What size to work? working to standard sizes, or not; winter and autumn trees in oil and watercolour

Early Winter Woods, oil on deep sided canvas, approx 24 ins wide, old painting

Do you always stick to a standard size for work to enable easy framing?  or do you allow the subject to dictate the format?

For me there is no question.   The subject dictates the format.     I tend to find the standard sizes are frequently not right for me.  I enjoy working on long thin formats, vertical or horizontal, square, just off square - all sorts.

OK it involves custom framing if they are on paper, or making my own canvasses up if on canvas.  Use the same framer regularly and the they will usually do you a competitive price - mine does, so the extra cost is minimal.

I don't frame canvasses, I use deep sided gallery wrap, paint the sides neatly and that's that.  

Winter trees, oil on deep canvas,  I no longer have it but it was 30/36 inches tall

My husband made up the stretchers for these long thin canvasses for me - B&Q cut the timber to the sizes I wanted when I bought it.   I had a variety of lengths cut, which I could then mix and match in assembling them (or more accurately himself assembling them!).  I stretched the canvas - I like to make sure the corners are how I want them and the canvas tight.  It gives complete freedom in size and of course canvas type.

Woods in watercolour

This was one was framed just off square.

So that work hangs together well, it's easy to have the framer adjust the mat/mount slightly in size with works on paper and have the outside measurements the same in some - for instance a 9.5 inch and an 11.25 inch can be framed in the same outer measurement frame, just varying the mount.   Some formats crop up again and again, like the squares, so they do become standard, not necessarily the measurement of off-the-shelf squares but fine for custom framing like this.

I often use A3 pads to work plein air, so the variation in size isn't necessarily huge  and because I tend to like light limed ash frames for most, they hang together well.  Having this pad means that the paintings remain protected within it, it's easy to carry when working plein air or travelling - but work is still individually sized and formatted.   Studio work can vary enormously.   I tend not to work larger than 5ft long (framed or canvas) as they are a nightmare to transport.

Also, I like to frame with a wider margin at the bottom to stop the 'falling out of the frame' feel that can happen when the mat/mount is even all the way round.   Off the shelf frames don't have this.

So - do you work to fit the paper?  or to fit your composition?

incidentally - Katherine Tyrrell did an excellent post on the legalities and travel restrictions/not of travelling with oil paints hereWell worth reading.


Lunar Hine said…
Thanks Vivien. I'm just wrestling with framing as I prepare to hang my first exhibition. I've used various size canvasses and continued round all edges, so I won't be framing them. I've also used canvas board for a couple. My plan was to frame them, but now I'm reluctant - the subject matter needs the space, I feel. Is there a way I can glue hanging kit to the back, and do you think that would look awfully amateur? I'd really appreciate your thoughts if you have the time (and certainly anyone else's too). Thank you, Lunar.
vivien said…
honest answer? I wouldn't do that as yes, it would look awfully amateur.

I don't buy the boards simply because they need framing and are more expensive than using oil paper. I don't like their slimy surface either :>( so advice for the future would be don't use them!

You can float frame them - larger frame without glass and the board glued with a gap between it and the frame. The back board painted a suitable colour.

Or maybe get the framer to make the frame so that it is deep but very narrow around the painting?

They are incredibly difficult IMO to frame and maybe someone else could come up with a better suggestion here? as I don't use them, I'm not the best one to ask.
vivien said…
ps good luck with the exhibition :>)
Jeanette said…
I vary depending on the medium usually. For oils or acrylics, I usually have pre-stretched canvas, usually gallery canvas to avoid framing, but I paint on canvas panels as well.

For other mediums, they seem to have a life of their own and just 'happen', dictating their own size and shape by the subject. When I get excited by a piece, I never consider the final practicality of framing, presenting to the public. Then I get dinged at the framer when I go big.

My husband keeps telling me to get off the shelf framing and stick to the confines of those. But its not that simple, is it? Ok for small pieces but not for larger.
vivien said…
I'm in total agreement there :>) yes, things need to evolve their own shape.
Bridget Hunter said…
Interesting post. I'm a cheapskate and frames are very expensive so i paint to set sizes on canvas and boards - 28x24, 20 x 24, 16x18, 20x20 and 10x10, 10x12 or 8x6". I tend to like the 2:3 ratio canvas.Then I can re-use frames. Only starting to use paper for gouache and being freer with sizes.
vivien said…
Yes, I prefer the 2:3 ratio to the slightly longer A1/2/3... sizes
To start, can I just say that Woods in watercolour has blown me away. Both delicate and energetic, it gives me a light and happy feeling.

In days gone by one of my jobs was doing picture framing and I find I'm very aware of paintings as finished objects, so I will normally have in mind the frame and size I want it to end up. Mostly frames are white but I use dullish silver and more recently a dark bronze on the warmer pieces. I tend to work to a square format most often and cut my own mounts. This helps on framing bills, be it bespoke or off the peg (I use a mixture of both but in the same frame mouldings for continuity.)
vivien said…
Thanks Lisa :>) - it's hanging over the desk of a best selling author now - its claim to fame!

Yes, working square it's easy to do that changing the mount size thing. I wish I was neater and cut my own but learned that it really was NOT one of my skills!

The framing knowledge must be very useful to you. So many people ruin a good work with their framing as you must have seen often,
Lunar Hine said…
Thank you Vivien. I won't be buying boards again (and, yes, mine needed an extra coat of primer to clean up the surface texture, too), but I do like what I've created with these two. I'm intrigued by the possibilities of float framing. I'll have a go myself. Then I may well take it to a professional as I don't believe framing is one of my skills either.
Thanks for your help, and I'm glad Woods has found such a good home.

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