How do you decide which size to work? and 3 abstract works in widely different dimensions

Undergrowth: mixed media on canvas, 5ft wide x 2 ft tall

 Katherine Tyrrell asks an interesting question on her blog today questioning  the scale in which you work and whether you work to standard sizes.

She makes some very good points - but on conclusions I differ somewhat.   For me it's important to work to the size/format that suits you composition - and hang the cost!  (her first option in her poll)   Not because I'm wealthy - I'm quite the opposite!  Just because I think it's important that every bit of your chosen area matters.   I see so many good works ruined by an insistence on keeping the full size/format of the paper in order to fit existing frames :>(.  It means that parts of a composition are spoilt, areas sit there not earning their keep, destroying the tension of the composition.  Once students learn to crop to suit the work, and not their bargain frames, their work looks so much better :>)

You can always use that frame but have a mount/mat cut that helps it fit - allowing more space at the bottom for instance and having a wide mat.  Or if you are neat, learn to cut your own.   I don't do neat :>(  so my framer cuts mine.   Tiny works sometimes look wonderful in a large frame with a very wide mat around them.   A couple of printmaker friends do this a lot and the work has so much more impact framed this way.

Also if you find a good framer, he/she will usually do a good deal for you once they know you are a repeat customer.  Mine is a treasure.

Abstract based on sketches of the river Dordogne, mixed media on canvas 40 ins square (and yes it did match the sofa cushions!)

Tiny abstract based on words, slightly off square, about 5ins

These 3 pieces vary from a long thin landscape format to square to off square.   Each needed to be that particular format to me.

I tend not to like the A5/A4 etc proportions and like a 2:3 ratio better when working in a rectangle.  Hence the 20x30 inch canvas.

Paint big and get noticed is one option Katherine mentions - and this certainly seems to work for local open exhibitions where larger works hold their own in a crowded jumble of paintings hung floor to ceiling.  They are frequently the prize winners.

Depending on just how big, they often look better on people's walls even in a small house.   I like to have a large painting over my sofa - currently I have one of the Harlequin series (landscape 30 x40ins) next to a 20 x 30 ins (portrait format) seascape .  My room isn't tiny but isn't huge either.  Paintings this size look far better than the occasional A3 paintings I have for a change in a row of 3.

Because the larger paintings are  unframed, on deep sided canvas, they are proportionally cheaper to have exhibition ready.   I prefer them unframed.   This cuts down on costs - remember gallery commission is on your expensive framing as well as your work,

In exhibitions it does look good to have at least some of your work the same size - but some variation looks good and gives buyers options to buy smaller and cheaper work as well as large pieces.

I have a maximum size limit these day - the size that fits comfortably in my car with the back seats down - both of these canvases would fit.

Some paintings work beautifully on a small scale, others cry out for the larger canvasses - so working to fit the subject is important.   Though I love working on paper, it's a surface I enjoy,  to work very large on paper costs SO much to frame that I tend to move on to canvas for very large pieces.   I also like the clarity of colour, with no glass reflection.  I do intend to try Sarah Wimperis' way of varnishing watercolours with a matte varnish so that they too can be framed without glass.  Another friend, Nicole Caulfield does this with coloured pencil work very successfully.

How about you?   stock sizes?  size according to subject?  how do you work?


Anita said…
I think I have to agree with you - the subject and composition really should dictate the sixe. I find it infuriating sometimes that canvases do not come in the size that I want. Paper is a little easier to deal with but sometimes I want HUGE paper and it just isn't available. Would be interested in hearing how you get on with varnishing watercolour.
Billie Crain said…
Nick Simmons was the first artist I saw tackle this topic. He said the subject will tell you what size it needs to be and I've found this to be true in most cases. Long story short...I'm agreeing with you whole heartedly, Vivien. To be confined by the size of your frames is so limiting as to be counter-creative. I frame my own art so I cut my costs that way. I do order custom cut mats which drives up the price a bit but not to the point that I feel I should sacrifice.
I don't think I've arrived at any conclusions yet so much as tried to identify some of the different reasons people have for working at a specific size for the most part.

Interesting post - and I'll highlight it on Sunday
jane said…
Agree with "go with the painting" for choosing a size - for me, that normally means small and square. However, there is something to be said for the discipline of making a composition work within a set size . .
vivien said…
Did you used to use the large sheets of Fabriano paper at college Anita? I loved that size - larger than A1 and nicer proportions.

And we used the Fabriano rolls as well - about 5ft tall? and as long as you wanted :>)

I do like the square format too Anita.

I'm glad that so far the consensus agrees Billie :>)

It was a good article Katherine :>)
Bridget Hunter said…
Interesting points you have made Vivien. I have always gone the cheapest route - set sizes to match frames I've got but starting to experiment more.
Robyn Sinclair said…
I always write note to self - plan my paintings to fit standard size frames. Never happens! But I'm still afraid of very big pieces of paper or canvas. And yes, the cost of framing is always an issue with paper.

I've now bought myself a small mat cutter but can't buy mat board in Italy without a license. Don't ask!
vivien said…
How strange! I wonder what they imagine people might do with it!
Robyn Sinclair said…
Frame bad paintings! ;)
Ian Bertram said…
I do prints, especially monotypes and digital prints - at all sorts of shapes and sizes but get them mounted to fit standard frames. I also like very generous mounts for small pictures. I like the way in which this focusses your eye on the work.

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