Re: Addicted to making large-scale art?
My second year in art school I was required to make a painting in which no side could be shorter than 48”... 48” square at the smallest. Up until that point I had painted a good many watercolors and some oils... most of which measured 8x12” on average. For the required big painting I stretched a canvas that was 48”x96” or 4x8 feet. The experience was something wonderful. Where I had Long focused on the smallest details drawing from the fingers, I was now drawing gesturally from the shoulders. I never looked back. With the exception of a period making small 8.5x11” collages due in part to a loss of studio space, I have almost always worked large.
My current mixed media paintings measure a standard 46x80” tall. I was attracted to the big vertical format used by Klimt, Velazquez, and others which allow me to paint the full figure... head to toe... life scale. The scale was also dictated by the paper support I have to work with at 48” wide.
As others have suggested, scale in no way equates to quality. Some of the finest paintings by Vermeer, Van Eyck, the Limbourg Brothers, Manet, Degas, etc... are tiny gems. Scale does impact how we experience a work. A large painting is more theatrical and imposes itself upon our physical being. A smaller work is more intimate... and can be a magical window that we peer into.
Things to consider when determining your choice of scale include cost (bigger canvas/paper, more paint, etc... all means more $), your working space (I have a large studio in an old commercial factory/warehouse building), transportation (how wide of a painting can you fit in your vehicle before needing to rent a U-Haul? If you are selling, what scale will the galleries accept and what sells? If you sell across the country or overseas large paintings will require special packaging and larger shipping costs. And then there’s storage; do you have room for storing large paintings? And what about time? Big paintings generally take more time to complete... which adds to the cost you must charge and how easy it will be to sell work on this scale and price. You should also consider the subject matter and how different scales impact how the audience experiences these. Degas worked quite small in his pastels. Many critics and viewers have spoken of the voyeuristic nature of his nudes... the small scale forces the viewer into getting close... as if peering into the private intimate settings at these bathers. Rubens’ large life-sized nude portrait of his second wife... and my life-scale nudes are more aggressive or confrontational in that the subject in the painting and the viewer are on equal ground, as it were.
If you are unsure of what scale you SHOULD be working on, explore a variety of scales and determine which is right for you. What are you comfortable with. Can you realistically control a vast area? Which scale do you find best achieves what you like in your work? And remember, you are always able to employ a range of scale. Even an artist like Rubens, known for his big theatrical canvases, painted some of his finest works... including portraits of his family... on a far more intimate scale. Explore a range of sizes just as you might explore a range of styles or manner of painting... especially early on.
I would question the suggestion that you can be a bit more lax with composition on a large scale. I’ve found the opposite to be true. In order to organize a larger area I need to pay more attention to compositional elements. On the other hand, I find I be a good bit looser with handling.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know." - John Keats
"Modern art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and persuade themselves that they have a better idea."- John Ciardi