Creating Small Paintings that Feel Big

Size matters. At least for painters. Small paintings appeal to us like a precious gem. Medium sizes self-reflect like a mirror. Larger sizes evoke an expansive space. The size of a painting significantly affects a viewer’s experience.

With this in mind I recently painted a series of small works that feel big. These are on exhibit at Art on Centre gallery, Amelia Island, Florida.

Preview the show here, then scroll down further for tips on painting small but big.

Abstract colorful pastel painting background.
Sun at Dusk, 6″ x 8″, acrylic & oil pastel on cardboard
Abstract watercolor painting with blue and orange hues.

Sand Dunes, 6″ x 8″, acrylic and oil pastel on wood panel

Autumn Chama River, 8″ x 10″, oil pastel on bristol paper

Impressionist style landscape painting of river and trees

Violet River, 6″ x 8″, oil pastel on bristol paper

Golden Moon, 8″ x 10″, acrylic & gold leaf on wood panel

Abstract multicolored textured painting.

Stardust, 6″ x 8″, acrylic & oil pastel on cardboard

Abstract pastel textured painting.

The Dream, 8″ x 6″, acrylic & oil pastel on cardboard

Before the Rain, 6″ x 6″, acrylic & oil pastel on wood panel

Candy Land, 10″ x 8″, acrylic & gold leaf on wood panel


How to paint in small sizes, with images that FEEL BIG

I love painting large. There’s more room to dance around the painting, make dramatic marks and add big sweeps of color. Painting small has its advantages too. For instance its easier to work smaller when painting outdoors. Working small allows me to quickly move from one painting to the next. It also keeps me inspired by switching from large to small sizes and back again.

For this series of nine small paintings, edges range in size from 6″ to at most 10″. Even though these are quite small, I feel as though they depict a larger space. Here’s what I discovered helps small to feel big.


1. Think big

While in the process of painting, I am aware of how I feel, and imagine I am in an expansive space. I think about the image I am painting as unbounded by the edges of the painting surface.

2. Don’t stop at the edge

I prop up my paintings and make sure I have plenty of elbow room on all sides. This allows my arm the freedom to move off the edge, while applying a brush stroke. In this way the image visibly extends beyond the edges too.

3. Paint several small pieces at the same time

This avoids overworking any one piece in particular. Keeping them light, fresh and overburdened offers a more expansive spatial feel. In addition, paintings made together often work well as a series, since they tend to mirror each other. This compatibility means they hang well together in an exhibit, creating a larger presence.

4. Frame small paintings


Adding a frame gives the illusion it is larger, while also bringing attention and focus to the image. As an example, this framed piece has ample width mats, and along with 2″ width frames brings welcome space around the image.

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  1. Painting Small Houses

    Small or large sizes paintings are all great. It’s not about the size of the frames, but it’s the painter’s heart and effort that is put into the work.

  2. Catherine Bast

    Thanks for your reply Nancy. I agree that small paintings 6×6 or so need frames when hung on a wall. Your local framer has a wonderful selection of frames.

    Best of luck in your show.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Thanks Catherine!

  3. Catherine Bast

    These are all so beautiful Nancy, it would be difficult to pick just one – that’s if you had to pick only one. I don’t live close enough to attend the show, but appreciate seeing it online. The one in the frame is stunning. Are they all framed like that? Would you share where you purchase your frames? My small paintings are on gallery wrap canvas and I call them bookshelf gems.

    Have a BLESSED and prosperous 2020.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Catherine, Thank you for your comment and kind words about these new small paintings. I went to a local framer and picked out the frames I like. Each one of the nine paintings in the show are framed, but each one a bit different. The one I put on this post is my favorite. It uses real gold leaf on a wood frame, with a 3″ mat all around and glass over the painting because it has oil pastel. You can paint the sides of gallery wrap canvas for a nice finished look. However, for the small ones I think the frame helps keep them from feeling lost on the wall. That’s fun that you call your paintings bookshelf gems – love it!

  4. Mary Mirabal

    Love these beautiful little gems Nancy. So wish I lived closer so I could come out and see you and these lovelies in person.

    Wishing you all the best in 2020.

    Mary Mirabal

    • Nancy Reyner

      Mary you are very kind. Wishing you a great new year too!

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About Nancy

Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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