Figuring Out Compositional Formats

Choosing the size and shape of your painting is your first big decision. The shape of your paper helps determine the format of your composition.

Staying in shape

A typical watercolor format is with the longest length of the paper horizontal — your desktop printer calls it landscape view and so do other artists. But don't forget other formats. You can choose the other view your printer knows, vertical or portrait, where the paper is longest vertically. You can break out of these standard views and paint in a square or make your painting any other shape you choose — oval, short and wide, tall and thin, you name it.

Traditionally paintings are rectangles. But because this is art, I would never want to stifle your creativity if you think out of the box. In art, go for it. Try for the award for originality. In the meantime, I'm going back to traditional thinking.

One rectangle may not be enough. Perhaps you need to make a larger statement. You can make several paintings work together to form the overall look of a large painting. Two paintings that go together to make a big painting are called a diptych (sounds like dip-tick). Three that go together are called a triptych (sounds like trip-tick). You can frame these separately or together using a mat with several holes. (Chapter 3 has more on presentation and framing.)

Choosing a size

Figuring out what size to make a painting is an important decision to make early. Miniatures cost less to produce, frame, and purchase. Murals are hard to ignore. You may find the answer somewhere in between.

You can get watercolor paper in any size you want, including a roll of water-color paper as tall as you are and yards and yards long. It's physically challenging to paint, frame, and install a piece that large, but if you want big paintings, there is no limit to the supplies. (Chapter 2 has more info about sizes of watercolor paper.)

When choosing what size to paint, look ahead to the end result. When you finish your painting, you probably want to mat and frame it so it can hang in a major museum — okay, maybe it hangs at home first.

One thing to consider is framing. You can buy standard sizes of premade frames or order a custom frame to fit the size of your painting. Custom framers can make any size frame you need and help you choose the best mat colors and frame molding for your masterpiece.

You can save some money by painting to standard sizes to fit ready-made mats and frames. Some ready-made frame sizes are 8 x 10 inches, 9 x 12 inches, 11 x 14 inches, 16 x 20 inches, 18 x 24 inches, and 20 x 24 inches. A quarter sheet of watercolor paper is 11 x 15 inches. Adding a 234-inch mat on all sides fits into a standard 16-x-20-inch frame. If you're on a budget — and what artist isn't — using a standard frame saves you a pile of bucks. Turn to Chapter 3 for more on matting and framing.

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