I’ve been thinking rather a lot about small things recently, from small things that make a big difference, both positive and negative, small things that can easily go unnoticed and small things that might be overlooked as insignificant but, on closer inspection, need to be taken more notice of.
When I was doing a lot of botanical painting a few years ago the process really taught me to look closely and notice those small things. I love flowers and there is nothing better than visiting a lovely, well tended garden, smelling the perfume and admiring the colour. After doing some botanical painting now, instead of just glancing and admiring the flowers, I like to go up really close and notice all the fascinating details of each petal and leaf – many small things I would have missed before.
Recently I have been painting very small paintings in oils. It started off when I did a couple of ‘postcard’ paintings to enter into a competition and really enjoyed working on that size. The paintings were done with oils on paper as I continue to explore using that approach (Paper Trail May 2020), experimenting with what type of brush and what brush techniques I prefer to use with on paper.
One thing I particularly liked with the small size is that the paintings could be completed Alla Prima ie all in one go, which is very satisfying when you have had months and months of several larger canvas paintings on the go in varying stages as you (patiently or not!) wait for a paint layer to dry in order to continue with the painting.
Another appealing thing in doing these small paintings on paper was the different brushes and brush technique that I use – it was really nice to paint with oils in a different way for a change and as they say, a change is always as good as a rest!
I use a small selection of softer brushes and lay the paint on using the side of the brush in most cases or dab spots of paint on with the tip of the brush in the final stages. In the first instance I apply layers of different colours and let them settle for about 10-15 minutes whilst working on another area. I then go back to the first area with a clean brush and blend the colours in places to achieve the effect I was after. The paint will have gone more tacky and gripping the paper by then, so it didn’t slide round so much and therefore gave me a bit more control. The paint is thinned with tiny amounts of painting medium – just enough to loosen the paint so it glides across the surface.
I was delighted in how much detail I could get into such a small space. Although I started off rather tentatively in my selection of topics for such a small space, wondering how much detail I could include, in subsequent paintings I had no problems in choosing big views to paint. Using a palette knife to scrape into the paint lots of marks and then using a fine brush to add final small dots of paint I was able to get in a lot of texture and detail, much of which is only seen as you get closer to the painting.
And this, I think, provides a nice surprise for the viewer. Instead of being bashful and apologetic for being so small, it is like this painting beckons you from across the room and draws you closer and closer to reveal the tiny detail and marks.
Use the links below to see more of these wee paintings!