Shrink Your Painting–Does It Still Work?

What Makes Small Canvas Paintings Loom Large?

Philadelphia Story II--Spires by Sarah Yeoman, watercolor painting, 14 x 20.
Philadelphia Story II–Spires by Sarah Yeoman, watercolor painting, 14 x 20.

I don’t mean literally shrink it, though small canvas paintings are proving more and more popular these days, but if you take a photo of your painting and reduce it to the size of a thumbnail and it still holds together compositionally, you’ve got a good piece on your hands. In the same way, if you are a size queen or king and worry about the ability of small canvas paintings to command large scale attention–don’t be. It really isn’t the size of the art that matters–it is the execution.

For this success to happen, big shapes matter and so does perspective. I look at thumbnail size images everyday and if a painting has the ability to catch my eye when it is that small, I know it is worth a second look no matter its size, and usually it either has a strong underlying perspective drawing grounding the composition, or interesting shapes that lead you through the work.

In our Member Gallery on Artist Daily, stamp-size images are all we see at first glance. Here are a few paintings from the gallery created by artists from our community whose works rock on the small scale because they are spatially strong and employ an interesting use of linear perspective.

Sarah Yeoman’s use of perspective in Philadelphia Story II–Spires immediately caught my eye. The fact that the building isn’t front and center allows for an interesting profile of the buildings to be created on the left. The diagonal lines marking the corners of the building give the illusion of lightness and soaring heights.

Very Large Array II by Kisu, oil painting, 18 x 36.
Very Large Array II by Kisu, oil painting, 18 x 36.

The atmospheric illusion of vast distances is obvious in Kisu’s work, Very Large Array II. The low horizon line allows the sky to take on a sense of volume that wouldn’t otherwise be as successful.

Sunset Dreamin’ by Frank Weitzman is an otherworldly scene that I find as preternaturally still as I do beautiful. The artist reverses the traditional use of atmospheric perspective by using light, not dark, toward the farthest reaches of the scene. The light pulls the viewer forward into the composition and the vanishing point in this one-point perspective setup becomes the setting sun.

Sunset Dreamin' by Frank Weitzman, oil on canvas, 30 x 40.
Sunset Dreamin’ by Frank Weitzman,
oil on canvas, 30 x 40.

Think Big, Paint Small with Joyce Washor is tailored specifically to teach artists how create believable and interesting spatial arrangements in their work on the small scale. If you want to know that your work holds together no matter where or how it is viewed, from full-scale to thumbnail size, this resource may be a good place to start. Enjoy!

Check out the trailer of the book below–you’ll see in seconds why painting small is easier, better, and definitely faster!


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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

4 thoughts on “Shrink Your Painting–Does It Still Work?

  1. This is a technique I have long used. I tend to photograph a work repeatedly throughout the process and look at it small. This allows me to correct errors as I go along and learn from them in future pieces. I have done this because I am an artist with visual problems and the only way I can really see the painting fully is when it is small. I started out as a photographer in black and white, and I have never been a fan of digital cameras, save for this one thing…seeing the photo instantly. I never thought the digital camera would become such a valuable painting tool.

  2. Courtney,
    Thank you for including my painting Sunset Dreamin’ in your article. Also the kind, encouraging comments, especially “preternaturally still as I do beautiful”
    Most of my clients comment on how calm, quiet, peaceful, and serene my paintings are. Those feeling express perfectly why I paint, especially around water and the coastlines.
    In my paintings I use perspective often within the compositions, values of color to enhance the depth and light to create the atmosphere.
    Thank you again, and I can’t wait to paint tomorrow !

  3. This is a really good idea. I used to use a reducing glass to view my paintings. I have long forgotten about this. Thanks for the reminder.

    Another trick is to take a digital image of your work and turn it into a black and white image. This is great for seeing if your values are working. Some one also showed me a trick to see values, is to view the scene/your painting through a ruby lith or red transparent acetate/ red gel.