Artwork Sizing: Mastering Scale for Greater Appeal

In the art world, the size of your canvas or sculpture is more than just its physical dimensions; it’s a key element that can significantly impact how you connect with your audience and stand out in the market. From my experience as a gallery owner, I’ve noticed that the size of artwork often doesn’t get the attention it deserves, yet it plays a crucial role in an artist’s success. It’s a tool that you, as an artist, can use not just for creative expression but also to align with market trends, meet collector preferences, and fulfill gallery requirements.

Today, let’s explore how your artwork’s size affects everything from how people perceive art to the practicalities of making and exhibiting it. I’ll share insights on why varying the sizes in your work can open doors to a wider audience, appealing to a broader spectrum of art lovers and buyers. Understanding the strategic use of size in your art is an essential yet often overlooked aspect of a thriving artistic career.

Understanding the Market Dynamics of Artwork Size

The age-old question of “what size artwork sells best” is more complex than it appears. While smaller artworks often sell in higher volumes due to their affordability, larger pieces, though they might sell less frequently, can command higher prices and offer substantial financial returns. For instance, in my gallery, smaller artworks, like 5×5 or 6×9 pieces, fly off the walls, but larger, monumental pieces, although they take longer to sell, can be game-changers when they do.

The Psychological Impact of Size

Desertscape–Clouds Over Pinnacle Peak by John Horejs, 60″ x 72″ – This painting greeted visitors through our front window, and though it took some time, eventually sold to collectors who were looking for a statement piece for their new home.

The size of an artwork does more than fill a physical space; it plays a pivotal role in shaping the viewer’s psychological response. In my years of gallery management, I’ve observed firsthand how the dimensions of a piece can dramatically alter perception and engagement.

Large-scale artworks command immediate attention. Their sheer size can evoke a sense of awe and wonder, making them not just art pieces but experiential phenomena. When a viewer encounters a large painting or sculpture, it often becomes more than just viewing; it’s an immersive experience. For instance, I recall a striking 72×72 painting that dominated our gallery space. It wasn’t just seen; it was felt. The magnitude of the piece created an undeniable presence, transforming the gallery into a realm of the artist’s vision.

This impact extends beyond the visual appeal. Large artworks can set a psychological anchor in terms of pricing. When placed strategically, a high-priced, large piece can make moderately priced smaller works appear more accessible and desirable. It’s a subtle yet effective way of guiding a collector’s decision-making process. For example, a collector might balk at a $5,000 piece until they see a $20,000 masterpiece. Suddenly, the smaller work becomes a more attainable entry point into the artist’s world.

On the other end of the spectrum, smaller works have their own psychological appeal. They often feel more intimate and personal, inviting close-up interaction. Smaller pieces can also appear more collectible, encouraging viewers to envision owning multiple works. The affordability of smaller works broadens their appeal, enabling art enthusiasts of various economic backgrounds to engage with and purchase original art.

Moreover, the size of an artwork can reflect and evoke different emotional responses. Large works might speak of boldness and confidence, while smaller works might communicate delicacy and thoughtfulness. As artists experiment with size, they also play with these psychological perceptions, tailoring their work to convey specific messages or evoke particular emotions.

Benefits of Diverse Artwork Sizes

Diversifying the size of your artwork offers several advantages. While challenging to create, larger pieces exercise your creative muscles and open up new artistic possibilities. They can also fit into unique market niches, like clients with large, empty wall spaces. Conversely, smaller pieces can be produced more efficiently, appeal to a broader audience, and often lead to repeat purchases or collection building.

The Strategic Expansion of Artwork Sizes

He Has Horses to Ride and People to See by Michael Swearnging – 48 x 72

I often advise artists to expand their size range by about a quarter. If your largest piece is 24×36, consider scaling up to around 30×48. Similarly, if your smallest piece is 12×12, think about creating something around 9×9. This strategy diversifies your portfolio and challenges you to adapt your style and technique to different scales.

Considerations for Large-Scale Artworks

Expanding into large-scale artworks, however, comes with its own set of challenges, primarily logistical. In my experience, I’ve encountered artists who have ambitiously created grand pieces only to realize the practical difficulties in transportation and storage. For example, one artist crafted a magnificent large-scale painting in their studio but later discovered it couldn’t fit through the door. It’s vital for artists to consider the end-to-end process of creating, showcasing, and delivering large-scale works. This includes ensuring that they have the means to transport such pieces safely and that the galleries or exhibition spaces can accommodate them. It’s not just about the physical space but the feasibility of handling and displaying large artworks without compromising their integrity.

