When creating art work it is important to consider the size of the work you are creating.
There are many considerations in this decision such as:
- How big a surface do you reasonably have to paint on?
If you have only small canvases in your cupboard, or don’t have the money to buy another surface, maybe this is what is going to determine the size you are working on. Or maybe this is a commission and size is a part of that commission, in which case you should probably work to the requested dimensions.
- How much can you afford to spend creating this art work?
If you have no money you might not be able to afford a huge surface to work on, and so you might be limited to what you can afford. As artists, we would hope that we don’t have to be limited to money, and if we wanted to create something huge and had no money to work with, we would try to use a different surface material to work on that we could actually afford. Maybe you can’t afford to buy a huge canvas surface, but you could propose to paint the side of someone’s house, for example.
- Where is the artwork going to be placed? Is there even enough room for it where it is going?
If you know that you are painting on commission for someone’s home, and they only have a small house you might be constrained by the space that the artwork will sit. Or if you are creating for a gallery you might only have one wall to be able to show on, you need to know the size of this space, and also consider the space around the artwork as well – do you really want to have the artwork stuck wall to wall floor to ceiling? or would you rather have breathing space around the artwork? These considerations need to be made because they really do affect the way people read and interpret an artwork, and also affect the way someone feels about the artwork, and even how long they are prepared to engage with the work. On the practical side of things if you have a space which is 3 meters high but you create a work 6 meters high, how is this even going to fit in the space? Maybe you want to have it bent and crammed in, but usually, this is not the ideal situation.
- What sort of interaction do you want your audience to have with your artwork?
The size of an artwork does determine the sort of interaction someone has with an artwork (I will demonstrate this a bit more below). You need to consider if you want people to just see an artwork as a normal artwork and move on, or do you want them to really have to work hard to see an artwork? Or do you want it to be almost an amusement situation? Or do you want them blown away by the artwork size? Do you want them to feel intimidation or fear? Do you want to surprise the viewer – make them assume before they see an artwork that it must be a different size than it is, and then surprise them by presenting something bigger or smaller than at first thought?
- What do you want to say with your work?
The feelings that people get in relation to their first viewing of the work can impress upon them what the message of the work is. For example a king might chose to have a huge sculpture or painting of himself which is to be viewed from very far below the artwork so the viewer has to look up at it, thus presenting the king as more important, and mightier than the viewer.
- What medium are you working in?
The choice of medium might dictate the size of the work. For example if you are working with carving a broom, then you are limited to the size of the broom or smaller. Or maybe you are working with oils and you know that they can really provide texture to a work which you want to show to people, maybe this would encourage you not to do a tiny tiny artwork. Or perhaps you are working with small beads, maybe the small-size of an individual bead helps make you decide that it would be best to do something that isn’t the size of a rugby field, for example, or indeed maybe because of the unusual nature of working with something so tiny on so grand a scale, this might be exactly the message and the awe you want to instil in your viewers.
- How is that medium being worked on the surface?
If you are working in a gestural way you would almost certainly decide that the artwork needs to be larger in size so that you can reflect the gestures your body makes. Think of Jackson Pollock, there is no way he could have made his action art on the size of A4 paper. The very fact that his artwork needed to capture his movements meant that it needed to be big enough that he could actually move across the paper.
- What feeling do you want to create with your art work?
As above, do you want your audience to have fear struck into their hearts? Maybe this means that you need to create a huge artwork. Or maybe you want to create a feeling of stillness and solitude, so you need to create something tiny so that the person really has to work hard to see the artwork which brings them in really close to the work.
- What is the style of your workings on the canvas?
Are you going to go very very detailed? Are you capable of creating the level of detail you are after in something tiny? Or is going huge going to mean that there will be too much detail for what you are capable of showing? Are you going to work abstractedly, will this lend itself to the size that you are working in? Or will it be lost in the huge space?
These are just some of the consideration you need to make when deciding which size to work in, and every artwork will be different, and each artist will feel a different way. Personally I love to work large, but not so large that I’m going to get lost amongst the canvas. I just love to create works that are a decent size so I can fit a lot onto the canvas, and so that I can use bigger gestures to create my works rather than tiny little scratchy movements.
Along with the above considerations about the dimensions of the actual surface of the work, there are also considerations to be made about the size of individual components in the picture. We will talk about scale in art in a later blog.
Here are some examples of size in art.
Willard Wigan – tiny art
Willard Wigan creates tiny sculptures all within the head of a needle. These artworks are so impossible that when you see them half of your interaction with them is going to be disbelief. So it would make sense that Willard would create within the eye of his needles images of things that are either beyond belief – such as major feats of mankind’s creations, or religious imagery, or as above, royalty that has been beyond belief, and also things that are made up completely, such as snow white and her seven dwarves.
