The aspect ratio of a painting is the relationship between the height and width of the finished piece. In painting the most common aspect ratio has been 3:4.
Dancing Iris Trio. Mixed Media Painting available in 30×40″ and 18×24″, Standard or Gallery Wrapped.
This means that for every 3 inches in the horizontal/vertical, there would be 4 inches in the other direction. An example would be a 30” by 40” painting. By reducing the size but maintaining the same 3:4 aspect ratio relationship you would have an18x24”, 12×16” or a 9×12” painting.
The aspect ratio remains the same regardless of whether an art work is hung in a horizontal or vertical direction.
This 4:3 aspect ratio is visually comfortable for most viewers and replicates the standard television format that was used until recently. With the advent of HD TV, the standards have changed to a longer screen and a 16:9 ratio is now the flat screen TV norm. This changes the shape or aspect ratio of the rectangle that is viewed by most people on a regular basis.
Pansy Field. Mixed Media Painting. Available in 24×36″, 20×30″ and 16×24″ Standard or Gallery Wrapped
This change in aspect ratio is also reflected in digital photography and in paintings. This new TV standard has increased the popularity of the longer 2:3 ratio. The new sizes in paintings would represent: 8×12”, 12×18”, 16×24”, 20×30”, 24×36”, 28×42” and 30×45”.
Framers use these standard sizes for many of their ready-made frames which is a cost saving to the Art Collector.
I create all my paintings in standard sizes so custom framing is not necessary
Studying Art History seeps into your memory. Countless visits to the many museums and galleries that New York City has to offer has crept into my subconscious. This lifelong study has taken me through so many happy surprises as well as quite a number of dead ends.
Often Artists are asked who their influences have been for their Art style. Trust me, never would I have answered Matisse. I’ve never appreciated his sketchy use of paint, his lack of detail and apparent lack of a “finished” quality to his work.
And then, when I least expected it, I reimagined Matisse’s iconic painting, “The Dance”. Using flowers from my own garden, I picked up the exuberant rhythm that makes his work such a delight. This work is so light, buoyant and a wonderful interpretation of what spring means to me.
As I was creating the composition of Irises I remember somewhere, behind my eyes, trying to make the circular floating connections of the frilly irises that was suspended somewhere in my memory. I have stood so often in front of the Matisse painting at the Museum of Modern Art, loving the composition while not liking the paint quality. I’ve returned so often to view that painting in the original hoping to find what I missed.
I absorbed his painting just by being there and looking. And looking again. And again…
“…man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots,
whose flower and fruitage is the world…”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
My paintings actually start in my garden. This is where I grow the flowers, shrubs and trees, which are a part of the workflow of my creative output. The sun and shade play a role in all my compositions.
I actually consider the creative work to be seamless whether at work in the garden or at work in my studios. The up close and personal view of the flowers when I’m weeding, deadheading, trimming and tending allow me the time to become intimately aware of each flower’s details. This is something I like to convey in my work.
Light Blue Iris Germanica
These light blue irises came to dance in the breezes in the front garden, which I can see through the French doors in my living room. Though short lived, their ephemeral character is part of the fun of capturing them in my Art.
Phlox stolonifera, ‘Sherwood Purple’ in front of a Karume azalea in the woodland walks.
The composition of this painting was created using elements from different areas of my garden. The woodland walks with their large hemlock trunks for the vertical accents, which mimic the verticals of the irises. The rare spots of sunshine in the front garden, which hold the irises and many other perennial sun lovers, give me many sources of inspiration during the seasons.
Light Blue Iris in the Garden. Mixed Media Painting. 30×40″ Gallery Wrapped. © Mary Ahern.
The finished painting is called “Light Blue Iris in the Garden”. I’m not very original on names but it is an apt description.
One of the methods I use to visualize my Art is to take snapshots of my models and modify them on my computer. Since I’m not a photographer I only have a small point and shoot camera that I use to take photos in my garden or in my studio.
- I took this snapshot of these orange tulips using natural light in my studio
I import these snapshots onto my computer and using Photoshop I delete the backgrounds, modify the colors and otherwise play around with the image. I print the images from my Epson printers onto matte cardstock papers.
- Using Photoshop on my Mac, I play around with colors and composition
In this particular Art work, after making a completed tonal drawing which I discussed in my previous post, I traced the outline of the tulip onto 300lb hot press paper using a lightbox and a 2H pencil.
Then, using Winsor Newton watercolors, I put down my first layer of paint. Once dry I used my set of Prismacolor colored pencils to draw over the watercolor.
- In this Mixed Media Art work I used colored pencil over watercolor
For some reason I find this process to be very relaxing and meditative for me. If I need some calmness in my life, I can go to my studio at any time and pick up right where I left off. No fuss, no muss, no bother.
There are so many ways to create paintings. As an Artist who has been creating for over 35 years I have developed a variety of methods to arrive at my finished work. Sometimes it is interesting to get a peek behind the process, so here is one style I enjoy.
- Snapshot of some Orange Tulips I used as the basis of this series of Art works
Since I’m not a photographer, I take snapshot of flowers I either buy or grow. I usually select them for color or just for form. I find myself attracted to large bold shapes rather than the more frilly inflorescences. I then decide what mediums I will work in and whether there will be one finished Art work in one or more mediums or whether the work will be part of a series.
I love creating tonal drawings so I often do a finished piece in graphite before I start a painting just because I like the feel of drawing. It also is a great way to work out values of highlights and shading.
- Tonal drawing of a tulip. I use a pair of magnifying lenses which I hook onto my bifocals to help me see the details
If the work is part of a series, I need to imagine the size of each piece and the total overall impression I’m looking for. This ups the level of complexity considerably and actually makes for quite a nice challenge to my visual imagination and my technical consistency.
