Why It’s Hip to Be Square: Surface Secrets of Will Harmuth

Painting on a square canvas is a trademark of Will Harmuth who is featured in the winter 2016 issue of Acrylic Artist. In the magazine he reveals his inspiration for his paintings, and invites us to take a closer look at his creative process that includes, almost without fail, the use of 24-inch square panels. Harmuth says, “It’s a large enough surface to put energy into the work and to finish it in one sitting. If I go much bigger than that, I find I lose my energy.”

Late Afternoon in P'burg (acrylic on canvas) Will Harmuth, Acrylic Painting

Late Afternoon in P’burg (acrylic on canvas) Will Harmuth, Acrylic Painting

When asked why the square is such a good fit for him he explained, “The square makes me focus on the immediate design force of shapes and arranging them top to bottom, left to right and foreground into the background. Creating these works gives a more modern approach to abstracting shapes.” He explains how the finished pieces have an impact on the viewer. “When people look at my work they say, wow, I didn’t see that before, or the ask, where is that?”

His preference for painting on square surfaces is also a way to distinguish his work. He points out that, “Having deep respect for the great traditional and non-traditional artists, I knew I couldn’t do the same as those before. I had to think of a way to challenge my traditional paintings theories and make them more modern.”

Like most artists, Harmuth strives to find ways to make his work distinguishable from other artists’ work. “I don’t want people looking at my work and saying it looks like this or like that or like some other artist’s,” he says. “I want my work to be a record of what I see around me today, in 2016.”

To that end the square is the perfect format for Harmuth. “A square immediately creates a sense of the contemporary and with it brings challenges far beyond the portrait or the landscape-size canvases or panels.” Harmuth continues, “It’s my constant interest in the design challenge of seeing and feeling what I would like to paint and putting it on a square that is refreshing and unlike what others have done in the past.”

Working With the Square
When you work with a square, it’s easy to see the canvas composed of four small squares when in fact you want to see five or nine squares when creating the final composition. For Harmuth the square is a challenge due in great part to his subject matter: buildings (tall), rooflines (strong horizontals) and houses (tall, again.)

“The square composition forces me to mentally crop what I’m seeing. I don’t have the luxury of design to include an entire roofline, no matter how appealing it is,” he explains. “The square makes me hone my focus to the most interesting part of the roofline, and often that’s where other lines from neighboring buildings and utilities intersect. In a way, the square format guides me to edit out the superfluous and focus on what’s really critical in the scene.”

A successful square painting has us seeing a long roofline, a tall building or an arching branch—not a square. “When you compose your painting correctly, you are able to build any shape or form within the square and that is exciting,” says Harmuth.

Take the Will Harmuth Painting Square Challenge: Recreate one of your paintings into a square format. You’ll find it a challenge, but you may find something you hadn’t found before. Once you start working with a square format, you may discover subjects that are more interesting to you and to your viewers.

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