Nancy’s Painting Blog

Painting Small but 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 posted here, and will be on exhibit at Art on Centre gallery, Amelia Island, Florida on January 11.

Join me in Florida! If you’re in northern Florida this coming weekend, please come by the gallery Saturday and say hello. I will there as the featured artist for Artwalk from 4 to 7 pm Saturday, January 11.

Please preview the show here, then read further for tips on painting small but big.

Sun at Dusk, 6″ x 8″, acrylic & oil pastel on cardboard

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

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

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

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

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

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 small but 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 expands the image, while also adding focus to the image. As you can see in this example, I added substantial size mats between the image and frame, along with 2″ width frames.




Additional resources:

Read more on this topic: Choosing the Right Canvas Size for Painting

Most of the paintings here were created with oil pastel. Read more about this exciting medium here: Oil Pastel – A Great Medium for Painters

My course Complete Guide to Acrylic Painting offers many techniques including painting with gold leaf.

Study with me online or in person. More info here.

6 thoughts on “Painting Small but Big

  1. 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

  2. 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.

    1. 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!

  3. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.