Wednesday, June 06, 2012

POLL: How do you decide the size of your artwork?

The Making A Mark Poll for June tries to identify what's the main factor which in general influences our choice of size for our artwork
  • Many of us will have pondered on the size of our artwork since we started being artists.
  • Many of us will have tried to find the right response to that ultimate challenge - "What's the right size for my artwork?" 
  • How many times have you and I started to get an artwork framed - only to discover that only a tailor made frame will do?  Only to then find out that the cost requires a small mortgage!
Here's some of the things which have struck me over time - followed by an indication of the scope of this month's Making A Mark Poll.

Please comment with your own experiences and thoughts
about working at different sizes 
and how you have arrived at a preferred size

Art Practice
  • Moving to a bigger size loosens up the arm and stops the artwork being 'tight'
  • When working plein air, smaller paintings are more easily transportable.  The bigger the painting - the more likely it is to take off/get damaged etc
  • Using a bigger support increases the size of the space you need to work in
  • Big supports need proper easels
  • Working on a table easel is more relaxing than standing up all day at a full size easel
  • Working small can mean investment in magnifiers
Looking at the Winner of the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2008
Somebody told me after I wrote the review for this show
that they had no idea that the paintings were so BIG
That's why when writing reviews I try to include a gallery view which includes people
Art Collectors
  • Paint big and get noticed! (Have you ever noticed the size of artwork in competitions?)
  • People with big homes, lots of wallspace (and lots of money for art collections) like big paintings
  • There's a very enthusiastic market for miniature art
Art Exhibitions
  • Working to a standard size can mean framing costs reduce significantly
  • It's a lot simpler and easier to send people and exhibitions small paintings
  • Size influences postage and insurance costs (which is a not insignificant consideration once art stops being small!)
  • Big frames don't fit easily in small cars
  • You only begin to calculate your profit on a sold work after deducting gallery commission and the cost of that very expensive tailor made frame!
So here's my list of options for what influences you when deciding the size of your artwork

What's the main reason for the size of your artwork?

Here are the suggested options for the poll.  You probably use more than one - but what's the main reason for you?
  • whatever subject demands & hang the cost
  • big for competitions/ to get noticed
  • big for collectors with space & money
  • small for impulse purchases
  • small size for ease of postage
  • small size for enthusiastic collectors
  • standard sizes: for exhibitions (swop frames)
  • standard sizes: minimise framing costs
  • whatever comes to hand when I start
  • latest purchase of paper/support
  • something else
Please leave a comment if there is some other reason.

You can find the poll in the right hand column.  It runs until just after midnight on the last day of the month and I'll post the poll results later that day.


  1. I checked "small size for ease of shipping" Actually, I paint large, up to 36" x 36". Anything bigger, and the shipping cost goes way up. But the reason remains the same: I limit my size because of the cost of shipping

    1. I smiled! I maybe could have got that description better - thanks for the explanation

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Voted for 'something else' and for that I thought I should comment why I did. As a plein air painter I use small panels, for several reasons one of them is the transportation one. I've discovered that many plein air artist use pochade boxes and most of the English one even use pochade boxes with build inn wet panel carriers. I then noticed that, for example Trevor Chamberlain painted a lot 8 x 10's in his car using a small thumb-box so in the end size doesn't matter. Now after several years painting on the same size on the same side (landscape format) it's so in my mind I think I even watch the world this way. One extra nice thing about it is that I can use a cardboard box now with spacers where I transport my wet panel in. The acid free boxes ( can contain 5 paintings which are separated with the self made spacers (just a panel where the inner part is cut out)Its just awesome for travels I can take tons of panels with me in a trolley-bag knowing they won't be touching each other. I'll guess you could change to a different size, with the same stuff along with it, but then again size doesn't matter, except for the trolley bag, backpack weight and so on. (sorry for the double placment)

  4. Also a Gallery/Restaurant might specify sizes?

  5. Somebody has written to me and said

    "Regarding size of picture, you missed out "small for ability to store after it comes back from the exhibitions"!"

    I identify with this one having just moved all my stock three times trying to find a better way of storing them! I find 'on the wall' is a good option - but small works better for that too!

