Yesterday, Alex Nodopaka of Lake Forest, California, USA, wrote, “What do you think about making art by cutting larger paintings into several pieces, and also cropping existing work slightly smaller? Also, what’s the recommended way to do this?”
Thanks, Alex. Very often, a large “mish-mash” — poorly composed or overly cluttered work — can have a better life by turning it into two or three smaller works. To get an idea of potential compositions within paintings, try moving frames of various sizes around in the offending work. Two “L” shaped cards are okay, too, but they don’t always lead to the preferred standard sizes. Paintings often take on new strength and presence when they are even slightly cropped. For example, a 12″ x 16″ can often be downsized to 11″ x 14″ to good effect. A 24″ x 30″ can theoretically be turned into a 16″ x 20″, a couple of vertical 10″ x 12″s and a pair of 8″ x 10″s.
While a laborious and time-consuming job, canvas can be removed from stretchers by pulling out all the staples and re-stretching on different stretchers. I prefer to mount canvas onto boards. You need to knife the canvas slightly larger than the proposed size. Excellent prepared boards with reversible heat-activated conservator’s adhesive for this exact purpose are provided by various companies including Art Boards of Brooklyn, New York. You get everything hot in your kitchen oven and then roll the canvas down with a brayer.
For smaller work I glue down with not-so-reversible acrylic medium. Some artists use one of the various carpenter’s glues, but I don’t recommend them. After cutting the canvas from the old stretcher I spread straight medium onto quarter-inch (or thicker) mahogany plywood cut to the required size. I press the canvas to the panel using a book press. (A couple of old Britannicas will do.) After the work has adhered to the panel, the overlapping canvas is knifed off and you have a fresh new painting. Give the back (and edges) a coat of thinned medium or varnish to help prevent warping.
It’s okay to go in and finesse your downsized work. Often, the new format suggests painterly opportunities you didn’t see before. Sign and go.
PS: “A well-composed painting is half done.” (Pierre Bonnard)
Esoterica: It’s often a mystery why compositions get out of whack. A well-composed painting can be spotted from across a room and draw folks toward it. A mish-mash sends them on their way — no matter how well done its parts. Sometimes it’s just a matter of too much space around some of the elements within the picture plane. In other cases the artist has lost control of the eye-control. While it’s desirable to compose well to start with, cropping and downsizing are legitimate ploys. Knives, skill-saws and glues are treasured tools of aware artists.
Reworking older paintings
by Suzanne DesRosiers
Thank you for explaining in such wonderful detail, including your step-by-step photos. I do have a question, as you say there might be an opportunity to enhance the newly-sized piece by some reworking. If a painting is, say, 10 years old and it is a piece done either in acrylic or water soluble oil paints, is this possible or is this approach of downsizing only applicable to new fresh work.
(RG note) Thanks, Suzanne. I’ve done it to lackluster twenty-year-olds. Whether oil or acrylic, you need to make sure any varnish is removed before you go in and rework. Remove oil varnish with varnish remover. With water soluble oils in particular, test a corner to make sure there was enough binder (medium) in the original painting. You will know the painting is not suitable for adding material if the surface becomes chalky or flaky. Acrylic varnish is removed with a soft rag and household ammonia. Do it outside to avoid the fumes and wash the remainder away with lots of clean water.
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Little gems discovered
by Mike Barr, Adelaide, South Australia
Last year I went through a shed full of works that just weren’t moving for one reason or another. Many paintings went into the bin but others were cut down to size, sometimes dramatically, and made much better compositions. I tend to like a lot of sky in my works to give them scale, but I saw that the main focus of some works were lost because of it. Anyway, my slash and burn voyage into the shed produced a whole ‘new’ set of works that have found their way into homes abroad instead of a tired old storeroom. I thoroughly recommend the process to any artist who has a growing number of paintings filling the house. Little gems are bound to be discovered.
Sealing boards of larger sizes
by Andrea Pottyondy, Fall River, NS, Canada
For mounting paper onto board would it be advisable to gesso the board first then use an adhesive, medium.? …I wish I could use the heat activated boards but my artworks are 25 x 35 and my oven wouldn’t be able to accommodate large boards!
(RG note) Thanks, Andrea. Gesso is fine. I always seal the wooden board first with a thinned coat of acrylic medium — both sides and edges. Mounting paper on board requires that you use one of the recommended acid free paper glues. YES! Paste is popular with crafters and is 100% acid free. Elmer’s Glue is okay. Most available glue sticks have been found to be untrustworthy and don’t seem to last. Acrylic medium, which is very popular with some artists can creep through paper if badly applied and make nasty blotches. Regarding large sizes for the prepared heat activated boards by Art Boards, the kitchen oven is pretty well limited to 16″x 20″ and smaller.