For a series of work I need to choose the size of each work and the size of the overall series.
I also need to create a composition that stands alone as well as works for the series.
- I used my altered snapshots to help me come up with my composition in this series
My work must not only be accomplished to my own standards for each piece but it must be consistent across all the work. This can be tricky if you don’t create all the work during the same or close to the same period of time.
During my freshman year in the York College, Fine Arts Program in 1975 I took a class in Two Dimensional Design. First we studied the rudiments of rhythm, and then we abstracted the underlying design elements of images. The third project was an introduction to color. We used acrylic paint to make color charts of both warm and cool gray scales.
- 2-D Design project exploring color
It took a great deal of trial and error to get even steps from white to black and back down the scale again. As a former musician, I used to play my trumpet scales by the hour, much to the chagrin of my family. Trying to get the color scales right in paint is much the same experience, only quieter.
Another part of this Design project had to do with creating these scales in Color. These color scales were placed against various colored backgrounds to demonstrate how different the same colors appeared when imposed on competing ambient hues. These simple exercises introduced me into the world of luminance, saturation and hue, the basic platform of all painters and colorists.
- 2-D Design Class exploring gray scale
Having explored rhythm in the first classes in my two dimensional design class in my freshman year in college, we then moved on to visualizing abstraction. I had to find an advertising in a major magazine, select a portion of the image and analyze why the composition worked. Then I had to take a one-inch section of the ad and reproduce it in acrylic paint.
- 2-D Design painting in abstraction
This first piece was from an ad for scotch, I believe it was a bottle of Pinch. This abstract includes the side of the bottle and the half filled glass with ice behind it. The curves of the glass and bottle worked very well together and the slight color shift of the liquid in the glass unites the scene. I remember painting this with a brush the size of an eyeliner. The finished piece is about 12″ square. I’m very patient with my work.
I remember less about creating this abstracted landscape. I do know that it is a landscape scene from the southwestern United States and includes the long horizon lines and massive skies of this part of the country.
- 2-D Design acrylic painting in abstraction
Among the first Art classes I took when I began my college art education at York College, CUNY in Queens NY was the study of two-dimensional design. I began this class in the fall semester, in September 1975. At the time I believed that Art school would teach me how to paint and draw but here I was cutting half inch pieces of cardboard and gluing them onto unlined 3×5 index cards.
- Two Dimensional Design class projects in rhythm
I began to see the rhythm in these little squares. These rectangles show the first four assignments in this class. The first design project is asymmetrical, almost jazz like. The second is a symmetrical rhythm of one central oval flanked by two reduced ovals. The third is both a symmetrical and asymmetrical figure 8 and the fourth is the reverse positive and negative space.
These four small exercises opened my eyes to looking for the rhythms in everything around me from leaves, flowers, buildings, clothing and groups of people. I took these assignments very seriously since I felt so privileged to be offered the opportunity to learn the underlying secrets to a profession I so deeply desired. These same design rhythms are the groundwork for all the Art that I’ve created for over thirty years.
I actually enjoy drawing the folds in fabric more than drawing the nude figure. The anatomy of bone and muscle structure is so compelling in studying the nude but the intricacies of fabric on the figure adds another dimension of complexity. I love the pull of a belt on a waistline or the cinching of the fabric at the bend of an elbow or knee.
- Life drawing with clothed figure in pencil on newsprint paper
I enjoy contemplating the lighting as it casts over and under the folds. Where is the source of lighting? I stare at the shadow type underneath to determine if it is soft and diffused or hard and linear. Now, thirty years later, I still am fascinated by the curves and shadow of figures and lighting though now I don’t draw the figure. I concentrate instead on my favorite subject matter, flowers. These life drawing were the beginning of the process of learning to see.
In most cases in the classes I attended at York College, CUNY, Queens, NY in 1976 when these drawings were created, the lighting was not dramatic or controlled. The classroom lighting was positioned from the surrounding windows and the overhead fluorescents to provide enough light for the students. The emphasis was not to create distinct lighting on the models. These drawings were from my second semester in college so are my first attempts at figures and folds.
- Two figure life drawing with pencil
Life drawing classes are the traditional method for teaching the drawing of the human figure. Live models are used so that students can study the muscles and anatomy of the figure in order to render the volume and dimensionality of the human body. Using photographs instead of models can often cause students to render the figure in too flat a manner.
- Life drawing in pencil
Drawing classes that I attended at York College, CUNY, in Queens NY in the 1970’s, were held in 4-hour segments. Poses were held for short bursts of sketching time such as 5 or 15 minutes in the early part of a class to allow the artists time to warm up their drawing arm and eye. As the class progressed, poses often were held for longer periods and were in fact upon many occasions maintained for the entire remainder of the session. When the model took a break they would then return to their position in the center of the class so the students could continue to work on the drawing of that pose.
- Seated figure in pencil on newsprint paper
Life drawing is such an fundamental part of the curriculum of any art school that it is hard to believe that in the not so distant past these classes were taboo for women. Throughout history women were banned from traditional art school under the guise of protecting their delicate sensibilities. In order to pursue their art many women took a separate path towards expressing themselves and gravitated to watercolor paintings of flowers and gardens. These were considered acceptable mediums and subjects for a well-protected and well brought up middle class woman.
- Leaning figure seated on stool drawing
And then along came Georgia O’Keeffe and everyone saw flowers in a very different way. She helped to forge an acceptance of woman as artist and the doors of art schools flew open.
- Pencil drawing on newsprint paper from life drawing class