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Orientations – Landscape, Portrait, or Square?

When artists decide to sit down and paint, the normal orientation decisions are Landscape, Portrait, or Square. And to make these three options more clear we offer definitions of each of the three so you can distinguish between them.


Firstly painting in landscape style is as about as natural as you can get, it shows everyday views that are wider than they are tall. This reflects countryside superbly as the detail rolls on into the distance. But this style of painting actually is quite scientific.

As the eyes of a human are side-by-side and not on top of one another the eyes, there is a ratio of two and a half to one in favor of the landscape aspect. So this orientation seems natural to us, as our brains understand this calculation and can take in all the information presented to us on the canvas.

This understanding has evolved over the thousands of years that mankind has evolved. At one time understanding the landscape was crucial to survival, as we had to look at a vista and see all the possible dangers at a glance. The world is split into two, and that is what is below or above the horizon. The horizon being lateral is usually at eye level, no matter if it is sea or land. So landscape is natural.


Portrait art concerns itself with the human factor of life. And is almost the opposite of landscape in that it is taller rather than wider. This however, is not natural. But as the brain is multi-functional it has adapted to portrait orientation as we have earned to interact with other humans and animals.

Humans see a need to interact with people who are tall, not those that are wide. Looking at a person we need to understand them in an instant as a defense mechanism. So portrait painting has adapted to this need and presents us what our brains require.


Painting in a square orientation is a bit of a hybrid, it is neither portrait nor landscape and it is totally unique mathematically. Square orientation appeals to yet another part of our brain, as it is not natural it poses a conundrum to the mind, and that is the attraction. It is more than natural and our brains are curious about it.

So throughout the centuries artists have been selecting their subjects and dividing them into one of these three orientations. Generally an animal study, seascape, or landscape will be painted in landscape format. Perhaps a flower study or definitely a portrait will be painted in portrait orientation. Finally anything that is left, including abstract will be painted in square.

Other Orientations

Of course, art is not just restricted to the three orientations we have discussed, it can be asymmetrical, oval, circular, and even triangular. These are less common as most artist’s equipment and materials usually come in the big three orientation formats. Artists have to create their own canvasses but as there are no set rules in art and this often brings the creative and experimental side out of artists.

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