Does Painting Size Matter?
What size do you make your art? I paint watercolors and build printmaking plates in small format. Every piece of art I ever made was under 8×10, with an occasional hurdle into 11×14 – until I started to sell at Art Festivals. In a comment on last week’s post, Marie E. asked:
How have you decided on the size of your work? I have been trying to enter some watercolor competitions… It seems that larger works are the norm. Why have you made the decision to go smaller with your work? Do you find that it sells better? Is it more fun for you because it’s quicker or more manageable? Do you sometimes do larger work (printmaking or watercolor)?
Thanks for the great question, Marie! Have any of you wondered about sizing your artwork? Do you work large, small or right in between? What are the pros and cons of each? Brew some tea and pull up a chair, so we can examine this art studio planning question.
Exhibit Curators and Spaces
It’s true that some exhibit curators are looking for larger art for their show.
Imagine walking into a cavernous, brightly lit, white-walled exhibit space to see original paintings, but every mounted piece of art is the size of a magazine cover. As an attendee, you wouldn’t be able discern the painting subjects till you walk the width of the room to stand close to each piece.
There are art shows where the focus is on miniature paintings, but more often, curators will entice you into the room with larger pieces. If you recognize the subject from across the room – say an Anders Zorn portrait of a woman rowing a boat – you’ll be lured to it, so you can look more closely at the mastery that called your name from 50 feet away.
Be Wise on Size
If you’re thinking about submitting work to a regional show in your town, consider the exhibit space when selecting art you’ll submit for the show.
Will the exhibition will be hung in a series of connected, meandering rooms and hallways like those in a public library?
Perhaps submit smaller work, with high contrast, and readable values, in case the lighting isn’t optimized for gallery shows.
Is the exhibit in a broad, open room with skylights and bright lighting? Maybe submit your biggest work, and imagery that reads well at a greater distance.
Have you looked at your work outside your studio? Take your pieces outdoors, and to the largest room in your home, or your garage.
Observe your artwork from a variety of distances. How does it read from far away? And how does it look in different light?
Viewing proximity has a big affect on a painting’s impact. It’s a good thing to ponder as you’re walking to and from your work surface, squinting all the while, to be sure your art reads well at both close up and far off while it’s in process.
What’s the Best Size for Paintings?
You’ve probably already surmised that the answer is all sizes are great for art.
Curators will look for art that fits the theme, and the size, lighting and distance of the walls where the show will be hosted.
An art collector will search for a very particular width and height of art for an empty wall, or in reverse, launch a rapid-fire mental survey of their rooms to justify the purchase of a piece of your art they’ve fallen in love with.
When I participate in art festivals, the location has an impact on the size of the art I bring to the show. In San Diego, Little Italy is full of adorable little 1920’s bungalows, uphill from glass skyscrapers with ocean views all around.
The folks in the bungalows have niches, and smaller rooms with crown moulding and wide door/window trim wrestling for wall space.
The people in the skyscrapers have paid for views and walls made from glass, so they have narrow, vertical internal walls, and not many of them.
So, make art in all sorts of sizes to match the rooms and occasions of its potential exhibition space.
And in your experiments with art size, pay attention to the formats (small, large, rectangular, square, circular, etc.) you have the most fun with. Does that make sense to you?
Why Do I Paint Small?
If exhibits and festivals and collectors weren’t part of my art-making equation, I would paint small all the time.
If the painting you’re working on is small – 11×14 inches instead of 8×6 feet (my friend Nancy Eckels paints large) – you finish more often.
If you’re the type of human who feels encouraged by a sense of accomplishment, work small to ride the accomplishment into another start.
Planning to offer your work for sale online? Shipping small is wayyy easier than boxing, or crating for freight trucks. And it’s less costly.
Then, there is storage of the art. (We talked about that here.) Small art is also wonderful if you like to paint in un-painty spaces, like me – on the couch, at the kitchen counter, at the fire pit table on our deck, etc.
Making small art and keeping all the gear needed to paint it in a tote bag means I have a mobile studio to carry willy nilly into every room in the house. Do you paint small?
Thanks for stopping by today, and I’ll see you in the next post –
P.S. In this season of gratitude, can I just say that I’m grateful for you? I really am. Art-making is a solo endeavor, but when you and I sip tea and talk shop in this online art studio, it’s a sweet little break, with good company. And we never tire of talking about art supplies, art methods, or art subjects in here, either. Thank you for that.
One of the great cruelties and great glories of creative work is the wild discrepancy of timelines between vision and execution. When we dream up a project, we invariably underestimate the amount of time and effort required to make it a reality. Rather than a cognitive bug, perhaps this is the supreme coping mechanism of the creative mind – if we could see clearly the toil ahead at the outset of any creative endeavor, we might be too dispirited to begin, too reluctant to gamble between the heroic and the foolish, too paralyzed to walk the long and tenuous tightrope of hope and fear by which any worthwhile destination is reached.Maria Popova