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Digital Subscriptions > The Artist > September 18 > Choose the right format

Choose the right format

Yael Maimon’s new series on composition begins with advice on how choose the best format for your subject matter and a more successful painting


The size of your painting surface can affect how the content is communicated. Small formats draw the viewer closer to get a better look and create greater intimacy. I find them perfect for studies, quick experiments and daily paintings. Large formats, on the other hand, allow complex compositions and have an air of importance. If you want to paint a busy composition or an epic theme – think big!

When choosing the scale of your format, think about how the subject would look if it were painted small, or perhaps very large. Are you going to work life-size or oversized? I also advise to think about time – if you are painting outdoors, you might prefer not too large a surface because of the changing light.

The shape of your painting surface is an important composing tool; artists most commonly use rectangles and squares.

Square formats

Square paintings have a certain beauty.

One of the strengths of the square format is that it has a natural sense of balance due to its four lines of equal length. A square is a very solid shape, especially compared to an upright rectangle – it can’t fall over. You can place the subject in the centre of the frame and it just looks right. Also, the square format, rather than a rectangle format, makes much better use of the circular composition – see Dream Away 2 (below).

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About The Artist

Be inspired to get out and about with your painting kit this summer with tips and advice on sketching and painting en plein air from top watercolour artists Amanda Hyatt, Geoff Hunt and Ian Sidaway. Jenny Wheatley shows how to use your location studies to create exciting compositions back at home, while in a the first of a new series Yael Maimon explains how to select the best format for a successful composition. Aldo Balding demonstrates how to paint a full-length portrait, Robert Brindley shows how to capture the spirit of Venice in watercolour, Barry Herniman reveals how to use acrylics the watercolour way. Plus we focus on the rules of painting, how to paint figures on the beach, learn from the painting style of Christopher Wood, how to choose the best colours for different skies, and how to cope with the challenge of working from poor photos. We've included plenty to inspire you this month, as well as information about what to see and do and competitions to enter with great prizes up for grabs!