As a plein air painter with an always-ready-to-go painting kit, I sometimes get locked into a particular size for my paintings. Usually, I keep my kit packed with 9x12s. But this isn't necessarily the best dimensions for a landscape. It's great if I want to get a quick sketch or color reference but often, some other size might make for a stronger design.
For a broad landscape, such as ocean vistas, deserts or canyons, a panoramic format will do a better job of conveying the breadth. These landscapes are packed with horizontal elements, and so emphasizing the horizontal will enhance the feeling of "being there." A double square (12x24) or even a triple square (6x18) can be much more appropriate than the 9x12 or the more squarish 8x10.
If I'm in a landscape that doesn't offer a vista, such as densely-wooded interior Maine where you have to fight the trees for a view, I look for a closer, more intimate scene such as a cluster of dead snags gathered at the edge of a swamp. In this, verticals and horizontals seem to have equal weight, just as they do in a square. Choosing a squarish format will help you convey the same sense of intimacy (or perhaps claustrophia.) But I do think a square is the most difficult format because you are already at a disadvantage at having all the sides boringly equal. Still, you can get some very exciting results with the square; all the paintings in my "Fifty for the Fiftieth" project are squares, and I enjoyed both the challenge and the results.
Moving beyond the square, there is the vertical. Just as a more horizontal format conveys breadth, the vertical conveys height. Anytime I want to show the magnificence of a tree or the depth of a canyon, I aim for the vertical. Looking down into the landscape - as with a canyon - can be dizzying, though. Looking up, I feel a little more sure of my footing.
When I have a choice, I will make several thumbnail sketches and try out different possibilities. Why get trapped in the same old 9x12? I have cut down both pastel paper (with scissors) and painting panels (with a utility knife) to get the dimensions that best fit my idea. To be sure, you may end up with a custom framing job, but you are more likely to recoup your expenses, since the best fit will be more attractive to your buyer.
At the top of this post is a chart. I thought it would be interesting to show the more commonly-used dimensions and their width-to-height ratio in a graph. This will give you a better idea of where they sit with respect to the square. I have calculated out the ratio by dividing width by height; that is, a 9x12 is 12/9 or 1.33.
Below are a few of the different dimensions I use. (All are for sale! Contact me for details.)
|SQUARE: Duck Pond Fog, 6x6 oil/panel|
|DOUBLE-SQUARE: End of the Road, 12x24 oil/panel|
|TRIPLE-SQUARE: Head Island, 6x18, oil/canvas|
|VERTICAL: Water Street, 12x9, oil/panel|