Friday, January 11, 2019

Paintings in Standard Sizes

"Sarge's," oil on panel, 20x16 (a standard size)
Long ago a teacher recommended that whatever we did, painters should use standard-sized supports for our work. That's because standard-sized canvas or panels fit into standard-sized frames, which in turn are less expensive than having a frame made to fit. Standard sizes are generally pretty obvious. Frame makers typical produce and stock 5x7, 8x10, 11x14, 16x20,18x24, 20x24, 24x30 and 24x36 (all in inches), along with a few square sizes. For convenience sake, I was taught, use those.

On the other hand, sometimes effective compositions require dimensions that differ from standard. For example, a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon might require a much wider support, or conversely a view of a skyscraper could mean a support much taller than wide. Either way, you'll need a custom built frame.To my mind composition clearly takes precedence over framing convenience.

"MacDougal Street," oil on canvas 36x18
Late last year I finished a new addition to a series of cityscapes that needed an unusual support size. My idea was to try to include a view of a city street from pavement level to quite high on the surrounding buildings. I tried to keep the field of view narrow enough (looking upward) to avoid distortions. After doing several preliminary digital sketches to work out a very vertical composition and a bright palette, I chose a canvas support measuring 36x18. The idea was to convey how a city street falls into dusk and the lights in buildings come up. The sky changes to rose, buildings go blue-gray. Most lights are still warm yellow (some of those cold blue ones are found here and there). But the interior warmth is what beckons, and we want to hurry in for the warmth and a round or two of cheer.

After a lot of thought and editing the result was "MacDougal Street," a famous venue in Manhattan's West Village. The Minetta Tavern and Cafe Wha are famous hangouts of the Beats and other intellectuals, artists, and writers over the decades. But they aren't actually next door but across the street from one another. In order to compress the scene I eliminated Minetta Street itself, which should actually intersect MacDougal behind the foreground figure. But of course, artistic license is always present in compositions. That's why you need custom-sized canvases and frames.
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