Things I Learned as an Oil Painter: Thing #7

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maccski's avatar
This is another post that leads on from the previous one.  Thing #7 is:

A small study is a huge help in developing an idea.  It also works well as an extra source.

After painting all those small studies (see thing #6…) I was itching to bust out and paint something big (or at least bigger). I picked out a favourite source photo that I had used for one of my 50 small pieces and started work.  After a short while I pulled out the study to check on how I'd tackled a certain area and found that instantly I had an awesome resource. It sounds obvious in retrospect, but I realized that the decisions I needed to make when painting the larger work had pretty much already been made while painting the study.  For the most part I was just scaling up.  In some cases I rethought parts of the piece and improved on them. With the source photo and the little canvas as a help I found I painted a lot faster and with more confidence (I'd been there before). The resulting painting was, in my opinion, a stronger work than I was previously capable of producing.  Sure, part of it had to do with my improved skill level from the sheer mileage of churning out 50 works, but I later discovered that trying a larger piece from scratch with no study was harder, slower going and in greater danger of producing a lemon.  Taking the time to paint a study may, in fact, save time overall.

Over the last little while bad habits have crept in and I've neglected the study on a couple of pieces I painted on a tight schedule.  Luckily they turned out pretty well, but, with the pressure off, I painted a 60-minute study before tackling my latest painting.  I completed the final piece in a fraction of the time and I'm very happy with the result.  I have to stock up on mini canvases….

How small is small? I find a 5" x 7" (127mm x 178mm) canvas, canvas board or masonite panel is all I need to express my ideas before committing to a larger canvas.

Thing #1:…
Thing #2:…
Thing #3:…
Thing #4:…
Thing #5:…
Thing #6:…

Why am I posting this stuff?…

Take a look at my Facebook page...if you like it, please "Like" it!…

Hasta número ocho…
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line-melte's avatar
I never used to make colour studies, but after trying it found them immensely helpful. I just need to learn to be less lazy and impatient. :nuu:
maccski's avatar
Laziness and impatience get a bad rap. If I wasn't lazy and impatient I'd still be perfecting my first painting!
line-melte's avatar
Hahaa, touché! :iconbritishplz:
KanatSanat's avatar
have you posted the small and large versions on DA?
maccski's avatar
Yes, but not linked in any way. I have, however, posted them side by side on's a link (hope you can access it) [link]

I should probably do this kind of thing on DA as well...
KanatSanat's avatar
Thanks - good example of simplification of the forms
maccski's avatar
Related to my reply to your other comment: one of my FB commenters on this piece suggested I paint the study exactly as is, but huge. Not a bad idea...
KanatSanat's avatar
I saw that, although I kinda disagree t be honest. I think you went the right way on the big one :)
maccski's avatar
I think you're probably right...but it would be fun to try!
KanatSanat's avatar
in Madrid's Reina Sofia gallery there is Picasso's Guernica, which covers a very large wall. In the same gallery, in another room, there are some of his sketches and studies - all numbered. There are thousands of them!
maccski's avatar
Wow - that's incredible! Years ago I had seen at the National Gallery in Ottawa how Tom Thomson had painted his studies en plein air on the lids of wooden boxes that his paints came in. In the dark days of winter he would use them in conjunction with his memory to produce his full sized pieces. The gallery had a display of his paint box lids. They were stunning, quick studies.
KanatSanat's avatar
Sometimes the studies retain a freshness lost in translation. I habitually strangle larger pieces to death :D
maccski's avatar
Couldn't have said it better myself. I often plan on simply enlarging the study only to find myself fiddling with details I hadn't anticipated.
TomOliverArt's avatar
21stCenturyDamocles's avatar
i do this on almost every work not always a painting but i do a high contrast drawing some times i just paint over the drawing as a guide

@Glunak use Masonite Panels to paint on a hole 8'x 4' sheet is less then 20$ Home Depot will cute them for free sand prime and geso wala instant painting
glunac's avatar
I started on small canvases (8 X10 & smaller), was terrified of trying anything larger then a sheet of paper. NOW if I could afford it (& had the space) would love to work on some extra large panels.

It is a good idea to keep a record/copy of all the reference photos used.
maccski's avatar
Agreed - I keep all reference photos in digital format and move them from an 'unused' folder to a 'used' folder when they graduate to paintings. I don't print anything - I find using a monitor way better.
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