Wednesday, October 01, 2014

go BIG- tips and tricks for painting large

Painting large is my jam! Give me a small surface and I'm uncomfortable but give me a wall and I am in my happy place. I get asked all kinds of questions about painting large so today I have put together a handful of the best tips I can give about creating BIG!

In my opinion, large is totally subjective. For example, for me large is working on a surface at least 2 feet X 3 feet. For others it may be working on a surface that is 11x 14 inches. Start by deciding what feels big (or at least bigger than how you normally work), start from there and work your way up. 

Working large requires the space to work large! Before deciding how big you want to go you will need to figure out where you will work. The floor is my favorite place to work large. I like to spread out my materials and crawl around my surface (though I must warn that it's hard on your back and knees). 
  • The wall is another great place for working large- if you have wall to spare, you can staple your canvas, fabric or paper to it and create standing up. 
  • An easel also work great for large surfaces like stretched canvas or wood. 
  • A table top also works well for large surfaces- you can walk around the surface as you work. 
  • In the summer months I like to paint outside and will throw drop clothes over the driveway and then use that space for painting. 
  • A fold up card table can be really handy because you can pull it out and set it up anywhere to paint on!

Another thing to consider is that the larger you work, the more paint (and supplies) you will need to fill that space up. This is something that often gets overlooked- making big pieces of art can end up being expensive because of all the paint that you need. My favorite trick that I have been using since college paintings classes it to use house paint to prime my surface, for splattering and drips and for mixing with my smaller tubes of acrylic paint. If you can't afford gesso, house paint it the next best thing if you are on a budget!

It's easy to think that canvas is the only material to use when painting large but there are all kinds of different surfaces that will work-

Canvas: Canvas will always be my favorite surface to work on but it can get expensive when working large. Here are a a couple of my cost saving tips- 

  • Purchasing large canvas that is stretched is really expensive so I always recommend learning to stretch your own. Most art supply stores will sell stretcher bars and yardage of canvas- sometimes they will actually show you how to stretch or there are all kinds of resources online when it comes to stretching. I shared THIS POST a few years ago on stretching canvas.  

  • I love using canvas drop clothes from Home Depot- they are an affordable way to work large with canvas 
Dick Blick has EVERYTHING you can imagine when it comes to canvas HERE 
Canvas by the yard- HERE 
Stretched canvas - HERE 
Canvas drop cloths from Home Depot- HERE

Fabric: If you are not ready to commit to purchasing canvas but you want to try working large, I recommend purchasing a couple yards of fabric or even an old sheet. Use it like you would use canvas.
You can find all kinds fabric to paint on at any fabric store. My favorite fabrics to paint on are- broadcloth, denim, cotton drill cloth (this feels very much like canvas but is much lights and has a smoother surface that is easy to cover with paint and is quite affordable 

Paper: Working large on paper is a great way to experiment with going big. Craft paper, painter's paper (used to cover the floor when painting) or butcher paper all take paint and layers of mixed media techniques really well. The best part is that you can roll that art up and it's easy to store.
White utility paper- HERE
Butcher paper- HERE 
All purpose brown paper- HERE

Wood: I love working on a wood surface- it is another really afforable way to get the experience of going big without breaking the bank.  Sheets of plywood are typically the cheapest and are readily available at most home improvement stores. Most of these stores will cut that wood to size for a small fee. If you are really working on a budget, try looking through the scrap bins at home improvement stores- you can find all kinds of larger scraps of wood for half the price!

A Wall: There is nothing better than a big blank wall ready to be painted! It's not for everyone but a wall is a great surface for large creative projects.

Typically I work very spontaneous and intuitively but when I am working large I do take a little time to make a color plan. Since working large requires more paint, I don't like to waste paint on making choices that don't feel right to me. I take a little time to select a color scheme and I keep those colors on close at hand while I am painting.

Whenever I teach painting classes about working large I am surprised at how hesitant students are to use mixed media techniques on a big surface. Anything, I mean anything can be used- collage, doodling, drawing, layering, stamping, stenciling, free writing, etc are all techniques that work really well. The only thing to remember is that it takes more work, sometimes different supplies and more time when applying those techniques.

When I am working large I like to keep a variety of supplies (in different shapes and sizes) on hand.  For example I always have thick Sharpies and paint pens, a variety of medium-large brushes, a large palette knife and larger stamps and stencils. Tiny details made with tiny supplies don't translate that well when creating large so working with a variety of tools in different sizes is handy.

Interested in learning more about painting and creating large? Check out my online class Larger Than Life HERE


livethegoldenrule said...

Good tips. Thank you! I started something about a month ago, then just sat it aside. You've been very helpful. ;D


So pretty and great post!

martinealison said...


Une très intéressante publication... J'ai beaucoup aimé vos conseils.

Gros bisous ☼


i like this project

Hannah at The Lemon Hive said...

You inspired me to syst thinking about doing a mural in my living room but then I was met with fear and I couldn't do it. So I started working on canvas and other large things until I worked up the courage. I still haven't done it but I'm feeling more comfortable with the idea. I'm glad you shared this, it definitely came at the right time. I love your work. It's fabulous!

Sue Marrazzo Fine Art said...

gREAT post!

CiNdYe said...

All great options when going big! Here's another (and it's cheap!) ... rosin paper:

Anonymous said...

Another idea: my local newspaper sells the ends of newsprint rolls really cheaply. Also great for kids to work on as it goes such a long way. Thanks for this great post, Alisa: you give so generously of all your ideas. Denise

Rosalina said...

I love large paintings but I am better at small paintings. I love how my small works turn out but anytime I try to paint large I mess up. Will keep practicing though cause large paintings are such a statement. Love your art by the way!!!!!

Jeannette said...

Love your paintings and projekt,thank you for sharing alisa :-)
Great post are this,and i love when kids drawings,its so many happyness in her works.

XXX Jeannette

Blair said...

I'm planning a large wall mural in my home. Do you have recommendations for paint type? Is it best to start with a base coat of latex house paint (semi gloss?) and then use acrylic for the detail? Or go house paint all the way for the base and detail? Or other? Thanks!!

Unknown said...

Lovely work.

Unknown said...

Masonite has been used for as long as I've been an artist and is thought to be permanent. It's cheap (more or less) at the lumberyard and they will cut a 4x8 sheet into as many pieces as you want for a nominal fee.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

This is wonderful and quite informative blog I have learnt so many things from here.

Unknown said...

Brilliant details you have kept in your article, I am truly impressed. Great Western Painting Calgary

Unknown said...

Hi. This very good and so helpful post for me. Thanks for sharing.
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Unknown said...

Rough side for canvas look (hard on brushes, though), smooth side for other styles! Lumber yards Home Depot, etc.


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