Monday, 15 April 2013

Discussing Scale

Just a little one today - at 8x10 inches. Recently I have been thinking quite a lot about scale and I have decided that I will mainly work at a maximum of life size - it just seems to work better for me, rather than the big heads popular at places like the BP portrait award.

Partly this is because that although I do work in (many) layers, what you see (especially skin) is generally done in one go - and that gets difficult beyond a certain size.

The paintings done in the life room are also "one-go" paintings and don't seem to work if any edge is longer than 12 inches. I suspect this will hold true of painting plein air too.

So currently I am investigating supports - how to get good, small surfaces in various proportions - and this seems much harder than you'd think, with most manufacturers producing a very limited range. However, I have found a source of small stretcher bars and am working on stretching and preparing my own small canvases. Boy does oil primer stink!


  1. I can relate to that! I actually think a larger than lifesize head/body is kinda gruesome. Nice study, btw.

  2. The larger the portrait the more the unwarranted attention to the detail of the features, which was the real problem with Kate Middleton's first official portrait. Back when I painted portraits on billboards we knew this.

    For me a portrait should be intimate life size at max, I doubt that even as large as some of Sargent’s canvases that he did a portrait larger than life.

    Beautiful work here.

  3. Thank you, Sharon! Yes, gruesome can be interesting but isn't what I'm after . . .

    Thanks, Jim - there is so much to painting that is known, but seems can only be learnt (by me, anyway) the hard way. It was wandering around the galleries of Paris in February that I first noticed that even big paintings generally had life size or smaller faces. Then I realised that the reason 2 of the paintings I was working on just weren't coming together was they were a little bigger than life size. It is always a little heart breaking to abandon a painting . . .

  4. Agree. I once went round the National Portrait Gallery looking at anything before the 20th century and found that almost all portraits were less than life-size. Imagine you are looking at someone through a window. The frame is in effect a window. You will necessarily see them less than life-size because of perspective.

    As regards priming raw canvas, you can use rabbit skin glue followed by white lead primer - which is tedious and highly toxic - or just use acrylic gesso - which does the job perfectly well and is not toxic.

  5. Hadn't thought about the perspective side of things!

    I've been using acrylic gesso up to now, but have ruined a few canvases, not realizing the first couple of layers need to be really thin, or the gesso clumps. Also, I'm having real problems with sinking in. So now I'm using a modern version of rabbit skin glue and oil primer (not lead) and we will see how that goes . . .