Sunday, March 9, 2008

More Thoughts on Painting Size

My small paintings often display greater energy than my large ones. Mostly, this is because I use large brushes even for small pieces and, because of the nature of outdoor painting, I have a limited amount of time. These factors force me to work in big shapes with an economy of movement. This doesn't mean the brushwork is sloppy, but it does mean that the paint tends to be thick and the strokes a little less refined. Thus, the small paintings have a more painterly feeling.
"Birches in a Red Field"
5x7, oil/panel, en plein air - SOLD

There's no reason, of course, that this can't all be brought to a bigger canvas. And why wouldn't I want to? Bigger canvases can be sold for more, and there's definitely a market for them.

The main obstacle to painting large is the risk factor.

Painting large is full of risk. It uses a lot more resources than small paintings -- more paint, more canvas, more time, more coffee and snacks. It's very possible that, after using all those resources, the painting may still end up a "scraper."

Small paintings are virtually risk-free. Paint is measured in quarter-teaspoons rather than cups; canvas, in square inches rather than square yards; time, in minutes rather than hours; and coffee and snacks, in sips and bites rather than quarts and pounds. Plus, they're a great way to develop skill and to fine-tune one's response to the landscape.

"Birches in a Red Field" - Detail

To tackle a large outdoor painting, I need to get quickly past the risk factor. This means that my skill must already be in top form and my response to the landscape, tuned to perfection. This way, I won't worry about the mounds of paint I squeeze out or the expense of a square yard of canvas. What helps is doing a series of small pieces in the days immediately prior.

Finally, to avoid overworking both detail and paint, two common flaws that suck out the energy of any painting, large or small, I would go with the very biggest brush I have and set a time limit. I'd use a #12 flat and give myself two hours, max.

So where's the large painting demonstration? I haven't done one I like yet. But, the season has barely started. Stay tuned!

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