Working in this, small 6"x 6" format, is a continual challenge for me - and my students. I like broad brushwork and large shapes but getting that look, in the 6"x 6" size, when you are used to a 16"x 20" format
- well, you see the problem.
A small canvas can really psych you out and students immediately grab the smallest brushes in the box. So what's to do?
I have found that being more selective about reference material is a priority. Many of us are used to working with 4"x 6" photo prints that can take in epic views: trees, mountains, a barn, the river, foreground, etc. - and they all look so good in the photo. . . and soooo tiny.
Broad work calls for broad forms. Look for photos with strong shapes and values, that means good patterns of light and dark . If you have a snap shot you love - blow it up on a common copier and see how it holds up in black and white. It can be so helpful to make the reference the same size as the painting, and not too hard if our format is 6"x 6".
Then ask yourself the really hard question: What is this painting about?
The piece above is from a photo taken of me with a group of painters last Fall at the Colorado Mountain Plein air Fest. What struck me was the light and dark pattern around the umbrella and the hat. I blew that photo up and moved over it with a square frame until I found the composition that suited a small format.