When seeing these artworks your thought process would be amazement at the detail in something so small, wonder at how anything could be so small, and how did he even create them, and then an interpretation of the art. Which, by the way is interesting in the case of the royals on the eye of the needle or images of jesus on the eye of the needle. Imagine these people commissioning artworks, they would never consider having their work presented at such a minute size where they are almost created as unimportant, nothing more than the size of a bacteria. And maybe this is Wigan’s message. All of these things are unimportant. Or maybe he is trying to say that there is beauty, and a whole new world, in worlds that are unseen by the naked eye? Maybe this is just a gimmick – perhaps. Something so tiny takes a lot of skill to create but then you would only see it if you know it is there. Maybe it is saying slow down and really see everything that is around you. Be present in the world.
This is how you view the art works. Imagine going into a gallery and seeing all these microscopes set up and patiently waiting your turn. You are going to chat to the person next to you. You will look into the microscope then look up and comment to the person next to you about what you see, but ultimately the experience is yours alone. No other person is able to see what you are seeing, when you are seeing it. This means you are forced to slow down, to be with the artwork, and not with your surroundings. You are told to engage with the artwork, to see it and as a result to really think about the work. It is a moment to stop from the frantic hustle and bustle of the day, and pause to see something more.
War God Statue – Guan Yu by Han Meilin
Depicting an important General in Chinese history, this statue stands 58 meters in the air and is made from over 4000 strips of bronze. Even without knowing a huge amount about the General that this depicts you certainly get the immense importance of this person to the people who have commissioned the work and the people who will be forced to look at this statue almost every day. Something this large is not going to be missed from anywhere in the region. It is so big and so unlike any other natural, or man-made architecture shapes that you will not be able to miss seeing this sculpture from where ever you are. Perhaps you will think, gosh! What an eye sore. Perhaps you will think, Look! There is the General Guan Yu, remember what he did for our country? Perhaps you will look and marvel that man can create anything so huge. Whatever your thoughts about the work you will recognise the figure as one of importance, one of power, something rather god-like. Then, when you get closer and are standing more or less under the sculpture you are going to see this huge sculpture literally looming over you, and staring down upon you. Perhaps when faced with the sculpture at so close a proximity you will even cower beneath it, and really feel the true force of this Deified General who brought the dynasty to the ground and helped establish the state of Shu Han.
Colin McCahon – Gate III
This artwork is 3 metres tall by 10 and a half metres long. Imagine coming up to this artwork and seeing that huge I AM Literally screaming at you. The work is so huge that you see it from far away, and it consumes the entire room around it. It dwarves the images next to it, it dwarfs you. You can not possibly take this artwork in at one time, not if you are really looking at the work and up close to it. The only way to see the work at one time would be to stand so far away from it that you miss half of what is written so small in other areas of the work. The writing is so huge that it works as a means almost of becoming the landscape, the A and M becoming the sharp peaks of mountains, and the I working as a divide between one side of the artwork and the other. When you get up close to the artwork you are able to see the texture of the work clearly, and almost feel the runs of paint, and feel like you could walk into the artwork to see what is behind each surface. The genius in the size of this artwork though is in its feeling of certainty. When you say I AM it is a very affirmative statement, there is no other option but to agree that really YOU ARE. The size of the artwork just really emphasises that certainty, and the importance and power of the statement and forces you to really consider “Am I?”
Lorraine Loots – Tiny drawings
Lorraine Loots specialises in tiny little drawings, no bigger than the size of a coin. Her drawings are highly detailed and really beg you to come up very close to look at them. It is interesting with this example that her artworks are so tiny, and yet there are so many of them, that as a collective they become something quite big.
When we are faced with something smaller and more intricate, our nature is to try to find fault in the thing we are viewing, to see if there are any mistakes. By creating something so tiny we are forced to really inspect the work, to really see what what there in the macro world, but that we never really saw until it was put into a micro world. This is the genius of an artwork that is so teeny tiny – but still so super detailed and precise.
As with Wigan’s artworks these require the viewer to really go up close to the works and really study them closely. You marvel at the intricacies of the works and how could so much detail be in something so tiny, and then you realise actually this person is meticulous, almost to the point of OCD. By looking so closely at the artworks, you are almost looking so closely at the artist herself.
Lorraine Loots created one drawing every day for a year for the exhibition above, by presenting the works in the way of sorting them by month and day you really are told a story of her year. You are asked to look closely at her year and what has passed and to be one with her. These artworks are small so they do create a sense of isolation when you re looking, but because you can look at the works and your eye is able to move from one to another, and then back out to the gallery you are not in complete isolation like you are with Wigan’s work. You can still discuss the artworks with your friend standing next to you, but then when they want to have a look at what you see, they will have to go in alone to see what it is that you saw.
