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Choosing the Right and Shape Canvas Size

Choosing the right canvas for an oil painting generally follows the step of choosing the subject matter, but not always.


Sometimes the actual canvas will direct me to the subject matter. I try to keep a selection of sizes and shapes in my studio to enable as much freedom in my artistic expression as possible. My canvas options span from the largest- 4 feet (or 122cm) wide to as small as 1ft (or 30cm) wide, landscape and portrait shapes. Not only does painting on different size/shape canvases keep it interesting for me, but buyers also have different tastes and preferences.


More often than not, I have already chosen my subject matter before choosing the stretched canvas to be the platform for my oil painting. Assuming I am not constrained by the canvas options available in my studio, the subject matter will dictate what shape (landscape or portrait) and size to be selected.


The canvas shape is critical as it will affect how the painting looks. If I get the size wrong, it could seriously affect the overall look of the painting. Take ‘Evening Hues’ as an example. The painting of the sailboat is on a portrait shaped canvas. The long vertical shape canvas in conjunction with the reflections cascading down the canvas provide a sense of the boat moving away from the viewer towards the horizon. If I had selected a landscaped shaped canvas, I don’t think the viewer would get as strong a sense of the painting moving away.


As I consider my canvas options, I ask myself if the actual size of the painting surface will allow me to create the perceived space demanded by the picture I want to paint. The size of the canvas and the image perform a dance. If I want the space of image to feel big and expansive, what size and shape will work for that? If I want it to feel close and intimate, which canvas will I chose?


‘The Royal Court’ is a painting of a majestic iceberg that I kayaked around in Alaska. I chose an appropriate canvas size (122cm x 76cm or 48” x 30”) to try and provide a sense of the immensity of this magnificent ice sculpture. In contrast, I choose a small canvas (30cm x 30cm or 12” x 12”) for ‘Yellow Water Lily 2’ to encourage the viewer to appreciate the delicate unfolding and emerging of the new leaves as they reached for the surface.


Just one of the many choices I need to make before I apply paint to the canvas.

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