  6. I was wondering if you have ever done a similar poll in more financially buoyant times and if the results would be different. I’ve noticed the last couple of years that smaller works have gained in popularity whilst people’s budgets have shrunk. They still want to buy art and add to their collections but smaller (less expensive) work is easier for them to justify. (maybe this is more noticeable outside of London?) This may reflect in your poll as some artists have had to cut back and maybe play it a bit ‘safer’ working to standard sizes so that frames can be swopped around, postage charges to customers is kept down etc. Also the range of standard size frames now is much bigger than it used to be with panoramic and square frames quite easily available so it is possible to work outside of the constraints of the traditional rectangle whilst still keeping framing costs down. I use both pre-made and bespoke frames the sizing depending on where the work will end up but at the moment smaller pieces are working better for me on the whole. It does mean I have a list of ideas for larger works to be painted when the economy finally gets going again but for now I have to be practical.

  7. I decided to do my reply as a blog post - - as it got too long for here!

    As you know, some of my work is to standard sizes but a lot is the whatever-size-and-shape-it-needs-to-be-hang-the-cost! or work around it somehow, The blog post explains.

  8. Another ticker of "something else" - I work small partly through choice, and partly due to having a dodgy shoulder meaning I can't use an easel. My gallery, thought, wants me to go bigger - there does seem to be a real bias towards bigger!

    1. Galleries like artists and artwork with impact. You have to be very good to go very small!

  9. I checked 'small size for enthusiastic collectors' because I have seen there is a specific market for this, not everyone has big walls or at least big walls in need.
    There are plenty of collectors with smaller houses/apartments or that are just looking for art for smaller walls/areas.

    Although I work larger that is the MAIN reason NOW, the poll gave us one selection.
    Initially my answer would have been different.
    I had become involved with a gallery that favored small works (small affordable) and that is what got me going in that direction.

  10. my reasons for creating small pieces, around 8x10 is because i am a single mom with a day job! if i create larger drawings, because of all the details i'd probably only be able to produce 1-3 drawings a year. with a smaller format i can easily produce 6-10 pieces a year. i love working big but for now this seems to suit my needs really well!

  11. I voted "something else" because there are multiple factors I weigh equally when choosing the size. Because I work with portraiture, the scale is a big factor, but it also has to play along with the subject's personality or the painting's concept. I want to make certain that I have enough space to get the intrinsic details down but not make the piece so large in scale that it's overwhelming (unless that's part of the concept). I also tend to make pieces that will be shipped 11x14 or smaller for ease of packing and ship costs, but have no problem making things 36" wider or larger if I am hand delivering. And if it's a commissioned piece, the client's budget also determines the size.

  12. I'm a 'something else' ticker too. In summer I tend to work larger because my separate studio is okay to work in; during winter I work smaller so I can work in the warmth of the house. I'm also inclined to choose a canvas size based on my feelings on the day.
    I do love being able to grab a large canvas or paper and really spread the paint round, but being warm enough to work wins every time...

  13. I also selected "something else" as the answer varies. I work small for collectors, I work large (huge large - up to 7 feet square) because I love big art, I work in medium sizes because I might not be feeling up to the task of something larger and also for exhibits.

    I work with textiles so shipping and storage is much less of a problem as I can roll the work for both taking up much less space and costing much less to ship. I do mount anything 12" or smaller on stretched canvas and have found the storage to be an issue that I didn't have back before I used the canvas - I might have put in more storage in my studio had I run into this problem soon!

    The solution is, of course, to sell everything so I don't have to store it :)

    Thanks for another interesting poll Katherine!

  14. PS - I also wanted to mention that most of my work is non-standard sizes as I don't start with a canvas but instead build the work on my studio wall to whatever size works for me. With all the cutting and stitching it's very difficult to work to a specific size, especially with larger work.

    For my smaller pieces (anything under 12" square) they are a standard size as I buy pre-stretched canvas off the shelf so I want it to fit properly.

  15. "Moving to a bigger size loosens up the arm and stops the artwork being 'tight'"
    Interesting. I find the opposite to be true for me. The larger the canvas, the more room I have to get in every eyelash and pebble. When working on a small canvas, there's no way to get in that sort of detail. So I'm forced to loosen up and concentrate on the larger planes of the subjects.


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