Simultaneously, artists need to navigate the gallery and market dynamics when dealing with large artworks. Not every gallery has the capacity or the clientele for oversized pieces. It’s essential to have open and honest conversations with gallery owners about the potential for displaying and selling large-scale works. For instance, if several artists represented by a gallery suddenly decide to produce exceptionally large works, it could pose a challenge in terms of exhibition space and sales strategy. Hence, while exploring large-scale art, artists must balance their creative aspirations with practical considerations and market realities, ensuring that their efforts in creating these impressive works align with the opportunities available for showcasing and selling them.

Embracing Efficiency in Small-Scale Works

At 9″ x 6″, Houston Llew’s Spiritiles are affordable, and easy for visitors to take home.

Venturing into small-scale artworks necessitates a different approach, particularly focusing on efficiency and volume. Producing smaller pieces allows artists to cater to a market segment that seeks more affordable, perhaps even multiple pieces of art. In my observations, this approach requires a systematic and swift production method. Artists might consider ways to streamline their process, such as working on several pieces simultaneously or using a consistent color palette across multiple works. This efficiency doesn’t diminish the artistic value; instead, it enables artists to produce a higher volume of work, thereby increasing their visibility and sales opportunities. For example, one artist successfully adopted a batch painting approach, creating series of small canvases, which not only sped up the production process but also resulted in a cohesive collection that appealed to a broad audience.

Moreover, working on a smaller scale can open up new creative avenues. It can be a refreshing change from larger, more time-consuming projects, offering a chance to experiment with new ideas and techniques. Additionally, small artworks can become a significant part of an artist’s portfolio, especially in terms of developing a consistent and recognizable style. They are also more accessible to a wider audience, which can lead to increased sales and a growing base of collectors. These smaller pieces often act as introductions to an artist’s work, paving the way for future purchases of larger, more expensive artworks. The key is to balance quality with quantity, ensuring each small piece reflects the artist’s skill and style, even as they are produced more quickly and in greater numbers.

Leveraging Technology and Prints

In today’s digital age, reproducing artwork in different sizes through high-quality prints is a viable option. This approach can dramatically expand your market reach without additional physical space or resources.

Experiment!

In the end, the decision on artwork size is a personal one, but it should also be a strategic one. By experimenting with different sizes, you open your art to a broader audience and challenge and grow your creative skills. Remember, the canvas is not just a surface for your artwork; it’s a realm of possibilities that, when navigated thoughtfully, can lead to both artistic and commercial success.

Share Your Experiences

Share your experiences with scaling your artwork: Have you experimented with different sizes in your portfolio? What challenges have you faced with large-scale or small-scale pieces? How has changing the size of your artwork impacted your creative process and audience engagement? I’m eager to hear about the specific obstacles and successes you’ve encountered as you’ve worked to create artwork of different sizes.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

21 Comments

  1. Hi Jason,

    I like to paint smaller to medium works because I have limited space in my studio, and because I enjoy it.
    This article is encouraging to that end. I’ve had an idea for many years but haven’t yet tried it… instead of doing reproductions, I’d like to do limited originals. They are the same painting, same size, and priced economically. Of course, they’ll all be a little different because I’m painting each one, It would be faster for me, and my guess is that it would help me improve my process at the same time. There would be, say 10 in the edition, probably small and easy to ship.

  2. Thanks for the great article, Jason. I have been working 24 x 24 and 36 x 36 for a while now. I’ve been told by museum curators and gallery directors to consider going large scale. As you mention, logistics is a big factor. Even the 36 x 36 works require special packing and size surcharges when shipping the work.

    I now have a 60 x 60 in my inventory but don’t know what to do with it. As a result, I’ve only submitted it to online exhibitions. My question relates to shipping. Is it acceptable and common to remove the work from the stretcher bars and ship it rolled with the stretchers in a tube to galleries and then have them re-stretch the work once it arrives?

    1. I own both a frame shop and art gallery. We charge $523.40 to stretch a 60×60 canvas on 1 1/2″ gallery bars. We first have to build the gallery bar frame including necessary bracing for a piece that large. We need at least 3 inches of material around the image to do a gallery wrap. There’s a 99% chance that the gallery would charge you for the stretch.

  3. Great article. I work on a “shikishi” board, the sizes are predetermined and the largest I can find (and practically work on because of my technique) is 24″ x 24″. Generally I work on quite small boards (4″ x 5″) as studies to work out color and composition. If I decide that “mini” makes the cut, I paint it larger. The minis have become a popular size for sales in the galleries that represent me. One of my galleries sells very large artworks more often and in order for me to get into that size category I have begun presenting the 24″ x 24″ panels as diptychs, triptychs and even quadriptychs. Painting both the minis and the multi panel pieces are most challenging, but I have learned from those challenges. (The in-between sizes are my sweet spot as far as the painting process is concerned.)

