Quick sketches can beget large exhibition works. Will the translation lose its aesthetic charge in the transformation from small facile study to big painting? A free and loose small expression can turn into a ponderous dud. The delights found in a few fast watercolor notes can look more promising in the smaller scale than when they are expanded to a larger format. Why?
When analyzing the power of a small design I try to notice the scale of the strokes to the size of the image area. On an 8x10inch sketch a two-inch brushstroke covers so much territory and exhibits great graphic and gestural power. If I expand that sketch to a 4x5ft surface I shouldn’t expect the two-inch brush to offer the same experience. The brush and the gesture need to scale up together with the painting. Even then, new large dark areas can feel overly heavy and less dark just as large light areas lose their brightness and the associative powers of their shape. Because we are edge detectors our eyes travel to edges as sources of information. When the edges define a small shape on a small sketch we easily perceive entire shapes. This process can break down when we expand the size of an image. The shapes and the image itself are no longer experienced as a unity but, as a collection of parts which depend on our viewing distance. Remember, the larger the area of light or white, the grayer it becomes. The larger the area of dark or black, the grayer it too becomes.
Our gestures tend to not to scale larger when we scale up our paintings. The single flourish on an 8x10inch area becomes a succession of gestures and is no longer one continuous stroke, no longer one jubilant exhalation. We continue to paint with the wrist when the arm and body ought to be employed.
Color too changes as scale changes. The proportions of complementary color and the extent of the saturation change as we scale up an image. When you go to a paint store looking for small paint samples as you prospect for a new color for your kitchen or living room beware, the small sample can appear much stronger when finally spread across a wall.
Historically sculptors and painters made maquettes, small models of their projects. Daniel Chester French studiously used calipers as he gradually scaled up his clay models into large public sculptures like the seated Lincoln in the Lincoln memorial. Or, Bernini made quick expressive terra-cotta models before beginning or, even while making his larger stone sculptures. While the marble works are profoundly beautiful, they lack the easy spontaneity of these terra-cotta models.
Renaissance painters often applied a grid system dividing their sketch into sections for amplification in a larger painting. Chuck Close is famous for his painterly fills within the grids subdividing his portraits. For years we painted billboards this way, outlines in a grid.
The following examples proceed in reverse order from the largest image first to the beginning smaller images and their inspirational photos presented last. Example 1. presents the last stage (to date) of a 48x48inch painting. It is followed in reverse order by examples 2, 3, 4,5,6, and 7. Example 2 presents the initial photo (manipulated in Photoshop). Example 6 presents the first painted version, a 36×36. You may consider it too large to consider it a sketch small but, I treated it as one. Example 5 is an amalgam of examples 6 and 7 ( 1st painting and original photo). Example 4 begins the step-by-step process of making the larger painting. I begin monochromatically in blues ( Ultramarine and Cyan with white). Because I begin with blue I plan to later exploit the color theory of Hermann Von Helmholtz and use a chromatic complement of yellow. In additive color (light) yellow is the opposite of blue unlike subtractive color (pigment).
Perhaps you discern how I pulled aspects of this photo-painting amalgam into my final 48×48″ painting in example 1
Here is example 1 again, the final stage of this 48×48″ oil on 3/8″ PVC board . Notice that I have moved the center of the vortex along the horizon further to the right and changed many of the shape relationships as I built a deeper sense of space in this 48×48″ version.
Last week I presented an 18×18 (example 8) semi-abstracted version of the interior of Boston’s South Station. The painting’s possibilities seemed to grow from here. I began another larger version (example 9) using example 8 as my model sketch. I am not simply enlarging the painting I am discovering new ground in this 36×36″ oil on white enameled anodized aluminum. I took a different route but started with the same initial image. I now must wait for the paint to dry before overlaying it with more ideas.
The color contrasts now incline toward yellow against violet and red against blue green. The design was also modified with a larger light triangle in the foreground. Notice that the elevated blue-green and red announcement boards form a reverse triangle to the light yellow one below.