Most people don't like a boring painting. Being an artist we have the freedom and responsibility to turn an ordinary subject into a dramatic and exciting painting. For me that doesn't mean to start go crazy and painting abstract shape or being so technical intense to shock people with the painting itself. Instead, I like to retell the story in a different way, so that people can see the same subject through a different lens. Play with the scale is a great way to bring the drama out of an everyday scene!
You might be surprise to know that having a dramatic scale in painting is not that difficult as long as your scale can be relate-able. Last week I talked about having a believable scale in your painting. If we based off that, we can say that...
A dramatic scale is based on believably.
We should always find a scale reference in our painting. That also applies to the viewers. Your viewer can relate to the scale of the scene if they can find a scale reference, because they will be able to imagine them self in the scenery which you're painting. After you know how to measure the scale, you can start thinking about what type of experience and engagement you want your viewers to have. You can do that by tweaking the size of your scale reference. ere's some examples:
Micro scale reference
I took this photo on Space Needle in Seattle, where you can look over the whole city at a vintage point. When you are that high up, everything looks small. The figures are so tiny in this photo, they pretty much disappeared. The closest scale reference to the viewer is the car. You can see the cars in this photo but they are so small it becomes insignificant. This scale size is great for a vast view where you are feeling distant from the subject.
Small scale reference
Now let's hit the ground. Here's a photo I took in San Francisco. You can start to feel the massiveness of the skyscraper much better. The figures are small, but you are able to spot them and started to grasp the scale of the scenery. This is scale size is great if you want to focus on the city.
Medium scale reference
In this level of scale, you can relate to the scenery in a much more personal way. The figure is still a minor part of the painting, but it's much easier to see and to focus on. Therefore the scale become more personal and engaging. On top of that, the buildings are mostly extending out of the frame. Which can actually add quite a bit of drama because it's telling the viewer that you are unable to fit the whole building in one sight. In this level of scale you feel you are part of the scenery, and I find that very powerful.
Intimate scale reference
In this level of scale, the environment is becoming irrelevant. You are in a personal space with the subject. The drama is no longer coming from the scale nor the scenery. It is coming from the person in the painting. This level of scale is basically portrait, you are not trying to create drama as much as the personality and intimacy. Although this is not really about the scale anymore, I still wish to include this scale level. This can really show you how different it can be when you are really closing in.
It's safe to say that the bigger your scene is, the less personal it will be. I'm not talking about what the subject/painting means to the person. I am talking about engagement. How the viewer is able to put him/her self in the painting. I am not suggesting one is better than the other. All of them has their place in different scenarios and the story you want to tell. Sometime you do want to have a vast scenery with very small scale reference so the viewer can enjoy an expensive field of view. And sometime you might want to have a medium scale reference so the viewer can feel what it's like to be in your painting. My paintings tend to be more with medium and intimate scale reference. That's just my personal taste. But it is worth to know what difference can scale make in a picture. Next time when you take a photo reference or do a painting, think about what feeling you wish to convey in your painting, and where do you want to take your viewer. Now here are some example of the different scale level of my paintings.
New painting demo video
Here's the new painting video for this month, hope you enjoy it! =)