Oftentimes, when we’re told opposites are true, it’s Orwellian-Speak: Peace through War. Submission is Freedom. Love is Tough. The author of 1984 lampooned such verbal flummery and warned wise people to be wary of it.
But when a two-dimensional artist speaks in opposites, he or she does so with magical intent, employing brush, paint, skill, and imagination to create a paradoxical, delightfully contradictory situation that intrigues, fascinates, bewitches, and charms. As in, Small is Big.
“Painting small is a challenge!” says Batik watercolor artist Denise Elizabeth Stone of La Grande, OR.
“It’s a different way of thinking about my communication with the viewer. I’d compare it to the difference between writing an essay and writing a haiku.”
What Constitutes “Small”?
Because art is, presently, a free industry, unhampered by either medieval guild or governmental licensing and regulations, there is no official definition of what constitutes a small painting, but a loose interpretation is that it is less than 12 inches at its largest dimension. So, it could be 10 x 10. Or 6 x 8. But . . . it could also be 5 x 18, because while 18 is larger than 12, 5 is a lot smaller.
See? No rules. Just approximations. The main point is that a large landscape can, wondrously, fit into a small substrate. It then invites the viewer into a big, big place via a small, small space.
“Small objects, regardless of their detail, require an intimate proximity to appreciate and enjoy them fully,” says West Richland watercolor artist Steph Bucci, who often paints in 6 x 6 format.
“Small paintings are also a terrific opportunity to work out the bugs when planning a larger version.”
Yakima acrylic painter Paul Henderson agrees:
“Small paintings give you a chance to quickly paint a loose rendition or study for a larger painting, as well as to try out different ideas.
“They also lend themselves to painting plein air painting outdoors where you have a very limited time to catch the essence of the scene. Painting small trains you to quickly establish the main focus and lay in the main shapes.”
The Sun Doesn’t Wait for the Artist
Montana oil and pastel artist Bonnie Griffith, who lived in Walla Walla, WA, for many years before migrating east, specializes in smaller paintings specifically because of her focus on plein air work. The sun doesn’t stop and stay in one spot simply because the artist needs it to do so.
“The challenge from working plein air is capturing the essence of the subject in that moment, recording the colors, the values, and composition as you are seeing them in real time.
“Small, definitive, and carefully chosen marks are made to create definition and to lead the viewer into the painting so they can make their own story as they enjoy their time in the painting.”
In other words, when the space you’ve got to cover is small, each individual brush stroke makes a big, big impact.
“Painting small is a good challenge for the artist to see how much can be interpreted from the least amount of paint and brush strokes,” Dayton, WA, oil painter Steve Henderson explains.
“I enjoy doing all sizes,” he adds. “Some subjects demand a particular size. A sweeping view of the Grand Canyon just doesn’t quite feel right on something only six inches wide. Whereas a country road wandering through open fields could be interpreted on quite a small panel.”
Perfect for a Small Wall
All the artists agree that small paintings are a bonus for decorating a small wall, and, because small paintings tend to be accomplished more quickly than larger ones, the price is a factor as well.
“They are usually lower in price,” Paul Henderson says.
“Many people want something of the artist, but can’t afford the larger paintings. So they collect many small pieces of their favorite artists.”
Price, portability, placement, giftability, and an opportunity for the artist to experiment — small paintings are big indeed, and as Bucci notes, “Good things really do come in small packages.”
Or as Steve Henderson observes, “Small paintings are in a class all their own, and they call out to be noticed.
“Just because a painting is small doesn’t mean it deserves less attention or respect — it is simply small.”
Small Paintings is the featured Art Event at Wenaha Gallery from September 7 through October 4, 2021. Showcased are Denise Elizabeth Stone, Paul Henderson, Steph Bucci, Paul Henderson, Teresa Adaszynska, Bonnie Griffith and Gordy Edberg.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail email@example.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.