Friday, January 11, 2008

Why Paint in Different Sizes?

Before I go out to paint, one of my last decisions is whether to work on a large painting or a small one. By large, I mean anything bigger than 9x12; by small, anything 9x12 or smaller.

The choices have major implications on time commitment. Although with a big enough brush I can do a 16x20 in the 30 minutes I do a 5x7, I prefer to take more time with a larger painting. Because it costs me more in materials, I prefer to come out of the session with a finished painting (or as close as I can get to one in the field.) To accomplish this goal, I may choose to work on the painting over several sessions.

Also, a larger painting gives me an opportunity to explore farther into sometimes uncertain territory. It gives me a broader area in which to play with composition and what I will call "subplots," minor centers of interest that work together to make the painting a richer one. In a small painting, you only have space enough to work with the main plot, the main center of interest.

A small painting, although it can be a real "gem" as a finished piece, really should be an opportunity to work on a single thing. For example, I may want to work on color temperature and not think too much about brushwork. Certainly, all the elements that make a good painting may come together -- it does happen, and more frequently as you gain experience -- but that is rarely my goal. When it does happen, though, it's a good feeling.

For the little painting below, I wanted to focus on capturing the color harmonies that happen in the early evening in winter. Even though I was just focussing on one thing, I think all the elements came together in it nicely. The task was doubly-difficult, because I was shooting a video at the same time. If you give painting demonstrations as I do, you know how hard it is to get both halves of your brain to work in concert. It's like harnassing two mules with differing ideas about which way to go. And I had to go and throw a video camera into the mix! Still, this one took very little touch-up time in the studio. I think it's a keeper.*

"Aspen by the Sea"
5x7, oil, en plein air

*This one might make it into the companion DVD for my book, Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil and Pastel.

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