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Small Paintings​

Quick, spontaneous and lots of fun

In preparation for an upcoming exhibition I decided to rough out some ideas using small (4” x 3”) sketches. Once I got started on these small paintings I couldn’t stop. They were such a lot of fun - no pressure to produce a masterpiece, just quick, exciting experiments that revealed numerous options I would have otherwise never have considered.


4”x 3” seems tiny, but it is surprising how much detail and subtlety can be packed into such a small space.

small watercolor painting

A cardboard template made keeping to a consistent size a simple task.

Simple cardboard template to keep small paintings a consistent size

What I Discovered.

Experiments with color options, texture treatments and composition arrangements could be carried out quickly and effectively. I also experimented with a number of different materials such as ochres, inks, gesso and Gouache.
I found the spontaneous freshness of these tiny works rarely carried over into larger paintings.

The thing that surprised me the most was the impact of these tiny paintings. My initial plan was to simply use them as stepping stones to larger work, but after producing around 30 of these sketches, decided to include them in the exhibition.


These paintings are all around 4”x 3” - some were done quickly while others were manipulated and adjusted over a period of time. Some were transparent washes, others were built up with opaque layers of gesso and gouache.

The thing I liked the most was the fact that if things went wrong it didn’t really matter - after all, they were just small sketches. This kept them fresh and experimental. Surprisingly, very little went wrong! Because they were so small, they could be quickly and easily adjusted if necessary.

The small 4”x 3” paintings led on to slightly bigger 8”x5” paintings. The same quick, spontaneous approach was taken, but a little more detail included. Again the purpose of these little paintings was to push around ideas for larger works.

All these paintings were based on a number of trips to numerous Australian deserts. The growing collection of 8x5 paintings gave rise to the exhibitions title - Desert Postcards.

As a result of the smaller paintings, ideas and techniques found their way into a number of larger works.

Outstation Goats Watercolor and Mixed Media on Aluminium Composite Panel

“Outstation Goats” 12” x 22” Watercolor and Mixed Media on Aluminium Composite Panel

“Sapling Ridge” 22” x 30” Watercolor and Mixed Media on Arches 300gsm Cold Press Paper

"Dust From The West" Watercolor and Mixed Media on Fabriano 600gsm Rough Paper primed with Golden absorbent ground (Below)

Sapling Ridge - watercolor and mixed media on 600gsm paper

Starting a collection of paintings with small spontaneous studies is a great way to come to grips with a theme. It also reveals all sorts of techniques and approaches you probably wouldn’t consider when faced with a large blank surface.


Many of these small works were done on location in a sketch book, others were done in the studio, building on ideas from the location sketches.

The end result, when seen hanging together gives a great overview of many aspects of the desert theme.

Small Paintings - framed and hanging
Tips for Small Paintings

  • Work quickly and confidently

  • Take risks and experiment

  • Stick to a constant size to give the collection unity

  • Some paintings will come together instantly - others will require lots of refining

  • Use a rigger brush for fine detail

  • I like the sketchy quality of a loose pencil or rigger brush boarder around each painting

  • Frame with breathing space  (The works above have a large lower margin containing the title)

  • Use the lessons learned from these small works to move onto bigger paintings


See also the DESERT POSTCARDS exhibition preview

Author: John Lovett

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