small ‘exercise’ paintings

small paintings 1-9
Had a bit of a play yesterday, using small (5 x 7 inches…approximately 13 x 18 cm) canvases. I started each one as a pool of two or three colors, allowing them to bleed into each other (or smooshing them together with a brush, if they were thicker) and dry. Then I’d wait until there was a detail that I wanted to paint in…hair, or coils, or round bubble shapes…and let the shape and colors lead the way to a finished image.

These were fun. Didn’t do any planning or trying to determine things in advance. I would just get this idea that I wanted to paint a fragment of knitting…so I’d pick up one of the canvases with a dry blob of paint on it, and start fitting rows of knitting over it, just as though I were making a sweater for a jelly monster. These felt more like studies for bigger paintings.

I do think an artist should actually work in different sizes like small, medium and large. I mean, your head can occupy the small, that size….And big is your body and medium is, I think medium is the hardest to operate because it occupies only part of your body. Like either just from your neck to your knees or from your head to the top of your genitals or, I mean, it’s a weird kind of scale and size.
—Squeak Carnwath, in conversation with John Yau

It seems strange to me, and yet completely right, that the size of the canvas determines my approach to it, and the feeling of the finished work. This particular size I associate with postcards and pocket books…ephemeral things that wink in and out of existence. I don’t feel the need to paint anything sweeping or exhaustive. Don’t need to work layer upon layer, waiting for something to slowly emerge out of all that paint. The need for a narrative, or to arrange several elements together so that they inhabit a small universe within the painting, is absent. I’m happy to paint one small blobby, hilly, lumpen object, without making any references to its past or future. For me these are really about the colors, and the small gestures of mark-making that texture the surface.

5 thoughts on “small ‘exercise’ paintings

  1. At times I approach my work the same way. I’m a sewist and usually that means fairly large projects, however, sometimes I just want to make a little mug rug or a small bag…something I don’t have to think about–just make. Your drawings can be an inspiration to all kinds of crafters.


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