Go Big or Get Out: Making Art Larger

In a recent meeting for an art project, the partner agency's representative told a story about attending a prestigious art school years ago. His instructors all wanted students to paint large works. They said, "Go big or get out." I use pastels and typically most artist consider 16x20 large due to the medium. This blog explores the challenges I faced going to 25x40 pastel.

"A Crack in the Line of Trees" 25x40

Pre-planning Helped Increase Areas of Interest

By using a 4x6 color pastel mini painting, I was able to first work out where the lights and darks would be, much as I do with thumbnails. But in this larger work I wanted to know exactly where the tree tops met the sky, where the light reflections would fall in the foreground and of coarse where the light broke through the line of trees.

This pre-planning allowed me to then add textured gesso and build the areas of highlight into higher relief using acrylic modeling pastes. The higher than normal relief causes problems of its own.

Grinding Down Pastels at $6 a Stick

Previous experiments with super high relief grounds and pastels taught me to not paint with sticks of pastels until all the gaps and holes of the texture have some basic color. My first test showed me quickly how most of the $6 stick ended up in the tray and not on the canvas when using high relief.

The solution to save pastels was to place the large pastel flat -- counter intuitive for pastel artists. Using small yogurt cups, I put chips of color into them, smashed them into powder, added water and painted in the color.

This is another reason why I worked from a color 4x6, it let me know about what color I needed to paint into the rough ground. Only after the entire surface had pastel color bases added, then I added light coats over the texture in layers until I built up the colors and balanced them.

The Basic Cross Composition Design

The 4x6 study used the cross composition to create a center of interest.

What I learned

  • Experiment on smaller pieces to solve problems before going large

  • I need to be willing to think outside of the box, counter intuitive if necessary to solve problems

  • After working small, the small color paintings can be a gauge to tell me if I want to try something larger. I don't think I am at a point to just grab a 30x40 canvas and start from scratch. Work my way up to the larger formats.

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