Wilde Meyer Gallery, "The Gem Show" Scottsdale, December 2011
Unless you’re a miniaturist, painting in a small format can be challenging. Certainly, abstract painters prefer a large canvas. Since there are no figurative images, they need the size to make a powerful statement with form, composition and color. But painters who employ realism also have to rethink their skills: they have to simplify and create a way to draw the viewer into a small space.
If you’re used to working with large brushes or palette knives, it can be weird to switch to a small brush. Since I don’t use very large brushes, this doesn’t present a problem. For me, it’s more about choosing subject matter that will work in a small space, and creating a composition that’s the right scale. I wondered what other Wilde Meyer artists had to say about making small paintings, and since the gallery has its annual Gem Show up right now, I decided to call a few people.
First, I spoke with Judith D'Agostino, who lives in Santa Fe. She had been an abstract painter, but began plein air painting in 2005. She committed to doing a painting a day, so she started taking small canvases on her trips to paint landscapes.
Italian Landscape, 12"x18"
“There is a learning curve to painting small,” she said. “You need to simplify and create an intimate environment. But it’s a useful exercise to paint on a small scale, and these paintings often become ideas for larger ones.”
What Are You Looking At? 7"x5"
When she’s painting small, Judith often turns to another subject. In this painting, entitled “What Are You Looking At?,” she’s used a canvas that’s 7” X 5” and "Taking a Break" that's 6" X 8".
Suzanne Betz, a painter from Taos, alternates between small and large paintings. "Changing the size exercises my creativity,” she says. “That way, I don’t get locked into one mode of painting. My smaller pieces are intimate and open to interpretation by the viewer.”
Suzanne uses mixed media, painting in water-soluble mediums on drafting film. She can cut the film to any size, so she can quickly select the format she wants. Her goal is to achieve transparency, and she works in many layers. These small paintings, which measure 6”X6” and 5”X5,” are covered with plexiglass, which add another layer to her work.
When I talked with Deb Komitor, who lives in Colorado Springs, she said that she’d rather paint “huge,” but her car isn’t big enough! So, I guess practicality also enters into the equation. Like Suzanne, Deb enjoys switching back and forth, between large and small paintings. She, too, says it gets the creative juices flowing.
The Protector 39.5"x11.75"
“By varying the painting sizes, the rhythm of my painting process keeps changing. It keeps me from getting stale and repetitious, since I use different images and the paint application is different.”
Honoring Joy 7"x5"
Deb paints mainly on wood – she uses panel boards for her small format work, and actually paints on wood doors for her large pieces (I guess she borrows someone’s truck). She recently painted a series of small pieces in an iconic style, which she says is her “way of honoring these animals.”
You can see this technique in her beautiful hummingbird painting called “Honoring Joy,” which measures 7”X 5”, as well as “Connecting Heaven and Earth,” which measures 5”X7.” Both birds have the gold halo that is inherent in icon paintings.
Tracy Miller also lives in Colorado Springs, and enjoys painting wildlife. Her expressionistic style and love of color make her work quite unique.
She starts with an abstract painting, getting colors to vibrate off one another. Then an image comes to mind, and as she defines it, an animal is created! You can see an example of her technique in this small painting of bears called “Mama and Baby Bear,” above, as well as the buffalo in “Buffalo Study 47,” shown below.
Buffalo Study 47, 5"x7"
Tracy likes to “mix things up,” painting in larger and smaller formats.
“The small pieces are great for first-time collectors,” she says. “It’s important to introduce your work to people at an affordable price. Also, painting small is instant gratification!”
From these artists’ comments, I guess you could say that working in a small format is both liberating and limiting. I’m going to end this blog now, so I can face the challenge of a small painting!