There is 1 comment for Sealing boards of larger sizes by Andrea Pottyondy
Folding around edges of board
by Lena Leszczynski, Vancouver, BC, Canada
If I understand correctly, you are not folding the edges around the mahogany board, just cutting them to exactly the same size, once glued on? Is that right?
(RG note) Thanks, Lena. That’s right. Some artists like to fold. I find folding to be time consuming and unnecessary. Further, when more than one work is being released from a larger canvas, you might need all the canvas you can get.
Chopped up art for Halloween treats
by Grace Cowling, Grimsby, ON, Canada
I have to smile at today’s letter. Seventeen years ago when we moved house Halloween was approaching. What to do with an inventory of watercolour paintings? I cut them into 2″ squares on my Dahl and mounted them on 4″ squares of mat board. On the big night I arranged them on a large tray for the trick-or-treaters and they made quite a hit. One each-a-piece, guys. Some parents informed me their kids put them up in their rooms and of the course the next year “great expectations” arrived at the door. Two years pretty well exhausted the supply. Meanwhile I got a smile from the abstracts that emerged, never having been one for abstracts.
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Masonite as support
by Peter Pook, ON, Canada
With regards to down-sizing, nothing beats painting on 1/16″ Masonite. Score the desired cut line with a carpet knife several times on both sides and place the cut line on the edge of a table. Apply slight pressure and you get a clean sharp edge so both sides can be salvaged if desired.
(RG note) Thanks, Peter. Masonite is the trade name of a hard pressed board that goes by other names in other countries. The really hard (dark and shiny) surface of some gives it away as “Tempered Masonite.” This product is loaded with acids which will cause foxing that can creep through even stout cotton or linen canvas. You need to seal it thoroughly. Better still, use the more hairy (lighter coloured) product called “Untempered Masonite.”
The hair of the mongoose
by Loretta Hauser
I use mongoose hair brushes and when I really splurge, linen canvas. The difference is like fine European chocolate versus a Hershey bar. I do not hold a degree in Fine Art — my degrees are in literature and education — but I have studied art most of my life, and I have taken many classes. My “outsider artist” education is apparent in that some of my paintings are good and others look like they were created by a disturbed mind.
First problem: does anyone know how to preserve mongoose hair brushes? I clean them but I still get a stiffness factor that I hate. The best product I’ve found so far is Fels Naptha, a laundry soap bar for less than $2.00 at the grocery store, but still the brushes get stiff unless I am using them every day.
(RG note) Thanks, Loretta. I was absent the day they covered Mongeese in art school. Perhaps our readers might be able to offer some advice.
There are 4 comments for The hair of the mongoose by Loretta Hauser
A valuable connection
by Andre Satie, Ensenada, Baja, CA, USA
I recently saw a painting I loved in one of your clickbacks. I followed up by going to the artist’s site, John Ferrie‘s. I’ve been trying to learn to use acrylics, for many reasons, and having difficulty. I wrote to him with admiration for his work, and a mention of my personal struggle. He answered by offering advice if I’d send him some of my work. There followed some correspondence, and …. wow and voila’ …. his advice was what I needed. I finished a fun piece and am satisfied now that I can, indeed, use acrylics and enjoy the process. Here is my first attempt, done after a watercolor sketch done a couple of years ago. Thanks for the website, thanks for the clickbacks, and thanks to John.
(RG note) Thanks, Andre. It’s very satisfying when we hear of all the new and old connections, friendships, sales and trades that are made between artists and others. So far, to my knowledge, there have been at least two weddings that resulted from people corresponding from this site.
Quite a cut-up
by Alex Nodopaka, Lake Forest, CA, USA
Thank you for picking up my suggestion about downsizing and giving me a boost through your letter. As a matter of fact, let me expand on the subject. It happened recently that I suggested to an artist the very thing you speak so knowledgeably about and the artist, without saying he was offended by my suggestion, didn’t see my point and refused to cut down his painting. Let me explain more clearly:
I bought a rather well executed full figure nude portrait. Fortunately or not, it lent itself to being 2 wonderful abstracted nudes. I bought the piece for a miserly sum and swear my suggestion was worth no less than ten-fold upping the price had the artist understood what I meant.
The details are that the artwork was an excellent ‘studio’ student study, a stigma for a higher priced item, with a full facial portrait. By eliminating the facial identification and further abstracting it, at least one, if not two, excellent paintings would’ve been made.
There are 3 comments for Quite a cut-up by Alex Nodopaka
Enjoy the past comments below for Downsizing…
fine art photograph
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Tommy Hunt who wrote, “I just started downsizing the size of my canvases to 8×8 inches (as well as the price) in the hope of encouraging sales. Another form of downsizing you could say.”
And also Jacques Borel of Paris, France, who wrote, “It makes sense to downsize for yet another reason my friend. With the aging populations people are downsizing their living accommodations and moving into smaller flats that take smaller art.”