A Sense of Scale

November 14, 2008 at 1:20 pm 2 comments

Blank Canvases

If you’ve seen my art, you know that I tend to work at a certain scale.

I use standard-sized canvases, ranging from the smallest at 8×10 inches to the largest (so far) at 40×30 inches.

I think of these as “natural” sizes for paintings. Human-scale objects in our everyday lives tend to be measured in inches, feet, or yards. A painting smaller than an inch across would be hard to see. A painting larger than 20 or 30 feet can’t fit in the door. So most artists (myself included) tend to stick with “reasonable” sizes somewhere between these extremes.

There’s another reason to stick to “reasonable” sizes: the cost of materials.

I buy my canvases pre-made, in standard sizes, in bulk. This keeps my costs down, so I can keep my prices affordable. To me, it makes sense to leave certain parts of the manufacturing process to others. Let the paint and canvas manufacturers do their thing, and I’ll do mine. I’m not interested in making my own paints or canvases or brushes. I’d rather the experts did that so I can focus on the part that I’m good at: painting.

But I’ve discovered this only works up to a certain point. You see, I want to start making larger paintings. I want to go much larger than my current largest size, which is only 40×30″ right now. I’m thinking maybe 5 or 6 feet across. But I’m running into all sorts of issues.

First there’s cost. Pre-made canvases are pretty reasonable up to a point, but above about 4 feet across they start getting much more expensive. And on top of the material cost there’s shipping. Suddenly you’re into “oversized” shipping territory, and shipping rates go through the roof. These babies are expensive.

And then there’s availability. At the largest sizes of pre-made stretched canvases, there are only a few options. You can get 4×4 feet, 4×5′, 4×6′, or 5×6′. But if you want 5×5 you’re out of luck, never mind going larger or wanting other sizes! Oh, and there’s only one type of canvas available at these sizes, so if you don’t like that style you’re out of luck.

There are other issues, like storage, transportation, and structural (and aesthetic) engineering. Going large is a lot more involved that at first appears! But the biggest hurdles for me right now are cost and availability.

The bottom line is I have to make my own canvases. So much for my idea of letting the manufacturers do their thing! It’s just no longer feasible at larger sizes. Reluctantly, I find I have to become a manufacturer.

My task now is to find local sources for the necessary raw materials. Stay tuned, progress reports to follow.


Entry filed under: Materials, Painting, Process.

Open Studio November 8-9, 2008 Postcards


  • 1. Marcy Grissom Brennan  |  March 22, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    You could find a retired carpenter and pay him to do them for you. You supply the roll of canvas and specify the type of wood for the frame.

  • 2. barbarajcarter  |  April 2, 2012 at 5:21 am

    Hi Marcy, thanks for stopping by! That’s an interesting suggestion, thank you for that.

    For now my workaround is to break up a bigger painting into smaller pieces. For example I make a 6-foot-wide painting from three 2-foot-wide canvases. These triptychs have been quite popular. They’re easier for me to transport to shows, and easier for buyers to take home in their cars.

Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

I invite you to sign up to receive my free email newsletter, in which I list my upcoming shows and talk about my latest work. I send it irregularly, a few times a year.

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Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

A bunch of my abstract dot paintings

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