Recently, I have a bigger range of sizes to my work than ever before. Currently, in the gallery, I have one of my smallest paintingsdisplayed at 5 x 7 inches, and one of the largest at nearly 5 feet by 5 feet. What is the difference between painting large and small? Is there really a difference… other than, well, size?
When it comes to size, I feel that there is a difference in both the creation of the painting and the experience of it.
There is practicality to consider in creating paintings – smaller paintings are simply easier to manage. When I am working en plein air, small and mid-size paintings are easier to transport in my pack. With less surface area, they are also less susceptible to catching the wind like a sail and then taking off with my easel with it! Certainly, large paintings are possible on location, but to prepare for gusts, a series of stakes and ropes are usually employed to keep them tied down. Then, there is the issue of transport. When I was creating large paintings on location in Italy, I worked on stretched canvases that could be removed from its stretcher frame, then rolled to bring home to the States.
Time is also a factor when working on location. Smaller pieces can be completed during the limits of a short painting session, perhaps two or three hours. Larger work will likely require a number of sessions, returning repeatedly to the same location at the same time of day.
Working smaller means the composition is organized and the concept distilled. A mentor of mine, Jeremy Morgan, compares these studies to the constricted part of an hourglass, where all of the information of the subject passes through this space of understanding, then flows out as expression.
Often, a number of smaller field studies are used to then later create larger pieces in the studio where issues of size are more easily managed. For example, my studio easel is specifically engineered for large scale paintings, and I absolutely love it!
Most recently, I have experienced that the four walls and the ceiling height of my studio have not quite been big enough for some of my creative explorations. This is when I move to working in the garage! My friend, September Vhay is known for her magnificent large scale drawings, but the staircase down from her studio is a limiting factor for how large she can go! Jennifer Hoffman’s studio size lends itself to her sensitive, intimate pieces.
Is bigger better? – Experiencing the size of the artwork.
This fall, when we were at the Louvre in Paris, my God-daughter was surprised that the Mona Lisa, at 2′ 6″ x 1′ 9″ was smaller than she expected. This Da Vinci masterpiece hangs alone on its own wall and opposite one of the largest works in the museum, The Wedding at Cana at an exceptional size of 22′ 3″ x 32′ 0″. The dimensions of these paintings are widely different, but certainly not their impact. Small paintings can be little jewels that draw us in, while large paintings can cast a bold impression throughout their entire space. In my opinion, it is not the size that matters, but rather the quality of the work. For a small painting to hold its own, it needs to be beautifully crafted. In a large painting, if there are weaknesses or errors, they are proportionately more evident!
There is the reality of having artwork the appropriate size to fill the space above the fireplace, but it seems that some images are meant to be depicted small while others just need to be done large in order to communicate their message.
Recently, I created six paintings of the Western skies. I wanted to make them large scale because of the scale of the subject matter. The skies in the West dominate my experience of the landscape, and I wanted to explore that idea in these pieces.
Currently, my oil painting Forest Depth this is the smallest painting in the gallery. It is a quiet and intimate piece, its diminutive size of 5” x 7” is part of this experience.
We invite you to come visit the gallery and share your own experiences with the various sizes of the work we have up. We would love to hear your thoughts!