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Improve your Painting Faster by going Small.

Art Blog how to paint painting advice Painting Technique

Are you a beginner, or just learning a new technique or subject?

Want to fast track your improvement?

Lets face it we all would love to paint a large impressive painting that we can really be proud of. So should we just paint a big canvas and hope it turns out the way we want? I say no.

I don't know about you but I find those big canvases can be pretty intimidating. For me a lot of preparation goes into that large  painting before any paint gets anywhere near that big canvas. 

Now to a lot of people this would say this sounds boring and you just want to get on with the good stuff. But I'm here to tell you this preparation is part of the good stuff. It's a chance to experiment and really improve your skills.

If you want a good chance of success on a large canvas and you want to improve you painting faster. Then my advice is to go small!

If you want to improve your painting skills quickly then you need to do a lot of painting. Practice, practice and more practice is what you need to do. That's why working small is a good idea. Painting smaller canvas's take less time than a large one so you can do more paintings.

When I say small I'm talking around the 20 cm by 25 cm size. This isn't an exact measurement anything around this size will do. I just would go much smaller than this, as then it gets to hard. Going really small is a skill all on it's own. This size works for me as I find it scales up nicely for bigger works. Where as smaller than this needs some composition changes to really make it work.

Canvas and paints can be expensive. If you are trying out a new technique or subject you don't want to be wasting lots of paint trying to perfect that skill or subject on a large canvas. Using small canvases means you can practice lots using much less paint and lots less painting time. Also if it doesn't work out you then have to figure out what to do with the canvas. Painting over and storing small canvases is a lot easier than large ones. 

When I am learning a new technique this is what I do. 

When I was learning how to do the alcohol drop technique with my flower paintings, after I had figured out how to do the basic technique I then started on small canvas's. Using the technique on the first stages of the painting for the backgrounds I could experiment and perfect my methods on these small paintings and not feel inhibited by worrying about wasting paint. Also on the plus side, this size canvas sells well in my area so I don't ever feel I am wasting time practising on small pictures as when they work I can sell them. Unless something is totally not working I always finish these small canvas's with detail as this also helps work out any issues for a larger work. 

As I get more skilled in my new technique or subject I then move on to larger canvas's and funnily enough smaller ones. As I said earlier really small ones can be tricky too. I do a lot of small 10 cm by 7 cm paintings which is the smallest canvas I can find around here. 

Let me walk you through my process when I am planning a large landscape painting.

When I did this mountain painting I first did some small thumb nail sketches to get an idea of composition ideas that would work. These are just small basic drawings of the main shapes and lights and dark's. This gives me a good starting point of what I think will work. Sometimes there will be more than one composition idea to work from.

Next I will do a small card size colour study. I do these card size as then of cause I can make them into a greeting card. This is just to see if my ideas on the colours and basic composition are right. This size is a bit small for successfully scaling up for a bigger work I find, as I would often have to add more elements to make a larger painting work.

I will then go into doing the small paintings. For this mountain painting I did two small works. one was 20 cm by 25 cm and the other was just slightly bigger. I worked on refining my technique for painting the snow and getting the colours and tones right. also nailing down the composition I wanted for the bigger work.

For example the first small painting I did was with the two trees. But I decided that I wanted to do just one tree on the bigger version. The snow was looking good but I needed to work on the the foreground hills getting better shape and dimension to them while still keeping the main mountain my main focus. In the second small painting I did I got the snow method really down pat and did just one tree. I put more light areas in the foreground to lead the eye into the painting. Still wasn't entirely happy with those closer mountains yet for a larger work and I could see I wanted to lead the even more into the painting and make the big tree less heavy looking. But felt I had enough information and practice now to go ahead with a larger painting.

 These small paintings are complete paintings on their own as well as being a really valuable resource for my larger painting. Now you can see if I had just gone ahead with a larger painting right off the pat I would have missed all those insights that lead me to my final version which I was really happy with. If I hadn't done those small paintings first I don't believe I would have got a larger painting that I was so happy with.

Doing these small paintings I had the composition, colours and tones worked out and knew exactly what order I wanted to do for the bigger painting.This made the big painting so much easier. It left me free to really enjoy painting it and let my creative side free without having to worry about the technicalities. If you, like me can sometimes find a big canvas or subject intimidating then you may find doing smaller versions first really useful.

Doing lots of smaller paintings rather than spending weeks on one large painting will improve your painting skills more quickly. Just through the share volume of work you are doing. Being able to repeat and practice skills over and over and feeling free to experiment more. Without the worries of wasting to much paint or ruining a large canvas.

If you combine painting small with working in a series you will have a powerful tool for some serious improvement. 

I have included the link here for you if you would like to read my blog on Improving your painting by working in a series.

Other blogs you my be interested in 

How to paint a snowy mountain range 

 Acrylic painting technique, Alcohol drops

So I encourage you to give working small a try and see how much and how quickly you can improve. Be kind to yourself and Happy painting everyone.


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