I want to discuss the size of surface I paint on and how that affects my work. This topic was inspired by a submission that called for work in the 5” x 7” range. I missed the deadline because, as it turns out, very small paintings of landscapes aren’t that easy to do well.

I recently painted the two landscapes above. The larger painting, 12”x12”, was completed on location plein air. As the storm moved in I found it difficult to capture what I saw. Those shades of gray moved like crazy. The clouds had so much drama that it was an effort to get it down on the panel and then leave it alone. . Another weather system came my direction but behind me. I wasn’t aware of it until the white flakes started coming down which sent me scrambling to pack up. After I got home, I painted the small, 5”x 7”, in the studio relying on memory and the larger painting as reference. This smaller painting came only because I was unhappy with how I rendered the mass of clouds on the first one. The interesting thing with plein air and studio work is that you can’t duplicate or copy because it can never be the same.

[Detail of “Jahangir Shoots the Head of Malik Ambar” Folio from the Minto Album, by Abu’L Hasan, 1616]

I’ve always been drawn to Indian miniatures. This painting above looks big but in reality it is about 10” x 6”. The screen distorts scale so it looks much bigger. This is an early 17th c. Mughal by Abu’l Hasan and part of a larger Folio. I took the photo from a post card the Metropolitan gave out when I viewed the exhibition. It was important enough for me to bring the card with me when I moved. This otherworldly painting is a landscape of sorts and a slow read. The complex narrative offers glimpses of a moment in time with precision and detail. This piece is an example of small scale at it’s best.

It is harder to relate to scale when viewing online After all, the size of a painting relates to the human form and for me what I’m capable of physically handling. The third painting I’m showing was painted in my Brooklyn studio – where I could work large. This painting is 60” x 60,” a much bigger size than the plein air panels I’m painting on now. I painted this in 2017 as part of a series that incorporated architectural elements within a fictional landscape. No visual references, intuitively painted and more about the unseen.

Does scale make a difference? In looking at images for this post it doesn’t appear that it does. I think it’s difficult to consider this question because the screen makes all the paintings above the same size. [A topic worthy of its own discussion] Personally I enjoy painting larger but I don’t have a big indoor studio now. This post is a shout out to the God of Studios for a larger space. In the meantime I go to the great outdoors and I am happy to do so.

  • Bennett Harris Horowitz

    April 10, 2021 at 2:06 pm

    I think scale makes a great deal of difference in the creation of a work. Several years ago I switched from 24×18” to 48×36”… same proportions. This enabled me to be much more physical with paint application, including using larger brushes without feeling like I had to fuss with a fine point for details. And I was able to welcome drips and runny washes to help create simulated textures of natural forms, such as rock faces. Similarly, scale affects the viewing; when these paintings are scaled down to an iPhone screen, those various textures are lost.

  • Janet Pedersen

    April 10, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    Interesting point you make about size Nancy especially since many works are viewed to a standard small online format. Painting larger is such a different experience than painting a smaller canvas. I like that you gathered your energy to repaint your square landscape to a different format. It works better in my opinion! Lastly, I paint outside because my studio is small and I can’t take the paint fumes, now back to oil. :0).

  • Alison Chandler

    April 18, 2021 at 1:33 pm

    Nancy, this is an intriguing juxtaposition of images. I like the smaller version of your landscape–though it was painted indoors, it hasn’t lost the feeling of plein air. And since you show the Indian miniature from the Met show, and beneath it your large 60″ x 60″ canvas, the large canvas also appears on the computer screen as an Indian miniature. I can imagine Krishna and Radha in a nighttime embrace behind the blue/gray curtain of paint!