How to Paint Big (Try This At Home)


Since painting the Elasmosaur at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, my first 16 foot painting ever, I’ve been seriously itching to try something at home on a much bigger scale than I’ve been doing all my life. Not that there’s anything wrong with detailed little paintings but my eyes are going and I’m trying to get over the small things in life. Maybe it’s my mid-life crises kicking in.


I made for myself a big wall easel, something anyone can rig up in an hour or so. I took down my Grandmother’s old mirror and a couple of ugly paintings (my own), and put up two vertical shelving strips, the metal ones you can get at the hardware store with narrow slots. For decorating purposes I went with tasteful black. The shelf brackets, which are easily moved up and down the strips (with a couple of taps from a hammer) hold, from top to bottom:
1) a wood dowel with a cheap clear vinyl shower curtain hanging down behind the painting to protect the wall from splashes;
2) a 1×3 wood shelf with a couple of carriage bolts, nuts and washers above and thumbscrews below to push a wood bar down on top of the canvas or panel (I later added a thin strip at the front to keep the canvas more secure);
3) a 1×8 bottom shelf, with drilled holes and wood dowel plugs, removable, to hold the bottom of the canvas in place. I have drilled holes to accommodate wide canvas, narrow canvas and panels held flat against the wall (good for projecting images), and a set of holes closer to the edge of the shelf so I can tilt the canvas out at the bottom.

This whole set-up was cheap and easy to build, is fully adjustable, and if you have to remove it there will be only a few holes in the wall to fill in, a few paint touchups and you’re done. And on my wall, at least, I can go 7’x10′ in canvas size. Fun! a couple of drop cloths and I’m in biz.


My first painting is a Crowned crane preening with its head bafflingly arranged (for maximum amusement of the viewer), so all you see is the golden pouf on top. . .I projected the image and scrubbed in the values with a stiff bristle brush using a thin acrylic mix of Ultramarine and Burnt Umber, on canvas prepped with Daniel Smith Titanium Buff Gesso, which I buy by the gallon can. I then picked out highlights with Titanium White acrylic (Golden Brand). I’m suddenly smitten with painting on canvas, after years of working on panels!


Then I overglazed with washes of Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, and Cadmium Yellow, which I regret somewhat (the Cad Yellow, that is), so I’ll be going over that with some Raw Sienna to tone it down a hair. Here’s a photo of my set-up, taken from the stairs leading up to my “real” studio, the one with the little easel and the drawing table. How nice to work downstairs for a change!

I’ll post more on this painting as I go.

11 thoughts on “How to Paint Big (Try This At Home)

  1. rafistern says:

    I am planning a large painting at the moment although it will probaly be a horizontal format and not a vertical one. I’m trying to work out how to handle it, but I can’t see my wife agreeing to taking over our living room with an elaborate setup like yours. I’m probably going to buy a second easel and perch it between them to paint.

  2. zeladoniac says:

    I worried about my husband protesting my dining room takeover, too, but once he saw it he liked it. With the drop cloths and painting gear cleaned up, it looks more like an art installation than a device.

    You could even put a curtain rod and a set of velvet drapes in front which would be closed when you’re not working and give a delightful air of mystery to the project…unveilings are always such fun.

    Since the easel is adjustable a horizontal format will work just as well on it as a vertical, too.

  3. Mike says:

    Wow, that’s quite a setup! I agree that the design transcends easel and looks more like a fancy frame. The shower curtain, however, seems to drive its purpose home.

  4. Brepogrenny says:


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