Working Large

70-large-versus-small.jpgThere are two issues when working large in pastel that complicate matters: first, the size and weight of the surface, and second, the need to frame the finished painting under glass. Pastel papers that aren’t mounted to rigid supports become difficult to handle and easily wrinkled, causing problems with presentation. And hardboard panels prepared with a sanded surface make a nice rigid surface but become very heavy, making hanging and transportation more difficult.

Depending on your chosen surface, it’s wise to put effort into an archival support. If you prefer paper, mount it to a non-acidic PH neutral surface like conservation-board or museum-board. If you prefer to prepare your own gritty surface, replace the hardboard with a lighter weight, rigid surface like Gator Board. Be sure to seal the surface before applying your pastel ground to prevent acidic migration from the Gator Board or hardboard (both contain wood by-products). Personally, I prefer to work on my own prepared surface when working monumentally. My pastel above, Meadow Dance, is 24×36 (which is large for me) was painted on prepared board. I used Gator Board sealed with a coat of  acrylic gesso, applying the gritty pastel ground in multiple layers until the desired effect is achieved (see my April 7 blog for more information on preparing your own surface).

When framing large pastels, I recommend using mat-less frames (see previous blog). These frames add more support to paintings that require large pieces of glass. Additional bracing to the back of the frame corners will add even more strength and stability, and is recommended for extremely large paintings. Another good idea is to have the edges of the glass slightly ground, making it less prone to fracture cracks. Picture framing wire is sold according to the weight of the painting. Be sure to use wire of a proper strength.

Working large has it advantages and disadvantages. Most of us find a comfort zone, a range of painting sizes that suites our personality. We feel comfortable working within that range and often stay within that zone unless challenged. Working small strengthens our compositional eye. We have to simplify things or they look overstated
and cartoon-like. Detail becomes secondary to a solid painting structure consisting of shapes, values, and color harmony. Working large teaches us to expand. There’s more room to be expressive with the application of the pastel, more space to fill with information, allowing us to be more monumental in scope.

Whether you prefer to work small or large there is always something to be gained by working outside your comfort zone. Give it a try and see where it leads.

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2 thoughts on “Working Large

  1. Richard McKinley

    Susan, There are some artists that have employed acrylic resins as a final coat to protect their pastels. This procedure, along with heavy applications of fixative, can greatly alter the final appearance. Since I don’t like to alter the final appearance this has not been a technic I have experimented with. In my opinion, a strong frame and glass, as heavy as it will be, is your best option.

  2. Susan Singer

    I appreciate your addressing this issue. I’ve produced some pastels that are over 4′ tall and haven’t yet figured out how to frame them. I worry about the size of the glass and the weight. I wish there were some sort of fixative we could use that would keep them safe from fingers and the elements. My ultimate solution has been to switch to oils for larger pieces so I can work on canvases. My current paintings are 8’x2′ female nudes. Wish I could do them in pastels, but the size prohibits it – unless you have some great ideas for me!