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.
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