Seward Johnson – Forever Marilyn Monroe
This sculpture, which is 7.9 metres tall, depicts a larger than life iconic woman in a pose which is even more iconic for her. This is essentially the reason this sculpture would have been made so big, because it is a physical representation of how “big” Marilyn Monroe is in history and western culture.
The sculpture stands so tall that it becomes almost gaudy, and there have certainly been people concerned about the raciness of the sculpture, in much the same way that people reacted to her character in the seven year itch. People walk under her, look up her skirt, they pose next to her, and I’ve seen one image where she has actually been defaced with graffiti. A sculpture of this size not only shows a huge icon but it also shows the way people look upon her not only with admiration of her beauty but also lust and and envy.
Something this huge you also can’t really see much more of the sculpture than under her skirt and her legs. Her skirt acts as an umbrella stopping you from seeing her face even when you look. When you get further away from her, as her face is turned up at the sky you still can’t see her. This sculpture really is using size to show how close you can feel to this iconic person, but still be so far away from knowing her. She can be so much larger than life and indeed all over our culture, and yet you still can’t really see who she is.
Ron Mueck – Baby
This hyper-realistic sculpture of a baby in huge size makes you really see the grotesqueness of something that so many people see as such a beautiful thing, and indeed is such a beautiful thing, but that when you really look at the situation from a perspective of really looking, and looking without emotion at something you are suddenly hyper-aware of the full extent of the situation of a new-born baby. Blood, hair stuck to the head, and see-through skin.
This artwork’s size means that you can really see all the immense details. It would also be hugely confronting to be in front of something so huge and scary. I mean what a terrifying situation becoming a new parent is, and here is the end result of months of creating this baby and here it is sitting in front of you, not yet completely created (it still has to grow and be nurtured to full maturity), and for people to judge (and judge they will as any new parent knows), something that you are putting out into the world, for better or worse. Just like an artwork your baby is out there for the world to see, to criticise, to comment on, to interpret, to change, and to use. What a terrifying circumstance. And that feeling is made so real, and said to be so important by the artwork representing it being so huge.
Simone Decker – Chewing Gum in Venice
Imagine walking down a side street to get to where you are going, and finding a huge wad of chewing gum strung between two buildings, making it all but impossible (you could crawl under it) to go through. What do you do? Do you go around the long way? is there even a long way? Do you get down on your hands and knees and crawl under the chewing gum, risking the possibility to putting your hand on real chewing gum on the footpath you crawl on?
Artwork like this, that makes something so tiny and insignificant as chewing gum left where it shouldn’t be left, into something so important – well, I can’t get through there, what do I do know? – forces the viewer to reconsider the importance of their actions. Really, is throwing your gum on the sidewalk as bad as this? Perhaps it is. Is it really that gross to stick it under a desk in a library? Well, perhaps it is. Someone somewhere is going to be affected by what you do. So now do you consider your actions, not just around chewing gum, but also around all of your “small, insignificant actions”? Do you consider others, and the affect you have on them? Maybe you do….
And then there is the idea of something being presented through social media, books, posters, postcards and stories as larger than they are.
For example, I had always had the impression that the Mona Lisa would be something like 1.5 metres by 1 metre or so. Then I heard that it is a lot smaller than you might think it is, so I began thinking it was around the size of an A4 size of paper. But then then you see it hanging in the gallery with something showing the size relationship you realise that actually this artwork is just a normal sized artwork. Size probably was important in some ways to Da Vinci when he created the artwork, but really not all that important, apart from maybe to say this person is just a person, nothing more or less special than anyone else. And also making her easier to relate to, and actually less important than the viewer in some ways, because she is smaller than life sized. But then that slight difference in size between life sized and smaller means that you are forced to look at there with a little more care, sort of like how you would care for a child smaller than yourself.
And then my personal favourite disappointment. Starry night.
I have always always (until right this moment) thought that starry night was huge. The story that I had heard from my dad (who hasn’t seen the artwork – but who heard from his friend) was that this artwork is huge! That it is so big that it has to be kept in a stairwell and is easy to miss because it isn’t even in its own room. I had heard that the artwork was so massive because as you walked up this stairwell and you looked at the artwork it literally came out at you from layers upon layers of paint so thickly applied that it was the mountains upon the artwork.
I loved this idea of the work -and the immense size and significance of this work.
And then I google the size of the work next to people and find that it is not metres big, but rather only 74cm by 92cm.
So, as you can see size is important in creating an artwork for so many reasons. and even the illusion of size can be hugely important in creating meaning and also significance of the work itself.