Monday, August 12, 2019

Choosing the Right Dimensions for your Painting

Some Common Painting Sizes and Their Proportions
(Please excuse the hand-crafted artisanal chart; I realized that neither my Photoshop nor Excel skills are good enough to create the chart through software.  Sometimes the low-tech way is more efficient.)

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  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 claustrophobia.)  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.

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?  Of course, I don't always have anything other than the 9x12 with me.  But I do always have a roll of masking tape, and I'll take a piece of tape and mark off a more appropriate section.  I may, for example, mark off part of the 9x12 to give myself a slightly broader 6x9 or even a much broader 6x12.

Once I'm done painting, 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 regularly.

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

1 comment:

PleinAirGal said...

Excellent! It took me awhile to discover that my views tend to fit best on panoramics, and not even standard 2:1 ratio. Maybe I just haven't learned to crop my view, but then I usually don't WANT to! Excellent topic!