  4. I agree with your article. When I visit galleries in upscale locations I often see very large pieces. People with expensive large homes need large artwork for their large blank walls. Often, people with expensive large homes can also afford to make significant art purchases.

    BUT I paint pastel landscapes, and pastel paintings need to be protected by museum glass. The largest sheet of museum glass I have seen is about 60X60, costing $1700 for the glass only, and I can’t imagine how one would transport a sheet of glass this large from the glass factory to the studio for framing. A sheet of glass this large would be cumbersome and heavy, requiring a strong frame and strong wall mounting. Butt glazing the art (using two panes of glass in a frame) would be unacceptable. Triptych paintings might work but they lack the large painting impact and not everyone likes them.

    My conclusion is that pastel art size is normally limited to less than 60X60 by the available museum glass size, cost and transportation.

  5. Your comment regarding the logistics of handling large scale artwork is spot on. I was encouraged to create large scale drawings, think 4′ x 10′, while in art school. They made for an impressive MFA show, but were so cumbersome and costly to transport that I ended up removing the drawings from their frames and having the frames cut down for more practical medium sized works.

    I am now working to create a new body of work in oil. Whilst working to produce a couple of larger commissioned works, I will be emphasizing works, 12″ x 16″ and smaller, this year. I hope to become more proficient in production and quality this way, while also providing a more enticing price point for new collectors, as you also suggest.

  6. I usually paint small watercolor sketches or wc and pen and ink sketches, sometimes on single sheets of paper, more often in a sketchbook. From this source material, made on site, I create large, panoramic multi sheet paintings, sometimes mixing in charcoal or white paint or ink. The largest paintings I have done so far are 9-sheet landscape oriented panorama or 8-sheet portrait oriented paintings (all paintings are landscapes, regardless of orientation.). The challenge is how to show or display these multi-sheet paintings. Framing them is not an option until after they have been sold. Luckily I have connected with a gallery that is based in a huge barn. We pin the work on the old wood walls or, if work is being stored in the flat files, the gallery staff lay it out on the wooden floors. I have been extremely pleased with how successful the gallery has been in selling the work. There is also a nearby framer who is able to solve the problem of how to frame these unusually large pieces. He can cut and plane wood to order; he has used leading between sheets when he could not get Plexiglass the full length of the piece. He creates frames designed for specific spaces in the buyers’ houses.

    Working so large was a challenge I took on to force myself to paint in more abstracted ways—the details drop out of importance and the layering of color and shape becomes dominant. My work is recognizable as landscape, even specific views, but detail is minimal. I enjoy the challenge of getting enough paint (watercolor) on the paper to create an interesting surface without having the painting dissolve into mud.

  7. I do paintings in a variety of sizes with my largest being 36″ x 40″ and my smallest paintings are 6″ x 6″. I have two large paintings in my inventory currently and will not paint another until one of them sells, even though I love to work on large pieces. Many of my paintings are in the mid-range, which are the sizes I’ve sold the most.

    Thank you for this post, Jason. I’ve often wondered which is the best way to go. When I do a show I like to have a large painting there for impact but mainly show small to mid range pieces.

  8. Very timely, Jason! I was already brainstorming how I might release small works with a cohesive palette in small batches of 3, 6, or 9.

    I do have a dilemma. With my smallest works works at 2″x3″ and my largest sold to date at 36″x36,” I feel like I’m all over the map. My favorite sizes are 5″x7″ 6″x6″, and 10″x10.”

    When you did my critique, you mentioned that galleries might really enjoy having access to the very small works. As I begin to approach them, how much variation is it wise to present in my portfolio?

    Any thoughts from you or anyone else who wants to chime in?

    1. Your plan to release small works in cohesive batches is a great move. When presenting to galleries, offering 3-4 different sizes within a small scale can be sufficient. This strategy balances the variety that galleries and collectors appreciate with the efficiency and productivity benefits of limiting the range of sizes. Consistency in style across these sizes is key. Including a mix of your preferred sizes like 5″x7″, 6″x6″, and 10″x10″, along with a few larger pieces, will showcase your versatility while maintaining a cohesive portfolio.

  9. Great discussion. I’ve been most successful selling my large works, some with odd proportions, specifically 58″ x 36″ and 30″ x 96″. Go figure. I wouldn’t recommend that for everyone but the work seems to tell me what size it wants to be and I go for it.

