The Power of Working Small

This past year, I’ve painted very large and I’ve painted quite small. Since joining the 25 Days of Minis program three years ago, I’ve really enjoyed the routine of finishing up my painting year with small works. Why? A couple things have floated to the surface as I’ve considered this question. Life lessons that I can carry with me outside of the studio. They might help you as well.

Working Small Helps with Fear--When I am holding a blank 6 x 6 panel in my hands, the size of it is not intimidating, but endearing and sings of potential. Often, when I am painting large, I feel a sense of overwhelm because of the time and materials that need to be invested. What if I mess it up? What if I can’t find the right collage pieces to fill the space? My process doesn’t really allow for redos! I get into my groove eventually, but it takes a bit for me to talk myself through the process of starting a large work. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to get it "right." How about you?

When I tackle small works, the fear of wrecking things goes away because small feels “doable.” We’ve been practicing a lot of this with our eldest son. When he has to do something really scary, we try to break it into small steps that are far less intimidating. That’s how I see these minis. Small steps that welcome me to try something new. This is so helpful for me, because I tend to focus on the big picture which is often frightening. Working small reminds me that one small decision and step at a time is how I get where I need to go when it comes to the big picture.

Working Small Builds My Skills Quickly By Slowing Me Down--Another thing I’ve learned in doing small works is that my skills are honed and improved each time I tackle the 25 miniature works. Some of that is the quantity, but it is also the constraint of the size. I need to be very deliberate in the marks I make. I need to slow down and think and plan. I need to choose wisely. I’ve learned that slowing down is actually far better for my work. I create better pieces when I pause and pray and think. Again, for someone who tends to jump into life with both feet and think later, this process has been such a great character building experience. Working small reminds me to pause before I email, speak, or act. It reminds me to think carefully about my actions and what the effect will be. If you want to build skills quickly, find ways to limit yourself by deadlines, space, resources, etc. This causes you to HAVE to think. You will be amazed what what happens.

Working Small Gives Me a Different Perspective --Working small also causes me to shift my compositions due to the size. This creates so much growth in my work because I have to simplify my designs and focus on what really matters. No “fluff.” I’ve learned that we broaden our experience and abilities when we deliberately try something different. Shift your seating position at work. Walk to a different route to school. Use a different tool for creating something or add a different spice to a favorite recipe. Small things that shift how you experience your life.

When I go from large to small, I need to use a different part of my creative brain to solve problems and this just makes my problem solving abilities that much stronger. The overall result is a stronger body of work in both sizes. What is something different you could try that might shift your views and your routines so that you enrich the rest of your life? It could be one small change that makes a huge difference for you. Be curious and write down what comes to mind.

One of the things I’m really excited to try in the new year is moving my small miniature works to a larger works to see what happens. How will they show up differently? What problems will I need to solve when scaling them up? Just the thought makes me buzz with excitement.

I hope you enjoy this whole new series of minis I’m offering. I really do believe they are the best work I’ve done yet. I’m thrilled with what I’ve learned and I hope they bless you as much as they have blessed me.

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