Pastel Pointers Blog | A Matter of Size, Part 1

mckinley pastel

A small painting superimposed on a large painting.

In a society that tends to reward excess, it can be difficult to be an artist that works relatively small. Larger paintings are always priced higher in gallery settings and are frequently given more attention in exhibitions. This leads the public to believe they have more intrinsic value. While it is true that considerably more physical time may be required to cover an expansive surface and framing will undoubtedly be more expensive, it is not true that the efforts to create a painting of merit is harder when done in a monumental size. In fact, many artists find a diminutive work more difficult.

When working small, the so-called “bigger picture” of the scene must be well represented for it to be understandable.  Design becomes more important than detail with shape and value working in harmony to create a symbolic relationship that represents reality. Small paintings tend to make the viewer feel farther away from the subject matter, applying excessive detail only makes them appear more artificial and cartoonish when not properly finessed.

When working large, the same design principles that applied to smaller works must be in place. Since large paintings tend to make the viewer feel closer to the subject matter, additional detail can be added. Larger paintings can allow for more gestural mark making as well. What a twitch of the hand can produce on a small painting will require a full arm movement on a large painting. Having this freedom of movement can be very appealing or intimidating depending on the personality of the artist.

Even though the same design principles are the foundation of both small and large paintings, what worked in one does not necessarily mean it will work in the other. Attempting to dramatically enlarge a small painting or copying a large painting in miniature will make this quite evident. This disparity often leads to frustration when a painter comfortable working in one size category attempts another. To avoid this frustration, artists should periodically work outside their size comfort zone to familiarize themselves with the differences. There are definite lessons to be learned from both. Smaller paintings will strengthen an artists design capabilities and reinforce the old adage “less is more,” making it easier to paint fundamentally solid larger paintings. Larger paintings will allow for bold freedom of application and greater technique confidence as well as providing the means to expand story content and detail. Even if you ultimately decide you are better suited to working in one or the other, having experienced both will add to your confidence and may open new doors of self-expression.

In next week’s post I will continue the discussion of size and how it may affect the pastelist, in particular.


Richard McKinley on DVD

Watch art workshops on demand at ArtistsNetwork.TV

Online seminars for fine artists

Get a copy of Pastel Pointers, the book!


You may also like these articles:

One thought on “Pastel Pointers Blog | A Matter of Size, Part 1

  1. troylet

    Sorry for this post Richard. As always, I love, love, love, your work and teaching. You are by far, the most articulate, and engaging instructor in any venue, whether it be art related or not – hands down. When I saw you teach for the first time, I was completely in awe, and remember thinking what a treasure I had found. I continue to feel that way, and eagerly await each bit of new instruction. However, and here’s the reason I say “sorry”; I am HUGELY DISAPPOINTED with the loss of your blog. I know it’s still around somewhere, but I’ll be darned if I can ever find it when I want it, and that’s often. I used to have it on my homepage and emailed to me; I now have neither. When I attempt to find your blog, I am met with a MESS of stuff that I have little to no interest in, and to be honest, I quite often just don’t make the time to look for your blog out of sheer frustration. I can find no way to even subscribe to your blog, and your blog alone, which it sounds to me like, based upon the comments of others, is what we ALL want, or a pretty darn large majority of us. Who are WE, the people who buy your art, your instructional media, and passionately support you through word of mouth recommendations and praise. As someone else stated in a previous post – and though I do enjoy the artistsnetwork – our loyalty is to YOU Richard. I will continue to purchase anything and everything you publish, however I am truely disappointed with the handling of this situation, and my purchases of artistnetwork (non-RM) related items, for the time being, is going to have to reflect that. Please find a way to fix this. It truely is like losing a friend.

    God bless