    1. PS, I am currently working on really small works (5″ x 5″) for a fundraiser and I’m having a blast! They’re putting a smile on my face every time I sit with them. So who knows where this might lead!?

  10. I’m returning to painting after a 30-year career as a figurative sculptor. To my surprise, I’m finding that I enjoy abstract paintings after the constraints of years of highly detailed work. It’s freeing in a way I never expected. I started my experiments with small 9” square paintings on paper and we have had several of them framed.

    I have plans to paint any large canvases right now because of limited studio space but I do wonder whether these paintings will sell better on canvases with painted edges or in floating frames, or whether works on paper framed with glass is preferable.

  11. I agree. I have always had a range of sizes in my work, which started with the idea of having your ‘bread and butter’ work. I used to paint from 6×6 to 24×24. I got tired of the 6x6s, but they were a good part of my ‘bread and butter’. After having a prospective client tell me she loved my works, it they weren’t big enough, I made a 48×48. It was my best piece of work in that medium that I’d ever made. But to this date, it still sits in the gallery.

    In my new medium, I’ve already started working in different sizes for just the reasons you mention. Thanks for your insights, Jason.

  12. Great article Jason.
    Is anyone able to recommend a great print house? I moved away from my favorite and I would love to find a reputable service that will ship directly to the buyer.

    1. Nocerino Editions in Denver, CO does impressive hi resolution painting photos (captures) and prints on a variety of archival paper and canvas surfaces

  13. Thank you for the information! It is timely for me, as I am working on putting together a body of work. There are a few images I have in mind that would be large statement pieces. Does it matter if I work in multiple media? Some subjects work better with watercolors and others with acrylics. Will that be an issue as I build a cohesive portfolio?

  14. In relation to sizes for paintings~ I was sort of in a lethargic period and not feeling excited about painting. As a jump starter I purchased a quantity of 8×8 wrapped canvases and assigned a still life set up area in my studio. I arrange a simple setup of objects, no more than three, set my timer for one hour and go for it. The first couple were scrapers, but as I went on I found that the faster I painted the better they got. I am an experienced painter so I could work more intuitively. Painting looser is often a challenge for many, which has sometimes included myself. I’ve been able to play more with edges, expressive brushwork, and a more interpretive or suggestive approach to the subject matter. I am now excited to get into the studio to see what happens each day.

  15. I’ve begun to work on series of paintings. I did a series of watercolor pencils on white wash wood. So fun some were 10″x10″ like close-ups of ballet pointe shoes with butterflies and roses, others were still life’s on 11×17″ slatted in 4-pieces portraits of women. My current two series are watercolor women portraits that I’m pairing with poems for my book Life Raining Down My Back and my Women Of Travel watercolor series because if we can’t travel now, why not enjoy travel through art.

  16. As is the case with many of the artists commenting here, I too work at a variety of scales. But I admit I don’t do it out of any great strategy associated with marketing. The decision to pursue a work at one scale or another is much more emotional for me, but sometimes it is also influenced by convenience, time and available materials. And of course, there is the consideration of intimacy verses monumentality with respect to the particular image I may be pursuing. Some works just want to be smaller, others demand a larger format. In the past my large works (6 xc12 feet, for example) tended to be those that began as commissioned works. It helps to know the piece is sold before you create it when it is that large. I love working at that scale but storage of the work and the expense of building supports, framing and suppliers for such works does discourage the pursuit of such work without financial backing and knowledge about its final destination. in recent years i have been working at much smaller scales, pursuing a good deal of my initial designs and studies in sketchbooks and within formats ranging from 6 x 6 inches to 30 x 30 inches which for me is a large work right now. i appreciated this article and the discussion that followed, since I seem to be at a crossroads in my consideration about future work and the scales at which I want to pursue it. I recently finished a series of 30 x 30-inch abstract works. I have been working rather small in the interim (12 x 12 inch) as explore new imagery and themes for the coming year and one of the considerations I am struggling with is whether or not to remain at the scale of the last few years, return to the intimacy of miniature works which I was comfortable with several decades ago (and do not stress my storage capacity and finances) or throw myself once again into what I consider monumental works (5,6,10 feet in any direction) which present many difficulties but offer such terrific rewards, excitement, and emersion that I have felt only when engaged on a grand scale in the past. It had occurred to me that i might pursue all of them simultaneously, but i had doubted for some reason whether that might make for a certain lack of cohesion in the work as a whole. but after reading the discussion above i feel more confident that the variation in scale could be an asset to a body of work. You and your readers have given me lots of room for thought. Thank you, Jason.

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