Don’t Neglect Your Support

Alternative supports

Today we’re focusing on painting supports. (For anyone new to art: a support is the base you choose for your painting, usually paper, canvas or panel, but sometimes more unusual materials such as glass or metal.)

This time I’m turning my thoughts not to the material you paint on, but the shape. We tend to think of painting on a square or rectangle as the default, as it’s easily available and simple to frame.

Yet there are plenty of other options out there. Circles are commonplace, and I’ve even seen triangular or hexagonal canvases. Why stop there? Who says that a painting has to fit a neat geometric shape? An organic subject may better suit an organic shape.

Obviously some shapes are harder to frame than others, but a good framer will usually be able to suggest a suitable method. Alternatively, you don’t have to frame your work. As long as the edge is neat, a frame is not imperative. Either paint the edge a single colour, or continue the painting from the front over the sides.

Circular supports

Lately circular canvases and panels have become very popular with paint-pouring artists. That might seem relatively new, but circular supports have been used for traditional art for centuries.

People viewing Michelangelo's "Doni Tondo".

One of the more famous examples of a circular painting is the Doni Tondo, painted by Michelangelo c.1503.

Tondo refers to the round shape, being derived from rotondo in Italian. It was a popular shape in Renaissance art.

Ravenna mosaic of Christ the Good Shepherd.

Sometimes artists used a circular shape to fit with the architecture of a building.

Mosaic artists commonly fitted their art to an arch or reflected the circular shape of a dome in the circular art beneath.

Ancient Egyptian tomb painting.

As smaller tombs often had a curved roof, ancient Egyptian artists were well acquainted with having to fit their design to a curved space.

So use of a non-rectangular shape for art is traditional, dating back to at least ancient Egyptian times. We don’t need to work on the scale of an architectural piece, but using a non-rectangular shape provides interesting compositional challenges and takes you out of your comfort zone.

Take a leaf out of the Roman mosaicist’s book, and try mixing patterned borders with images. There’s plenty of potential to make a striking image that’s unique to you.

In the past I’ve worked on circular supports for portraits, life drawing, mosaics and landscapes, and I’ve always found curiosity, enjoyment, and discovery inherent in the challenge.

I’m currently working on a circular seascape. While thinking of sea motifs – portholes, water drops, buoys etc – the circular shape just seemed more appropriate than a rectangle.

Circular shapes lend themselves to abstracts too.

To encourage you to give non-rectangular shaped supports a try yourselves, I’m sharing the details of one of my new suppliers with you. I’ve sourced wooden circles from a few different companies and this one is my favourite.

The company’s brand name is Infinite, they’re based in Somerset, UK and they supply craft materials. While I don’t need most of their products, I’m a big fan of their pre-cut wooden shapes.

You can choose from Birch ply, Marine ply or MDF, and most shapes are available in a range of sizes and thicknesses. They also supply shapes in acrylic, but I’ve yet to try those.

Geometric shapes include circles, semi-circles, triangles, pentagons, hexagons, heptagons, octagons and decagons. If you’re feeling bold, you could even try shields, hearts, stars, letters or numerous other motifs.

I’m not affiliated to the company in any way, but I have bought Birch ply circles from them several times, so I’m happy to recommend them. Here are the plus points:

  • Products are excellent quality. There’s a warning on the website that some light sanding may be necessary, but so far I haven’t needed to do that
  • Better range of sizes and shapes than online art suppliers
  • Bespoke shapes by arrangement
  • Shapes can be ordered plain or with drilled holes e.g to fit a clock mechanism or for hanging
  • Prices are extremely competitive – significantly lower than my usual art materials suppliers – and there are discounts available for larger orders.
  • Delivery time is about a week after ordering. So far my orders have arrived on the delivery date specified in the confirmation email.
  • Delivery on orders over £20 is free.

My only quibble is that I wish they’d get someone to proof-read their website. I fully accept that typos can slip through now and then, but there really are too many. I’m trying to tell myself it’s funny rather than teeth-curling.

Aside from that, I’m very pleased with my orders so far, and I’m sure I’ll be ordering again soon.

I hope that the idea of working on a non-rectangular support has given you food for thought. A rectangular support may indeed be the best option, but I suggest it should be the result of a decision rather than just being the default.

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About Jackie Garner

Wildlife artist.
This entry was posted in Art, Art History, Painting and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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