Scaling up a small work to a larger canvas

Recently, I’ve had a hankering to paint larger canvases and I have several smaller pieces that I might use as studies. However, after painting only small scale (never more that 12 x 12) for more than a year, I find myself feeling intimidated and wondering where to begin. Any suggestions as to how I transfer the image and keep the fresh feeling of the smaller work? Larger brushes and longer handles? Any other suggestions?

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Hi Jane,
I´ve found information regarding this topic extensively covered in one of my favorite books by Kevin D. Macpherson titled “Landscape painting inside & out”.
One helpful info is to use an acetate sleeve atop your small study for two reasons.
One: you can easily mark a grid on your study without destroying it … and …
… two: it is a quick and very good way to match your colour notes directly on - or better on the acetate covered - study and make adjustments as needed, again, without destroying it.

Mixing larger pools of paint acordingly helps to get the feel of the initial painting - you got the same colours and value relationships right and that is in my opinion vitaly important for a successful painting.
A photoreference of that initial painting or scenery will provide all the necessary information for greater detail than a small study could hold. When painting small it is important to simplify. But you probably know that already.

Hope that helps. By the way the a. m. book is so rich on information - I think it is a “must have”.

Kind regards Michael Sason

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Hi Jane,
One more thing comes to mind when scaling up a painting.
Just as the scenery that inspired you to paint in the first place is a starting point for your artwork, try and regard the small study as your - new - starting point and inspiration for the larger work. Let it take its own way even if it does not exactly match up with your small study. I find this helps tremendously because in my opinion a larger work can and should not be a mere copy of the smaller piece of art.
Probably the the study was done on location with all elements impressing on you, the wind, the sun, the cold, the rain, the birds, the streetlife, whatever happend around you when you were painting it not to forget your mood on that day. All this flowed into your painting and made it the way it is. When doing a larger work in the studio all these influences are not there. Although it may help to do your blocking in of colour of large areas of your painting in the studio and then finish it on location with simmilar conditions.
Anyway that´s just what I think about it.

Best of wishes

  • Michael

Large brushes are great for painting larger. Once you get use to the larger brushes and painting larger you will love it. I started small mainly 8 x 10 paintings, but for a show they wanted large paintings. After doing a dozen 2 foot by 4 feet paintings, I find it harder to paint small again.

I agree with that. I’m having the opposite problem myself. I used to paint mainly on what I would consider small 12 x 16, 16 x 20…the last couple of years though my norm is 30 x 48 and larger. Now when I try to go smaller I’m finding it difficult. I do some small sketches 8 x 10 ect…but I would not consider them finished works. When I browse this site it’s amazing to see the small sizes with such wonderful works.

Most likely working in a larger format is not a matter of larger brushes with longer handles. Smaller works are easier to paint and an artist needs to consider why they want to express themselves with the larger canvas and how they will use that expense successfully. Though the best artists produce brilliant work whether is is 3 x 3 or 60 x 60. Unencumber yourself of contrived notions such as what might constitute “freshness” and simply strive to render a larger work with skill and perspicacity. A good painting never needs a word of explanation.

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Thanks Michael for all the great information. I’m will definitely check out K. A’s book!

Thanks all for the great suggestions. Peter, I think you make a good point. If I get hung up on trying to “reproduce” the smaller version, I’m likely headed for disappointment. The larger format will force a somewhat different style with different characteristics. However that unfolds, It needs to stand on it’s own.

I’m curious here what size brushes you use for small paintings compared with those for larger paintings?

I’m using 4 to 8 for my smaller paintings which are typically 8x8 or 8x10. The larger painting I’m working on now is 18 x 24, (which seems HUGE to me) and I’m going with anything from a 10 to an 18. Actually, I’m finding the bigger adjustment is getting used to mixing so much more paint.