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LisaInOregon 06-12-2016 05:28 PM

Aspect ratio frustration
I am fairly new to painting, and painting from photos. I am having ongoing issues with the aspect ratios of prestretched canvases.

What I want to use are photos I took on film back when I used to travel in the late 90s/early 00s, which are a 2:3 ratio. Most canvases are 3:4 or 4:5 (I'm not ready to tackle a 24"x36").

Problem: whatever excites me about an image may get totally lost when cropped or compressed. I fiddle endlessly in photoshop to get the thing to fit... but on canvas it just doesn't have the same sense of grandeur or weight or whatever.

Has anyone else had this problem? Should I try stretching my own canvas? I read somewhere that was not great since it then needed custom framing, but I haven't been framing anything anyway.

WFMartin 06-12-2016 09:27 PM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
If you are at all skilled at working with Photoshop, you don't have to always crop. Instead, you can add on in the other dimension.

One thing is true about working from photos; their ratios hardly ever match the ratios of standard size canvases. You will find that you almost always need to either crop in one direction, or add on in the other (or, a combination of both).

To add on, you can either add it all on one edge, or split the difference, and add photo in both directions. I do this with a cloning tool (the rubber stamp).

LisaInOregon 06-13-2016 01:52 AM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
Unfortunately, I am quite good at photoshop (though I'm using photoshop 2.0 and I'm sure the world has changed a lot) and have really yanked it to get every bit of width, and it still falls short. I painted the first one anyway but I'm not very happy. I just don't want to put all the energy into something that's not as good as it I want it to be.

I suppose there's really no help for this problem.

virgil carter 06-13-2016 11:30 AM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
Why not just bite the bullet and make your own stretchers with the proportions you like?

If you order frames from reputable Internet frame retailers, custom size frames are not difficult and not that much more expensive (depending on proportions).

It's the same with watercolor painting! Every painter sooner or later has to decide what will govern: "standard" sized frames or personal preference in sheet or canvas proportions. I've used custom frames for a very long time, since I wasn't going to have frame manufacturers determine what I paint!

Everyone is different. Hope you find your preferred direction!

Sling paint,

caldwell.brobeck 06-14-2016 01:34 PM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
There's lots you can do without going to the bother of stretching canvas - for example, you can add a decorative border (an 8x12 inch image becomes 10x14 with a one inch border all around, and 10x14 is a pretty common size here); the border can be really simple (almost like a mat) or very complex ( see art nouveau for examples), symmetric or not, whatever works for you. Plus they are wonderful for practicing technique. If you don't want to draw your own there's lots available online and in books.

Or you can work on panels cut to whatever size you like (masonite, oak, birch, etc.) though they require a certain amount of prep; if they are smallish (longest edge 18" or so) they don't need to be cradled, a decent frame will keep them rigid enough. Or check out sizes in canvasboard, there seems to be a lot of those available. FWIW, it's easy enough to make frames for panels and canvas board; just go to a local hardware store and get inexpensive "picture frame moulding", and you'll need a decent mitre box and saw.

Nomad Z 06-14-2016 04:53 PM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
Canvasses in 2:3 ratio do exist - Belle Arti do 40x60cm (close to 16x24")...


I've got some (those, and other sizes), and I'm very pleased with the quality. Might be worth seeing if you can track them down in the US. Or import, maybe.

LisaInOregon 06-15-2016 01:18 AM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
That's an interesting idea - hadn't thought about metric. A quick google doesn't show signs of anyone in the US carrying a 40x60cm, but Jackson's will ship and the shipping to the US is not impossibly high.
I looked at blick's supplies for stretch your own and it's not cheap but I'm more worried about badly stretched canvas.

Painting on a border / mat is an approach I'd have to think about. Seems like it would be distracting. But it would be cool to have a trompe l'oeil mat that looked like and old carved and gilded frame....

Nomad Z 06-15-2016 06:10 PM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
I've found shipping within the UK from Jackson's to be very good - order before 3pm and it turns up the next day. So, it looks like they process promptly at least.

