The process of painting: the growing canvas

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The start of a 17/12cm

Starting a large canvas is a daunting thing. There are huge surfaces of emptiness to fill with tiny brushstrokes. Starting a small painting is the reverse: the small surface seems to small to give a good look into a whole landscape. The urge is to fill it with something small, like one bird or a far away view of a tree or building.  It is hard to realise the small canvas is suitable for the same principles of composition as the large one.

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50/40cm seems large enough

When the composition has been decided and while the painting progresses, something interesting happens: The canvas grows! The surface that at first seemed too small to even show a sparrow in some detail, turns into the window to a wide landscape. Obviously the small canvas has less room for small brushstrokes compared to the large one, but on a large canvas it is not common to use the same “resolution” anyway.  We really shouldn’t be surprised by this growing canvas, because that’s really what happens when you print your holidaysnapshots on a fifteen centimeter wide paper. This size would be  a miniature for a painting.

The average computer screen is smaller than most paintings and we are used to view large paintings as Da Vinci’s “last supper” on our laptops, while really it’s size is closer to the screen we see in a small cinema.  This only shows how the human brain and cultural conditioning translates the elements of a picture of any size into a window into the artists world. It is even possible to make a large painting look small by using the appropriate elements. That is how we can accept a “budget print” landscape and a portrait of our beloved dictator spanning a stadium wall as a creditable rendition of reality.

I’d say the difference between a large painting or a small one only amounts to the difference between looking through a hole in the fence or over it.

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