Monday, September 20, 2010

It's not easy being small

Posted by Maggie

I recently had the honor of jurying the Small Works Exhibition for the Pastel Society of New Mexico. This is a presentation of small paintings which is shown in conjunction with the organization's annual juried national exhibition. 

The paintings were amazing. All in pastel, of course, and all within the limit of 48 square inches, or, say 6x8.  That's pretty small.

But that got me to thinking about another show held here in New Mexico as part of the Masterworks exhibition—the miniature show, which has a size limit of 20 square inches. That would be 4x5 or some other proportion which added up to 20 or less.

When I paint with pastels, I think of 9x12 as small. My favorite sizes are 16x20 or 18x24. If glass wasn't so expensive and so heavy, I'd probably work even larger. I love the freedom of movement of a large surface, the expressive sweep of a stroke of pastel laid down swiftly and firmly.

But, having juried this show, I decided I'd try my hand at a really small painting, using the under 20 square inch limitation of the Masterworks miniatures. I used as reference an oil painting I'd done on location not long ago, which was 6x8. How hard could it be to reduce that to fit onto my little scrap of paper?

Very hard.

In case you haven't noticed, most pastel sticks are big. I particularly like the fat square Ludwig pastels, the really fat round Richeson handmade soft pastels, and quite a few others, none of which I'd noticed were not small. Until I tried to work in those little tiny areas of my painting.  The final painting, which will probably not go into a frame because I don't have any frames that small, is Arroyo on a Gray Day, 3.5x5.5 on Pastelmat, ©Maggie Price.

Now I'm going to go paint something big, like maybe 11x14.


  1. I tried doing small pastels, but it felt more like drawing than painting as I had to resort to using pastel pencils. I prefer the freedom of big, loose marks with my fat sticks. I tried sharpening my nupastels without success. Nupastels have a broader color range than my pencils. If anyone has an idea on sharpening nupastels (other than rubbing on sandpaper) I'd appreciate hearing about it.

  2. Pretty little painting, Maggie!

    I did about dozen of those small pastel paintings (4x6") about a year ago. Totally enjoyed working on each single one of them. Tried different supports and different pastels. I would say best results I achieved on Ampersand pastel board with Holbein pastels. They are smaller square sticks, not exactly the same with Nupastels. Pencils did well on this board too, so I was pleased with end results. I had a great time by entering some of those works at juried miniature art shows what was fun and easy, because of the size of paintings. I think you should frame this one in some suitable frame... perhaps with some mat. It is beautiful work and it is very few good pastel miniatures out there...