Small is Beautiful

They say that size doesn’t matter. But I have to disagree, to a certain extent. When an artist creates a new piece of artwork, one of the first things they will need to think about is how large the piece is going to be. This of course is decided partly by what the work is for – what space is it going to fill?

As an example, for the Stratford Hospital commission I completed in 2019, one of the paintings was the largest one I’ve yet done, at 1.5m x 1m. That doesn’t sound all that large, until you actually see a blank canvas of that size in front of you. Let me tell you, it is a daunting prospect, especially if you are an artist who tends to paint with a lot of detail, like me.

The River beneath the Fairy Glen, 1.5 x1.0 metres

I have no idea how the artists of yesteryear painted the vast canvases they did – large enough to fill an entire wall. If you have ever visited the Tate Gallery in London, you may have seen this painting, by John Martin:

“The Great day of His Wrath”, by John Martin, 1853

This painting measures 2 metres by 3 metres. It’s absolutely vast. One has to assume that much of it was painted up a step-ladder.

But one thing that can be said of such a painting, is that it certainly makes an impression. You can’t miss it. The difficulty is that very few people would have room to hang such a behemoth. To say nothing of the desire to hang it – would you want it hanging in your lounge? Yet the theme of apocalypse demands such a scale – any smaller and much of its impact would be lost. It’s like standing in front of a movie screen. Transfer the film to a little TV set, and much of the impact is lost.

So I’m about to embark on another large painting. It’ll be another 1.5 x 1.0m canvas. I’m not sure many people will want to buy something so large, but I feel I need to create something that really makes a statement. So my first challenge is to decide on a theme. What sort of landscape would demand such a scale?

On the other hand, just to prove that small is indeed beautiful, I’ve been working on some mini landscapes recently. The smallest are A5 is size. They’re still quite detailed, but they work quite well on the smaller scale.

I’m painting these partly for my own sanity, and also for purely commercial reasons. Sanity-wise, they’re quite quick, so they don’t defeat me quite so readily. They’re easy wins. Commercially, they’re going to be more appealing to people on a budget, or who have limited space in their homes.

But they don’t have to be that small – today I finished an A4 canvas of a section of Cornish coastline which again, was a relatively easy win. You see, a large canvas is going to take me so long to complete, that I will never be able to get a good return on it unless I put a huge price on it. And that takes such work out of the reach of casual art buyers.

So small can be beautiful. Huge can be flipping fantastic in its ability to make a statement, but generally the likelihood of a sale is inversely proportional to it’s size – unless of course I attract a client with lots of money and space. Here’s hoping!

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