Guide on Choosing the Appropriate Format When You Design a Drawing or Painting

When you design a drawing or painting, the shape of the surface you work on plays an important role in composition. Once you pick one, all subsequent composition takes place within that particular shape. This shape is called the 'format'.

When you consciously choose the format of a work to suit the subject matter, it serves as another element that leads to a successful painting.

choose the right format in designing a drawing and a painting

A painting can take on different looks with each format.

The art formats that artists commonly use include rectangles, squares, circles and ovals. Sometimes you will see free-form shapes as well, but by far the majority of artists use rectangular and square formats.

Your goal in coming up with a good composition is to first arrange all the pictorial elements in an interesting manner within your chosen format. All the other elements—shapes, lines, value, and colors—are placed in relationship to the frame. It is important to plan your painting inside a frame similar to the shape of the canvas you are going to use.

When you design a drawing, it is helpful to use a two piece viewfinder to frame your subjects. By using the two free flowing pieces of the viewfinder border, you can quickly come up with a pleasing format, and this will give you an idea of the length to width ratio you need for your canvas.

For example, if your viewfinder leads you to choose a rectangular canvas with a ratio of roughly 3:4, then, when you shop for a canvas, a standard 18”x 24” (44cm x 59cm) size might be what you are looking for.

Like many artists, I have bought ready-made canvases in various standard sizes. The trick for taking the best advantage of these standard sized canvases is to plan your composition from the beginning to use them.



When working out the framing for your composition, it is best to sketch out your painting first, and then draw the borders around it.

The rectangular format is very versatile in designing a drawing. It can be aligned either horizontally or vertically. A vertical rectangular format lends itself well to portraits, tall buildings, still lifes or any subject where you want to emphasize its height.

A horizontal rectangular format is great for landscapes, still life, and even portraits, depending on how you plan the composition.

A square format is, as you might expect, a sort of compromise between horizontally and vertically aligned rectangular formats. It has many practical uses, so if you get stuck trying to decide which format to use, then try a square. I find that it can add some interesting effects to otherwise “boring” predictable rectangular shapes. It also gives a more 'contemporary' flair to your painting.

I have never tried ovals or other rounded shapes. That may be because, to me, they suggest more of an old fashioned atmosphere. I suppose if you want an antique look for your painting, they might be ideal.

The bottom line is: always keep the format in mind when you design a drawing or painting.



Mastering Composition
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