a double-square (1:2) or even a triple-square (1:3).  As I began to explore design, I found that I was hurting myself by sticking with the standard formats.  Yet, I felt that I needed to stay standard, since any sketch might turn into a masterpiece that I'd have to frame.

But when cutting paper for standard sizes, I always seemed to end up with odd-sized scraps.  I began to use these for quick little sketches outdoors.  I began to really enjoy doing "scrap" paintings.  The practice was liberating, because I knew I wasn't going to frame them.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped thinking about the framing altogether.  I started thinking just about the painting.  If, I thought, an odd-sized piece were to end up being good enough to frame, then I'd deal with it when the time came.  I'd come full-circle regarding sizes.

These days, when I take my 9x12 sheet into the field, I'm likely to take a piece of tape and mask off a smaller area that fits my scene better.  This always leaves me a scrap for later.   Here are two sketches I did this week on a single 9x12 sheet.   Neither design would work well in a 9x12 format.

By the way, we had a day of overcast and snow squalls.  These were painted on that day.

Painting Scrap 2  (2.5x11.5)

Painting Scrap 1  (6x11.5)

6 comments:

Cindy Michaud said...

Enjoyed these size comments...I thought I might have to give up pastel til I started using standard sizes and now? I want irregular sizes again (or to be able to re-crop the best of a standard). thanks for sharing this observation...

daniela.. said...

Are these inches, Michael? There is something about irregular sizes that is exciting. I went through a phase of all square painting because it was so not to be seen anywhere and it really was challenging to make compositions for square canvas or paper, that work. I think the best irregular sizing for a viewer, is the long horizontal (panoramic on old cameras)like your first "scrap". Love your colors in these two.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Cindy and Daniela. These are inches - but whether inches or centimeters, the proportions are the same, of course.

Susan said...

I like your philosophy of simply thinking about the image and painting. It frees one up not to worry about sizes.....it seems things would and do flow so much easier.

Scott Ruthven said...

Thanks Michael, what a great idea. I too use standard sizes to keep framing costs down but I also have a drawer full of misc. sized scraps that I don't throw out for some reason! Time to start using them!

Scott Artist in Disguise

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Susan and Scott!