Not long ago, a student asked me how to decide what size to make an image in a painting. For today's composing tip, I want to share with you the answer I gave. The size we make our images strongly effect how they communicate to their audience. Let's explore that idea by looking at what some other artists have done with size.
Below are six paintings, each showing the human subject in a different scale as it relates to the format and surrounding images. Notice how each puts you, the viewer, at a unique distance from the person depicted in the painting. That distance helps determine how you relate to the subject in the painting.
Feel how far you are from the people in painting 1 as compared with the people in painting 4. Sense how close you are to the subject in painting 3 as compared with 6. In painting 2, notice the extent to which the environment is important to the person portrayed as compared with painting 5.
These comparisons show that each of the above painting places a different kind of emotional and relational emphasis on subject. Whereas painting 6 brings us right into the little girl's thoughts, painting 2 is as much about the market and street as about the person making a selection at the market. Painting 3 makes us feel more like an observer from the street whereas in painting 5, we could be conversing with the subject.
So, when we compose, the closer we want our audience to be to the subject, the larger the image of the subject becomes in our painting. The more important we want the surroundings to be to the subject, the smaller the subject becomes as compared to other things in the painting. Think about the subject's relationship with the audience, how you want the audience to feel about the subject, and that will clue you in on the size the subject should be.