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About Painting Large

Updated: Mar 12

I recently had an email asking me about painting bigger paintings, around the same time one of the groups I teach for Mastrius: Master Artist Mentorship Community asked if I could demonstrate how I do a larger painting. We had a lively discussion and here is the takeaway.


Painting BIG can be very liberating. I can almost guarantee you will get hooked. As addicting as it can be, there is something to consider when painting on a large scale - LESS is not more…..You will need MORE, lots more.


MORE Space.

More space is required, both in your studio and in your vehicle. You need to be able to move a big canvas around in your studio. If your easel isn’t big enough you may need to use a stool or a ladder, and thus you need space for the said ladder. (Also, if your easel isn’t big enough, I know a guy…) You also need to be able to back up far enough from your work to see it in its entirety. Plus, you will also need to be able to transport the canvas to your studio and from there to the gallery or straight to your client.


MORE Lighting.

Do you have good, even, lighting for a larger canvas? Spotty lighting makes for spotty colours and bad harmonies.


MORE Paint.

It takes a lot of paint to cover a large canvas. More medium. Especially if you’re working in acrylics. You will need more medium and perhaps more of whatever else you extend your paint with. Again, if you need more of any of these things, I know a guy…


MORE Palette Space.

You’re going to need a larger palette. Meat trays and little round dollar store palettes won’t cut it. A big sheet of glass will work for you oil painters, and a table covered in heavy poly or butcher paper works great for acrylic painters who need larger palette space.


MORE Supplies.

Besides paint, think rags, paper towels, and more and bigger brushes... More varnish.


MORE Time.

Don’t start if you don’t have the time to work on the big guys. You will need more time to work out your design and consider your composition. This means more prep time. Sketches and studies, studies and sketches. Nasty blunders can be hidden on a small canvas but BIG and UGLY is a whole other nightmare awaiting.


Think about these things the next time you want to go big, just so YOU get to choose when you wanna go home:


  • The size of the canvas must relate to your study. Not all big canvases come in sizes that are proportional to their smaller counterparts.


  • Make your study work for you.


  • Take out the cross braces. Bigger canvas can be softer and a bit floppier. These dang bars are just an annoyance when they start to show up through your work when you apply pressure over them. You can replace them after you’re done.


  • Make sure your drawing has been translated correctly from your studies. I can’t stress this enough. This is where most students fall off the rails. As I have said many times before, 90% of problems in a work have occurred in the first 5 minutes. If your drawing and proportions are not accurate to your study you will have some major surgery to do later on.


  • Smaller paintings have a jewel-like quality about them. The brush marks transition more easily from one passage to another. What a #6 brush mark says on an 8x10 will not translate to a #24 on a 40x50. They just don’t read the same. Bigger brushes will give you the coverage you’re looking for, but these larger spaces will need some finessing to get a good read. In larger shapes, you will need to use more temperature shifts than brush marks. Keep your shifts close in value or they will “pop” and look out of place.


  • Puddle paint as much as you can. It’s not so hard to achieve unity in a smaller painting but bigger paintings tend to separate and get patchy. Puddle painting will allow you to maintain some of all the colours you’re using in each new colour you make. This will bring overall harmony to your work.

- (‘puddle painting’. Making a large puddle of a dominant colour, and then mixing all the other colours using the main puddle colour as a base and all other colours as off-shoots from this puddle will help achieve harmony in your work.)


  • Break the painting up into sections the best that you can. Don't get overwhelmed. Just work one area at a time, bringing that bit up to a place that is comfortable, and then move to the next. Rome wasn’t built in a day.


  • Establish your large shapes and then key in the light and shadow areas.


  • The reserve is strength. Don’t get in too deep too early. Get your values in correctly first. You can ramp up the colour later.


  • Start by breaking the surface. If you’re unfamiliar with the drawing part or unsure about your composition use charcoal as you can easily erase it. Don’t move on until you’re 100% sure your drawing is accurate. Even if you’re painting more abstractly you still need a solid foundation to build upon.


  • Make sure your drawing is accurate right out of the gate. Spend as much time as you need to make sure your composition reads well.

And, remember to have fun.

Painting big can be a very freeing experience.


Your friend in art,

Doug.

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