Posted on 23 Comments

Going large! (Scaling up a commission piece)

Commissions are usually pretty interesting because they will challenge me in some way or another. This particular commission’s challenge was about scale. Now, I don’t usually paint large paintings because I just don’t have the space to store many of them. I have a few but I am not keen to paint many more as and I find it difficult to paint in a crowded attic studio, both on a practical level (if you look at my photos carefully you can see its crowded in my studio) and also psychologically (it starts to bug me).  So if a commission requires me to go large I am quite excited by that prospect. Excited and a bit scared.

This commission was based on a relatively modest-sized painting I had recently painted of Gola Island, Donegal. This is 41x33cm, that’s 16 x 13 inches for non-metric people.

Painting of Gola, Donegal

Up from the Pier (Gola)

As you can see from the studio photo, the original fits on the seat of a chair. It is a favourite of mine. I have many favourite paintings, this is my current one.

The commission canvas size was to be 120 x 80cm (47×32 inches). Which is pretty big for my little studio. The canvas I could cope with, but the cardboard box it was arrived in is annoying me as it’s ended up by the railings by the steps to the attic. It’s in my way.

So I pondered the issues with scaling up this painting. The joy of small paintings is that you can hint at all sorts of things with a brushstroke or two and the brain will do the rest of the work. There’s no hiding place when the canvas is over a metre in size.

Painting of Gola, Donegal
Up from the Pier (in-studio)

So the first change in my approach was scale. I printed out my reference photo on a much larger piece of paper. My original photo wasn’t much bigger than 10cm (4 inches) square. Don’t ask me why. I like to print off a lot of images at one time and then ponder which one I want to actually paint. For the commission, the photo was closer to A4 size (7×11 inches) and amazingly, I could see much more detail! So I focused a lot of attention on the buildings and caravan on the horizon. I paint with a small brush get the details of the light on the houses and ruins.

Painting of Gola, Donegal
Sketching out the commission

I generally work from left to right when I am painting so as not to smudge work with my hand and the next part I worked on were the rocks and the grassy verge to the left of the track. The real joy of painting vegetation in Donegal is the many varied greens and yellows. I love picking out the different hues. I have to make sure that my colours match the colours in the reference photo as closely as possible. It sounds daft, but I hold up the paintbrush next to the photo to check I have the right tones.

The grass and bracken in the main part of the painting were carefully reconstructed. Saying that I use much larger brushes than I do for my smaller paintings. I make sure that blocks of yellow ochres and green grass or darker bracken are in the right place. There are both warm and cool greens here. There are splashes and smudges of oranges, pinks, jade and turquoise in there too. I am trying to convey not only colour but the shape of undulating land; where the grass has grown up and in some places, covered completely the old stone walls. The island is covered in lots of wooden fence posts, but I don’t want to paint in all the wires as the eye wouldn’t see them all in that much detail so I pick out just a few of them. I wanted to recreate the spirit of the smaller painting rather than create a new painting so I have to adjust a few patches of grass, on the left-hand side of the painting, so their bluish tones echo the first painting and balance the colours in the whole. The tiny golden yellow flowers that are gathered at the bend in the pinkish track are added.

The sky is painted last. Sometimes I paint skies first, especially if it is a cloudy or stormy sky, but in this case, it’s a blue powdery summer blue and it comes last. It has the effect of bringing the whole painting together.

Painting of Gola, Donegal

The commission next to the study painting of Gola

So the final stage is to sit with the painting and check that it has the same “vibe” as the smaller study painting. I think it has. I regard it as a big beast, but one I like.

I wonder what it would be like to have a massive studio where you could store bigger paintings? Would I paint larger paintings? Well, in the winter when light is short I would still paint smaller works that could be completed relatively quickly, but in the summer months when I have acres of daylight? You bet.

Painting of Gola, Donegal
The artist (*ahem*) with the two paintings
Painting of Gola, Donegal
The Commission piece finished 120x80cm


23 thoughts on “Going large! (Scaling up a commission piece)

  1. Both paintings are fantastic.

  2. Such a nice style

  3. I think you managed to scale “up” very successfully. thanks for sharing the process I would have had no idea how to go about this and what the challenges would be.

    1. Thank you, Anne. Every painting is different. For me the really challenge were all the greens in the painting.

  4. I so enjoyed reading this post and am amazed at the process of recreating a painting. How long did it take to paint the large one? You are smiling, so I know you are pleased…and should be! Do you often get asked to do something like this – recreate to another size? Your photos of the process and finished project are perfect.

  5. Your colours are wonderful, Emma
    How I sympathise with your space problem. 40×30 cms is my norm funnily enough. It suits my easel and my eye sight.
    Very useful post, thank you

  6. The paintings are beautiful! I loved reading about how you go about painting the larger painting. Very fascinating! And yes, they do have the same “vibe”. – Neek

  7. Best wishes for a successful outcome.

  8. The large one worked out beautifully. My mentor insisted that all of his students paint only large canvases (about the size of your commission). He couldn’t stand it when students got bogged down in detail and lost sight of “the forest for the trees”. Painting the large sizes worked–I can do both, detail or not, but knowing I don’t have to do the detail no matter the size helps out in a lot of situations!

    1. That’s an interesring approach by your totor (what did you do with the massive canvases afterwards, I have relatively little space these days, so a commission is fine as I know it’s not going to be here long).

      1. I had a lot of space available. I also detached a lot of canvases I wasn’t happy with in the early days, rolled them up, and re-used the stretcher bars with fresh canvas. My first studio was a huge room behind our garage. The second and third were both third floor attic conversions. The fourth one is in my basement. It was getting a bit tight in the basement which is why I did a couple of those “clearance” art fairs to pass on some of my really old stuff. I’ve figured out that if I have someone build some racks for me in the basement I will be able to store a lot more pieces than I can now. Working on refining the design at the moment.

      2. I am very envious. I have only ever detached a canvas from its stretcher a couuple of times. I sort of felt sorry for the painting afterwards,. I am far too sentimental!

  9. Beautiful work Emma! I think its good for your creativity to always be stretching past your comfy zone!
    If you painted that scene every day for the rest of your life you would find that each is slightly different. You mentioned this one is a recent favourite of yours. If you had one hundred of them in front of you I wonder If you could decide which one you liked more?

    1. I’d go mad with a 100 of them, Wayne! I do off things and with a 100 I’d probably end up hating it!

      1. yes,I can see that happening Emma. You create originals and by doing so many you would feel like a cookie cutter painter.

      2. I am always changing what I paint to keep the work fresh – I just get bored otherwise.

      3. great!……so when are you going to paint a Bald Eagle? You can use any of my shots.

      4. Hello Wayne, that’s very generous of you. I think I might start with some of your lowlier birds like oystercatchers or dunlins and work my way up to the eagles. I am not sure I have the necessary skill to do them justice to honest. I have seen so many wonderful paintings of eagles, it puts me off.

      5. I guess they are kind of common in that regard. You use whatever speaks to you Emma.

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