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The importance of scale in painting: Small and Large paintings

The importance of scale in painting: Small and Large paintings on ARTiful, painting demos by Sandrine Pelissier
Painting technique / Thoughts / Tips

The importance of scale in painting: Small and Large paintings

When you have to start a new painting, you have many decisions to take: What to paint, with what medium, etc… one of the most important decision to take is the scale of the painting, what size should you make it?

making a big scale painting

If you have been gallery hopping, you might have noticed that most artists working with prominent galleries are usually working on a big scale.

Then on the other side, it might be interesting for your customers to be able to afford your work at a variety of sizes and prices. Also, not everyone might have a free wall at home that can accommodate a 4 x 8 feet painting.


I personally find that some subjects in my paintings will work better on a smaller scale and some will work better on a larger scale.

For exemple I like painting my flower paintings from imagination on a small scale: 12 x 12 inches canvas or board.

You might also be interested in: No more framing : How to mount yupo paper on board

small flower painting from imagination

In Oslo, mixed media on yupo paper mounted on board 12 x 12 inches

I also like to draw on a relatively small scale as it would be too much time consuming to work very big.

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Some styles will lend themselves better to very large scale, I am thinking about abstract expressionism for exemple.

Any painting with a lot of patterns and no clear focal point will usually work better on a large scale. Working big might also encourage you to paint in a looser or more abstract style.

Big forest painting

Also, some forms of art that can look very casual at a smaller scale, like doodling can make a totally different impression on a very large scale.

doodles and zentangles on a large scale painting

Doodling can look very different on a large scale.

big tree cookie painting with patterns

Life Geometry, ink and mixed media on canvas

It is the same in sculpture and installations, what can give impact to a simple idea in a work is the prodigious repetition of simple elements.

I am thinking about works of Art like “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”

big art installation

“Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red IMG 1747” by Deror_aviOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

From Wikipedia:”Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was a work of installation art placed in the moat of the Tower of London, England, between July and November 2014, commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. It consisted of 888,246 ceramic red poppies, each intended to represent one British or Colonial serviceman killed in the War. The artist was Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper.[2] The work’s title was taken from the first line of a poem by an unknown World War I soldier.”

What are your preferences, do you enjoy better working on small pieces or very large canvasses ?

2/5 - (2 votes)

Comments (2)

  1. I’ve just started working in watercolour on canvas and am loving the freedom of working big – so far the biggest is 120x100cm. It brings its own challenges, including not have arms long enough! I think it is hard to work expressively on a small scale, but that small studies in say pen and wash, can have a charm of their own. It’s all horses for courses and it is really good to stop you getting stuck in a rut to either vary the size of your painting, or the format – go square, go long and thin or tall and vertical.

    1. Yes, good points!
      I am also struggling sometimes to reach the centre part of big canvas:)
      I agree with you, changing sizes can add a bit of spice and excitement.

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