How are Artworks Measured?

Measuring an artwork is one important process that an artist must know and practice correctly. A frame may not fit nicely in an incorrectly measured canvas and the matting, cover and backing may also be off. I have seen some paintings posted online, in catalogs and in galleries with detailed dimensions that do not follow the standard in specifying the size of an artwork.

I myself get confused more often than not as to how should I measure my paintings. Which comes first? Length or width or L x W in a more technical manner? Is it in inches? Or cm? Is it in portrait orientation? Or landscape?

To get everything right, there is a standard in taking the size of an artwork that is followed in the art industry around the world. And every artists must follow it diligently and correctly so as not to create confusion to the viewers, galleries, framers and fellow artists.

Height not Length
Length refers to curtains, hair, lumber or time, etc. like length of time. We always say “her hair is long” and not “her hair is high” which not only sounds awkward but also grammatically incorrect. Most of us use length in common measurements, but artists use HEIGHT instead.

Thus, the standard for measuring art is Height x Width (H x W). Regardless of which side is the longest, we must measure our painting starting with the height first followed by the width. For a framed artwork, we should use this format: Height x Width x Depth.

Landscape or Portrait
By following the standard, one can easily visualize from the given measurement what the orientation of the artwork is. If the size is 12″ x 24″, the artwork is in landscape orientation while if it is 24″ x 12″, then it is portrait. In layman’s term, a painting is in portrait orientation when it is positioned vertically and the height is longer than its width. Conversely, an artwork is in landscape orientation when it is placed horizontally or the width is longer than its height.

Inches or Centimeter
Depending on which part of the globe, one must follow the system of measurement currently in use for the country you are living. Like if you are in Japan, they use the Metric system as well as in New Zealand and Australia. In the Philippines, inches or the English system is widely used in art measurements.

Digital copies of an artwork must follow the same standard but depending on the software you are using, most are using length instead of height but we will discuss this topic in future blogs.

To make measuring easier to remember, ask this question everytime you need to measure your painting. In the alphabet, which comes first – H or W? So start with the H for height then W or width the last and you’ll never go wrong the next time you take measurement of your artwork.