I started this post with the dreaded double dog dare headline. At least I didn’t breach dare etiquette and skip to the triple dog dare. But I wanted to catch your attention because if you’ve ever felt like your painting is hitting a roadblock – you may want to try painting larger and with larger brushes. Say what?
I was beginning to think I’d hit a roadblock. All of my paintings were starting to look the same to me. Was it the colors? No. Was it the subjects? No. What was bothering me? Was it the painting size? Yes. It was the painting size. I was getting wrapped around the detail.
When I first started really painting again I took a workshop where the instructor said to “paint big”, “use big brushes”, “paint fast”, and “paint bold”. Paint with confidence he said. We painted on 24×30″ canvas panels for a still life workshop. Some in the class did not complete a painting because they were so used to painting on 9×12″ or 11×14″ panels that jumping up a few weight classes totally overwhelmed them. Thankfully, I didn’t know any better so I went for it. As they say, ignorance can be bliss.
Then I started painting outside. I very quickly lost my nerve and went back to the smaller sizes because conventional wisdom said you have only a short amount of time (approximately 90 minutes) before the sun changes so much that the light has shifted. Surely you can’t paint a large panel in 90 minutes.
Or can you?
I’m coming back around to the idea you can paint large and fast and bold and complete in a short amount of time. I normally paint on an 11×14″ panel (154 square inches). I’ve recently started painting on 16×20″ (320 square inches). Essentially I’ve doubled my canvas area.
As with anything new, the results are mixed. I painted this the other morning (ok so I forgot the 10×20″ panel but duct taped two 11×14″ together) and I was quite pleased with the alla prima/plein air piece:
I’m learning that a larger brush feels more like painting with a knife. It’s looser and I’m not hesitating over every single stroke. Painting flows better for me. This may sound “zen-ish” but you have to believe it is the right color, the right value and the right placement each and every stroke.
However, there will be those times
I had a 16×20″ the other day that fought me all the way in the field. Back in the studio it threw a hissy fit when I reworked it. When I re-reworked it, it was in a full-on tantrum. However, after a plein air and two studio sessions, it finally calmed down enough to become a painting. While it’s no longer an “alla prima /plein air” piece like I normally do, I still like it.
The point is, why not try something new? You owe it to yourself. Pull out a large board – try doubling your normal size if you can. For example, if you normally paint 9×12″ or 11×14″ try moving up to a 16×20″. Then grab your largest brushes and let the games begin. What have you to lose? I promise, no one will come to take your birthday away. No one has to see what you did other than you. This is between you and your brush. It’s like singing in the shower – it’s a private affair.
What I’ve learned
Moving to a larger painting size has:
- Allowed me to become looser with the brush
- Helped me make faster painting decisions
- Enabled me to be more relaxed while painting
- Given me space to move the composition around
- Allowed me to express myself better
Hope you take a chance. Let me know what happens.