It’s April 1, otherwise known as April Fool’s Day, and I’ve been told that at the start of a new month we should always say “Rabbit, rabbit” as soon as we wake up. Now, some add a third “rabbit” with the promise that if you say the words — even before your morning prayers — on the first day of the month, you’ll have a little present coming your way before the month ends.
April Fool’s Day itself is a special day — with or without rabbits. It’s a day for pranksters, hoaxes, and all sorts of practical jokes, and maybe even a lame joke or two.
What do you get if you cross a rabbit with a bee?
A honey bunny!
That’s what I call my husband, you know. It sounds odd to call him by his name. He’s always been, and always will be “Honey Bunny.”
So, now, I’ve gotten all the April Fools’ Day nonsense out of the way, I’ve paid tribute to the rabbits of superstition, and I can move along to what this post is really all about. It’s not rabbits. It’s not fools. It’s actually a post about choosing the right support — the right canvas — for a painting.
Choosing a support has always been a fairly simple process for me. I learned soon after I began oil painting that I preferred working on canvas panels rather than stretched canvases.
Now a quick bit of history. Art canvases were originally made with hemp. Venetian artists began using sailcloth in the 1600’s because it was so readily available in their seafaring communities. Today, art canvases are usually made using either a cotton fabric or linen.
You can purchase “stretched canvases” from art supply stores in a wide variety of sizes, or you can stretch your own. While I’ve watched demos on how to stretch canvases, it’s not anything I would ever want to attempt. For some artists, of course, it’s the right choice because you can make canvases in any size you want.
I have enough painting experience now that I can work comfortably on either a panel or a stretched canvas, but I still prefer the panels. They have a sturdier feel about them, they take up much less space to store, they are easier — in my opinion — to frame, and I can usually find them at decent prices.
So, for me, step one — exactly what surface do I want to paint on — is still a very easy decision.
The second step in the process involves choosing a size. Here again, in the past, this has always been relatively simple.
- If I’m following along with a tutorial or an online class, I generally use whatever size the instructor recommends.
- If I’m painting a scene and I feel confident about it, I’ll go with a larger canvas.
- If I’m unsure of a scene, I’ll opt for a smaller canvas and simplify things as much as possible.
Also, if I’m doing a lot of “quick studies” I’ll go with canvas paper — available in tear-off sheets — or with inexpensive canvas panels (usually 8 x 10) that I purchase from the children’s art section of Walmart.
With those first two decisions quickly made, the only remaining step for me was “Landscape? Or portrait?” In other words, horizontal? Or vertical? I still have to make that decision, but now as I’ve learned more about painting and specifically about mood and atmosphere, I’m finding that I have many more choices to consider.
So, let’s back up to size.
- Small canvases are excellent for delicate, intimate views of a subject. If I were painting a small bouquet of flowers, a small canvas would give it a “personal” touch, quite fitting for the subject.
- Medium-sized canvases feel “comfortable” for most subjects — especially if they’re horizontal, but more on this later. Individuals who view art tend to find “medium” sizes very pleasant and enjoyable. These paintings are large enough to catch a viewer’s attention, but not so large that they’re overpowering or intimidating.
- Large canvases — as suggested above — can feel powerful and majestic. If we’re wanting to convey drama in a painting, a large canvas is a good choice.
So, it’s not really so simple, after all. Plus, we have to consider not only the size, but also the shape because the customary “portrait” and “landscape” formats are not the only ones available to us.
Let’s begin with them, though, since these are the most-often used formats.
- The horizontal — landscape — format is good for more spacious scenes, when we want to convey a sense of space and distance. As mentioned before, a horizontal format feels “comfortable” to many viewers. It’s restful. And I’ll point out here that there’s a lot to be said on this subject, a lot of psychological musing to be found, and if you’re interested in all the thinking behind these guidelines, spend an afternoon browsing around. You’ll discover, for instance, that an old theory holds that horizontal formats are “feminine” in nature, thus better suited for places where we want peaceful, nurturing energies.
- Vertical — portrait — orientations were considered to emit “masculine energy,” and it was believed that taller individuals preferred vertical formats. I don’t know. Maybe so. Probably not. I tend to prefer vertical paintings, and I’m barely five-foot. Not tall at all. Still, whether we accept the “masculine and feminine” ideas associated with formats, most art instructors will tell you that vertical paintings appear more authoritative, more powerful.
From here, we can — quite literally — broaden our choices with “panoramic” formats. These are horizontal in nature, but extend beyond the traditional ratios. If you’re painting a vast display of countryside, go for it. Choose a canvas that’s much wider than it is tall, but you’ll probably have to stretch it yourself.
You could also go “ultra-powerful” with a canvas that’s long, tall, and narrow. For some subjects, it might be a perfect choice. It’s said that vertical canvases symbolize the life force itself, so again, if you’re wanting to create something filled with energy, maybe you want a stretch a canvas into a slender vertical rectangle.
Another option is a square canvas. Square paintings have a solid “feel” about them. They can have a sense of security and stability. If this is a strong element in the mood or narrative we want to convey, then maybe using a square canvas would be a perfect. support.
Round canvas art has become increasingly popular in recent years. While round canvases were once difficult to find, they’re available now at Amazon and at art supply stores. Like smaller canvases, a round support has a more “personal” feeling about it. Circles are closely associated with eternity and with spiritual forces, so round canvases are sometimes chosen to reflect these divine qualities, especially in fluid art — acrylic pourings, for example — and other abstract works.
Oval canvases, too, are very “personal” and are popular for portraits. Oval paintings give a sense of warmth and familiarity, comfort and security. They remind me of cameos, once very popular among the ladies — and still available from specialty dealers. Of course, if we don’t want to purchase an oval canvas, we can create a painting on a regular support and use an “oval-framing” technique with a matting cut-out to leave an oval-shaped opening. This makes it possible to display a painting without having to order a special frame for it.
Now, at this point, seeing as to how it is April Fool’s, you might wonder if I’m pulling your leg a bit with a lot of psycho-babble about male and female energies, and spiritual emanations. Rest assured, this is all legitimate information, as wild and crazy as it might sound.
So for your next project, think not only about what you what to paint but also about how it would best be displayed. Traditional options are always good, but sometimes it might be better to consider other possible choices.