How Paper Size Affects a Painting

How Paper Size Affects a Painting

One of the first things to consider when starting a new painting is the size of your canvas or paper. But how does size affect the painting, in terms of both the results and the process? Let's take a closer look, so keep reading to find out more!

It’s a Small World

Let’s start small, with anything A7 (74 x 105mm) or smaller. Paintings of this size can either take a very long time or no time at all, depending on your approach.

Since it’s so small, some artists opt to use all their thinnest brushes and add all the details for an intricate-looking piece. This can take up a bit of time and possibly strain your eyes (tip: take more frequent breaks!) but results in a delicate painting that invites the viewer to come closer with a magnifying glass.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can do tiny painting or drawing studies, similar to thumbnail sketches. This is great for testing out possible colour combinations or even studying the same subject from multiple angles.

If it doesn’t work out, it’s fine – you didn’t use up too much time, plus you learn a little more about colour, form, and composition.

Cards and Postcards

The next step up would be between A5 (148 x 210mm) and A7. It’s still considered small, but with a bit more breathing room to expand.

Other common sizes that fall in this category would be the size of a postcard or greeting card, which is often a standard 4” x 6”. 

I find that this is a great “travel size”, because any smaller and it would be difficult to fit everything inside, but any bigger and it would be difficult to travel with. I also find that it’s a good size to balance between areas of detail (i.e. for the main focus of the painting) and background areas, which can be done with a more casual hand.

If you’re going for an A5 size, it’s pretty much double the size of a postcard, so you could fit even more of a scene within its frame. It’s about the size where you might want to consider using some large brushes, and you could use more wet-on-wet techniques, as granulation and blends will show up better on the larger surface.

Medium to Large

From here, you’re moving into the middling territory: between A5 and A4 (210 x 297mm) size. I say “middling”, as it’s one of the more common painting sizes for finalised watercolour paintings.

It allows for much more breathing room and different contrasts, including space, colour, composition, and techniques. You can also create a greater sense of depth, as it’s easier to distinguish between the foreground and background.

I will say though that it’s sometimes a little tricky to know how to fill up the space, depending on what you’re used to! But one great way to work on a larger painting is to grab all your largest brushes and use more expressionistic strokes.

It also means that you can practice “seeing the bigger picture”, so while a closer look may make it seem chaotic or a jumbled mess, taking a step back will suddenly help the painting make sense while retaining its unique character.

Larger and Beyond

“Largest” is anything larger than A4 size. It’s trickier with watercolours to get a consistently flat wash since there’s so much area to cover, but it’s still possible with a larger brush and good quality paper.

There’s also more room to do paint splatters, and it does feel freer to have a bigger space to work with. Note that the chances of the paper warping will be higher unless you’ve stretched your paper, or are working with a very thick paper (i.e. at least 400gsm or more).

Alternatively, if you go on the more detailed route, a larger painting will make these details look even more polished, as they all mingle together from far away. The downside is that it will take much longer to complete these paintings, though.

Regardless, larger paintings give a sense of grandeur and are better for affecting the atmosphere of the room or space it’s in. It will give your arm a good workout though, so I highly recommend practising to build control and strength!

Whether you’re just curious or well into your art journey, it’s good to try out the different sizes before settling on the one that suits your painting style the most. And whether you go big or small, the important thing is to keep exploring your art, and making discoveries both big and small!

What’s your preferred size to paint in? How do you think a painting’s size affects your subject? Let us know in the comments below!

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about the creative process, feel free to subscribe to our email newsletter. Whether you’re experimenting or want to dive deeper into the art world, we’ll notify you of all the latest happenings with Etchr!

Nicola Tsoi is a practising graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 
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