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Does size matter?

November 26, 2012
Oil pastel sketch

Small oil pastel drawing from my sketchbook

I think I would have to consider myself a painter of SMALL—in the midst of a continuum of paintings that are smaller than mine to those that are extraordinarily large.

The largest canvas I have painted is 48 inches x 48 inches (see below), but it seems much more common these days for artists to be creating paintings that are the size of a wall. It’s not unusual to find a painting displayed that is, say, 60 inches x 96 inches. Yikes, I think, how the heck do you store something like that?

Even though large works do contain areas of delicacy and intimacy, as viewers we might find it difficult to ignore all of that adjoining real estate when we’re looking for details (…not that we should). And it is seductive, sweeping, and beguiling to be next to something huge, something painted.

Oil painting, 48 inches by 48 inches

“Tranquility,” oil on canvas, 48×48

My question is: do we as artists need to use size consciously? Can the economics of creating art be of equal importance? And by that I mean the economics of storage, materials, studio space, etc. I have been working on paper more because of its portability and the ease of storing it, but I have to admit that I am craving a big empty canvas—more of a challenge and more surprises in working on it. Currently, my favorite canvas size is 30 inches x 40 inches.  Maybe a compromise?  I just don’t know the answer to that question (yet).

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Deb Larson permalink
    December 1, 2012 8:45 am

    Hi Reebie,
    Thanks for addressing this topic. I have to say that personally the largest I have painted to date is on a 4 x 8 panel and ideally that isn’t even big enough! It drives me crazy to use tiny brushes on details and to zero in so tightly. I desire to paint on large surfaces because I ‘crave’ that full body experience and the space to paint more loosely, which is what I will be concentrating on with my next painting and all throughout next semester. Can’t wait to share them with you. P.S. I love your work no matter what size!! Scrumptious!

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    • Deb Larson permalink
      December 1, 2012 8:48 am

      Oh yeah…you are right about being conscious of the negative space, especially when working so large. We can address that with texture, changes in light and layering. A good tip to keep in mind though. We always need to be thinking about the overall affect. Asking ourselves…what does my painting look like up close, how about far away?

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      • December 2, 2012 12:41 pm

        Good questions. Although I think I actually spend more time looking from far away to see how the whole piece is going, my strongest interest is in the surface: Are there layers that suggest deeper space? Shapes that remain undefined but suggestive? Each of us makes so many personal decisions out of our own aesthetic sense and commitment to certain content that it’s hard to sift through all of the things that impact us when we are painting or looking, eh?

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    • December 2, 2012 12:37 pm

      Hi Deb, You know, I didn’t even think about the full body experience! You are right–there is a freedom in having a large surface to work on. I think it demands a different kind of physicality when you are painting, and a looser approach seems like a good answer. Maybe I will plunk three of my 40×30 canvases together and paint across them. Hmmm. Thanks for making me look at this a little differently. And I can’t wait to see your work from the next semester–always exciting to see what you are doing.

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  2. November 26, 2012 8:01 pm

    Fascinating…and I LOVE the gorgeous drawing at the top of the post. Wow!!!!!

    Size! It’s all economics for me. I dream of giant canvases, but 4ft x 3ft is my limit (I own one, a blank canvas I’m saving for something outrageous). Everything else is smaller, and often painted over to save money.

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    • November 28, 2012 12:05 pm

      Thanks so much, Robin! I am limited by economics (and space) too. I’d love to see your 3×4 canvas when outrageous hits you! I also have one 3×4 blank canvas waiting in the wings…maybe inspiration will strike over the holidays. Cheers…

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