Working small while dreaming big

My kitchen table has seen a lot over the past year.

It’s patiently endured wax spills, as I fully realized the extent to which I’ve become a “candles person” over the pandemic. 

My stepdaughter set up for her remote classes each day during the summer with a smoothie to one side, thick textbook to the other, and her laptop. 

Now, every Friday I pull out my paint supplies and arrange them over the far end of the table. 

The setup is modest. I have an old sheet that I spread out to protect the wood from inevitable paint flecks. An old table easel that has been with me for over ten years (I know because it has an old Nordic Ski Association sticker still affixed to it, somehow) is small but quite functional. My paints live in a big wooden box; brushes fan out from an old giant cottage cheese container and I use an old tin can for water. It must have had tomatoes at some point.

12″x12″ kitchen table work-in-progress painting of the iconic old gas station in the Butte neighborhood of Palmer. Photo taken 1/10/21.

The size of the canvases I work from have contracted alongside the set up. I do 5”x7”, 8”x10”, and when I’m feeling bold, 12”x12”. This is a far cry from the bigger paintings I was completing in my studio space.

What I’ve discovered is that the little paintings go a lot faster. I might start one day, and complete the next if I’m really feeling it. With bigger paintings, it could take me weeks to complete a single painting.

I still give the tiny canvases care. I am choosy about the photos I work from. At the beginning of a new painting, I examine various options and think to myself, where do I want to spend an entire work session? Do I want to stare and really immerse myself in this, or that? 

Sometimes detail on the tiny paintings is painstaking. Especially letters on signs, or tiny silhouettes of people. I have to get those right, or my mind sends up flares that something is wrong.

But when I complete a painting I have this little (literally) springboard into the next. I didn’t plan it this way, but it’s a great way to quickly build back a body of work and build back excitement about what’s to come. I think about someday working day in and day out on a body of tiny paintings; maybe sitting outside, being at a crafts event, or being in a mobile studio taking in a new view as I go. I think about how much people have seemed to connect with and enjoy the tiny paintings, and how they’re more affordable than the larger ones.

There’s something to this. It’s barely a new year, and already I have several new paintings completed. That feels good.

My kitchen table doesn’t seem to mind. This is what it was made for – more use, more time, more activity. I’m grateful to have a simple space that works.

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