The only thing I would say is that the two boxes of canvasses I recently ordered weren't double-boxed or anything. The canvasses within each box had the outer two with the reverse side facing outwards, but no additional protection at the corners. They got to me just fine, but you might want to check with them for shipping internationally - I'm not sure the single box would be robust enough, and I'd like to think they'd be double boxed for that. The other parts of my order (thinners, brush washer) were very well packed - each bit individually wrapped in bubble wrap, and packed into a separate box.

Randalthor09 06-21-2016 09:25 AM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
If you do not want to crop the smaller source image, you could always paint in additional elements around the edges in the larger image. Do you have an image we can view? Perhaps we can offer some compositional advice?

maturingartist 06-23-2016 12:53 AM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
You could gesso watercolor paper cut to size in the aspect ratio you want, paint in oil on that, then either get your piece custom framed under glass or compensate for the frame size with matting and use a ready made frame. I own an oil on paper piece framed under glass - I bought it about 20 years ago and it still looks wonderful. Personally, for my own work, I don,t worry too much about the archival quality of my supports. That said, there is a painting by Toulouse Lautrec in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC that is done on corrugated cardboard - you can see the ridges in the cardboard because Lautrec decided to use the brown color of the cardboard as the color of the gentleman's jacket. Lautrec painted it 120 years ago. So, I am guessing that gessoed watercolor paper will last at least as long as I do.

Chazzz 07-18-2016 10:35 PM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
I'm a photographer and a big fan of the 2:3 ratio. The typical 3:4 and 4:5 standards start feeling too square for me, at least when going landscape. Before I started getting bothered by aspect ratio, however, I was getting bothered by the bounce under my brushes of a stretched canvas. So I switched to panels -- especially since I'm not planning on going too large at this point. I bought a couple 2'x4' sheets of hardboard at a local Home Depot and cut it into 16"x24" and 9"x12" panels. I know 9x12 isn't 2:3, but I figured that I might be a bit more inclined to give away more 9x12's and it should be easier to find frames for those. Otherwise, I would've cut some 8x12 or 10x15 pieces.

(There have been numerous discussions here about how to prep and prime panels, so I won't get into that here.)

I use Aperture for my photo management. If I want to paint a 9x12 from one of those photos, I crop a version of the photo to that ratio in Aperture and just try to come up with a composition that I find pleasing. Sometimes that results is a surprising bit of cropping, essentially zooming in on a more interesting section of the photo. So it's not all that bad (and sometimes it's better).

Good luck to you!

jackiesimmonds 07-23-2016 06:01 AM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
Instead of "fiddling endlessly in photoshop" I recommend that you do something quite different, which is to produce a full charcoal piece. I would work on grey paper, using charcoal or conte, and a stick of white for highlights. decide what you are excited about, and begin to sketch from your reference image making sure that this element takes front stage, as it were.

using charcoal or conte on their sides helps at lot, because you can quickly smudge and move things around with your fingers.

Make sure that you work to the same aspect ratio as the canvas you plan to use.

Importantly, work a fair bit bigger than your photo. Even better, do it the same size as your canvas.

The difficulty, often, with scaling up from a photo is that some shapes seem to become sort of big and empty when you "grow" them so you may need to use your imagination a little, to make the shape more interesting - thinking about the brushwork can help, and also making the colour more interesting by varying it more than the photo information is offering.......for example, a grey patch of wall in shadow in a photo might look ok, but as a large area of a canvas, if you paint it all one tone of grey, it may look really boring. However, vary the greys -blue-grey, pink-grey, purple-grey, green-grey, all in the right tone value, and suddenly that area of the image becomes far more interesting.

Doing a preliminary piece to the same ratio, a fully-realised charcoa tonal preliminary ( not just a line drawing), will prove invaluable, I can promise you that.

Here is a charcoal sketch I just found quickly on google: it is a good example of something fairly loose, no fiddling with detail, no clinging just to the outline... the pattern of tone is all there so this would be good to work from in colour.

Sparro 07-20-2018 11:15 PM

Re: Aspect ratio frustration
I think I would rather crop too little than crop too much. Then use your imagination to continue the landscape a little farther on the parts that don't fit the larger dimensions. If you get a common denominator for all three ratios, 2/3 = 40/60
3/4 = 45/60
4/5 = 48/60
So the 3/4 ratio is the best option for you. Like I said, rather than crop too much, maybe you can 'invent' and extend the landscape so you don't lose anything.

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