Behind the scenes #6 – The power of painting small

The power of painting small warercolors

Those few who have seen my illustrations in real life know that most of them are A5-A6 size images. This habit of painting small is not based on an academically supported decision, but on an observation of the mere fact: it is simply good to paint watercolours in small size. What’s more, it is liberating, satisfying, and certainly makes life easier.

Where I started…

At the beginning of my watercolour career I bought a block of B4 sized watercolour papers (B4 is a few cm-s bigger than A4). There are still a few pages left of the original 200 but during the past year I ended up cutting several of them in half. So initially I had started painting in B4 size and I experienced the following:

  • blank canvas syndrome: I am sitting over a white sheet of paper and I have no idea how the heck I’m gonna fill this (seemingly) huge surface, so instead of starting I just pack away my art supplies and don’t do art at all
  • if I don’t pack them away: I am unable to spread the paint evenly on large surfaces
  • my 0-2-4-6 sized brushes are not suitable for surfaces of this size. Indeed, minute details painted with a 0-sized brush actually disappear on large paper

Take notice of the fact that I am not talking about A0 sized giant sheets, but watercolour paper only slightly bigger than A4. Obviously, I have some kind of complex..

The wisdom

I have an artist friend and during one of our “deep” discussions about art he mentioned the following:

Everyone likes to work on a different scale. Some like to fulfil their creativity on thousands of m2-s, others like to design teapots, and further people like to niggle at miniscule jewellery with tweezers.

So  here comes the evident answer: an A3-A4 sized paper is out of my comfort zone (not to mention buildings. Hello, I’m an architect by profession :D). So instead of despearing I started cutting my B4 watercolour papers in half.

The power of painting small warercolors

A piece from the series ‘forest animals’ (A6)

Universal truth: working in small is great for all beginners

Apart from the fact that I actually like small sizes, there are a few universal advantages to painting in small – at least when it comes to watercolours. I like this size because

  • it brings instant success
  • it doesn’t seem such a waste if I screw it up, so
  • it is good for experimenting
  • it can easily be carried around in a bag
  • it is easy to manage it even on a small desk
  • the blank paper doesn’t make me feel anxious, as it doesn’t feel impossible to paint a smaller surface

These advantages make small size really good for beginners who don’t trust themselves. After all, size doesn’t matter when it comes to enjoying the process of creating. However small you work, the experience is the same.

When I actually use large paper…

Of course, circumstances sometimes need me to work in bigger size. Obviously, a larger painting means working more on small details, so I think it also requires better drawing/painting skills and different equipment. All my downloadable calendars last year were originally painted on the previously mentioned B4 sized watercolour papers, but I have also completed illustrations in A3 with aniline (definitely out of my comfort zone!).

It is interesting to see how artists can stretch the boundaries when it comes to size. Contemporary Swedish watercolourist Lars Lerin paints pictures so large that they exceed the biggest watercolour papers manufactured, so he glues several ones together. A respectful approach indeed…

Postscript

The above mentioned experiences are specifically true of watercolours. I have used other mediums where it is actually a disadvantage if you try to work small, like charcoal or pastels. If you work with other supplies, it is best if you experiment with size: what is it that works best for you and best for the medium?

In what sized do you like to work? Share in the comments below!

The power of painting small warercolors


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