Selecting a format: Square or horizontal

Lisa David Art square paintings
Four square paintings. Each with their own compositional challenges, but when 4 small squares make a new square, it’s kinda fun!

 

Square panel paintings have become all the rage.  I started a few years ago when I was doing daily paintings.  Art history is filled with horizontal rectangular landscapes.  It’s the most popular format when painting a landscape.  Oddly, most windows in houses are vertical!  Portrait painters will typically use a vertical rectangle, as a body when sitting is typically taller than it is wide.  And now, with computers, we select landscape format for horizontal and portrait format for vertical. But what if you decide a square? Will you be a square? No, quite the opposite because as Huey Lewis says, “It’s hip to be square”! All kidding aside, let’s consider the square format, pros and cons.

Cons: There are composition challenges to a square format. It is tempting to put your subject right in the middle of a square. Often, people who work from photos use the 3:2 format as that is what a traditional 35 mm ratio is.  Apple phones provides the photographer a few options. If you know you will be painting from a photo (although not recommended), then select the format first. It will eliminate decision making and get you comfortable with the format.

Frames are sometimes difficult to find. We live in a rectangular world where walls and windows are usually rectangular.  I needed a 6″ x 6″ frame quickly and had a really hard time finding one, except online.

A square painting hung alone alone sometimes begs to have a partner. Paired paintings or groupings of square paintings create a nice decor element.

Pros: Personally, I like how the eye travels through a square format. Almost like a Pac-man hitting one side, traveling up to the other and down again. The square feels tight, visually. For still lifes, I think it is almost easier to create a sense of balance in a square format.

Decorators seem to love squares. It is a very common motif used in home design. A single square painting seems to bring a calmness and stability to a place.

I once read that the square is a man-made shape, that not much in nature is square. That’s pretty true. Squares combine to make bigger squares. They have a sense of order and completeness.  How about painting on a square format?  I usually employ the rule of thirds, keeping my focal point at one of the intersections if we drew a tic-tac-toe inside the square. Or, I will keep sky or land in upper or lower third. Unless, I don’t! Sometimes, an image lends itself to a square, like the grouping of trees above. They create a vignette aided by the square format, forcing the viewers eye up to the sky.

Apparently, social media LOVES squares! Instagram-square. Apple icons-square.  We like squares. Squares seem to be very hip at the moment! Who knows what’s next? Circle, get ready…..!

What are your thoughts? Are you a square painter?

Pulp FIction

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