Sunday, July 05, 2009


"Study, Afternoon Sparkle"
Oil on Panel

One of my big painting goals last year was quantity - I wanted to paint 100 paintings in 2008 to make sure I was putting in sufficient brush mileage to improve. This year I decided to go for quality, and I've been working on larger pieces and taking my time trying to get things right.

One thing I've noticed over the past few months is that I really don't like to work small. Pretty much anything smaller than 16x20" gives me fits, and paintings in the 24x30" to 30x40" range have been feeling the most comfortable for me. I think the reason is that the bigger panels allow me more room to play with brushwork and color within the main shapes of the painting. I've found myself really struggling to abbreviate things well enough in the smaller sizes.

At first I just figured I'd go with my gut and work on larger stuff. Then I found myself getting requests from galleries for smaller work, and ended up struggling through a bunch of smaller pieces anyhow, fighting the process all the way and telling myself I'd give up the small stuff when the economy improved. But this past week I realized I was giving up a bit, and decided to change my attitude.

I already limit my subject matter by painting landscapes, so why limit myself further by saying I prefer to work in a certain size range? I decided maybe I shouldn't be imposing more limitations on myself, and that maybe I should rise to the challenge and figure out what it is about working small that bugs me. I think it's a lack of control - in an 8x10" painting, each brushstroke and color has to be in the correct spot or things get sloppy, and I have a hard time controlling things well enough. Turns out my distaste for the small stuff is highlighting a big weakness.

So, I'm going to approach the small stuff with a better attitude, and see how I can improve my brush control and drawing by working on smaller studies. Hopefully I can get it right, and learn something along the way.

Do you impose limitations on your work to ultimately hide or ignore your weaknesses? I think it do it more often than I know!


  1. Great topic Stacy,

    I find larger pieces (such as the 24 X 36 and larger) to be overwhelming at times. I enjoy the room to paint but I find myself struggling with space. For me 16 X 20 is ideal and I am working on trying some 6 x 8 to work on brush control.

    As for limitations, I avoid portraits - I am skeeeeered. I am afraid to even try in oils. I limited my work to oils a few years ago and drawing is no problem but oils pose a new challenge I am afraid to work out. I hope to mess around with trying portraits soon.

    My other limitation is thinking everything I do has to be a masterpiece. I don't produce enough and I fail to create for the fear of making bad paintings that will not sell.

    Your post makes me wonder if I would push through my own limitations maybe I would start achieving my goals. Like I said, great topic!


  2. Beautiful paintings Stacy. I think it is like shoes: you got to wear the size that is right for you otherwise you got other problems. Your analysis of why you paint big suggests to me that you put in more detail in your own way and for your subject. it will be interesting to see how you take this forward. r.

  3. I feel if I can’t make the right design/artistic choices when I paint small, going large just adds another layer of challenge and difficulty for me. That said, I really like the idea of sinking my teeth into a large canvas. For now, I am sticking with 11x14 and slightly larger for my main projects with a few 8x10’s thrown in when I am pinched for time. I would like to go larger at some point but I feel I need to be producing smaller stuff that I consistently like first. Now, as a collector, I like buying primarily 9x12 to 30x40 from established artists. I imagine the economy has a bunch to do with the smaller works requests. I appreciate a nicely done small painting just as much as a large one. One of my Moore pieces is a 9x12 that has a very high level of execution (IMHO) and I love looking at it. I budget for about one big painting per year but like being able to acquire smaller works spontaneously when I see something that grabs me.

  4. Your smaller painting looks fine to me. I can imagine it is frustrating to paint small paintings after painting so many larger ones. I have the opposite problem, I have been painting small paintings for for over 3 years and find it hard to paint to a larger format now. I think one gets stuck in a groove after a while that is hard to break out of.

  5. Mike - I like what you said about thinking everything has to be a masterpiece being a limitation. I think that gets right to the bottom of why it's hard for all of us to get out of our comfort zones!

    Rahina - I think you're right, part of it is a detail issue. I don't like to use small brushes, so things I can do in a big painting are downright impossible on a small scale - I have to work through it.

    Lee - I think the galleries *think* people will be more willing to buy smaller, more affordable pieces in this economy, but I've found that my medium/large work is selling just as well as the small stuff. Your perspective on what you collect is exactly why I think it's good to have a range of things available - you just never know what will knock someon's socks off.

    Diana - I scrape a lot of small paintings before they get very far, maybe becuase I know I haven't spent much time so if they aren't working I'm not losing much! I agree with you - it's easy to get stuck in a rut.

  6. I have every faith in you. Your little paintings will sing just as your larger pieces do.

  7. Hi Stacey,
    I don't think it's a "weakness" necessarily that you feel you're better at one size than another. That would mean that not being able to paint the side of a building in a supersized painting is a weakness. Given constraints of time and personal likes/dislikes, we need to choose our battles, with a little wandering into new areas from time to time to spice things up, but without a commitment to "go there" on a regular basis.
    With regard to galleries wanting smaller pieces, it might not just be the economy: some collectors' walls are so full of large paintings that they can only accommodate smaller pieces now. I overhead a collector say that one year at the Masters of the American West event at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles, so it must be so :).
    Kendra Page

  8. I've been painting a number of still lifes lately, and have discovered that I despise painting flowers. Painting each petal makes me want to pull my hair out! So, I arrange all my still lifes with fruit and vases only...which is boring enough to paint as it is, but still beats flowers.

    By the way, I think some of your small paintings that you have posted are really nice! They seem to have a somewhat "looser" quality than your larger works, which are great in their own right. I really like the one you have posted here; it's beautiful.

  9. Good observation. I have just the opposite problem. I love painting small. I can get one done in one session, I love the expressiveness of my brushwork. When I try to paint larger I can't seem to get that same energy to them and I tend to overwork them. Probably not a matter of weakness, most likely stepping out of our comfort zones. Technique has to change when switching from small to large. The handing and sizes of the brushes, the amounts of paint etc. At least for me that's the case. You seem to have made the transition quite successfully!

  10. Stacey, I have found that painting studies, 6"x8" or 8"x10" in plein air has helped me with my need to have detail in every inch of my paintings. Time limits force me to be brief with my strokes. While these may not be finished works ready for the gallery, there are glimpses of real beauty created in a moment of intense concentration. Just be a student every once in a while, set a timer so you can't over noodle, have fun. Anne Spoon

  11. onpainting - Thanks for the vote of confidence! I just keep plugging away =)

    Kendra - that's good point about collectors running out of wall space, and I think it shows why it's good to have a range of sizes available no matter what the market is doing.

    Deb - it seems like a lot of people have the opposite problem (prefer painting small). I agree that it's just a comfort zone thing - it's tough to switch gears.

    Ann - I agree that the small stuff is great for keeping things loose. I'm not normally a noodler (I probably quit too soon sometimes!), so I almost feel like sometimes my small works are so unfinished as to seem refined. Who knows - I'm still figuring it out!