Too big to paint on location: Marcia’s method

quarter scale version of “Fog, Sun, and Tides” painted on location

“Fog, Sun, and Tides” quintych, two panels 48″x78″, three panels 78″x48″

IN THE LAST two or three years I have painted some very large-scale works for hospital settings. The tallest was 8 feet tall; the widest was 11 feet wide.

These very large paintings are too big to take on location, and they are too large to paint without a plan, even though ordinarily that is exactly how I proceed. (I think of it as the “fool around until satisfied” approach.)

The method I’ve developed to create these very large paintings is to create a maquette exactly half the height and half the width of the final work, which gives an area 25% of the final size. Late Summer, the Pond originated as such a maquette. Even at 1/4 size it was difficult to take on location, but I carried it, two easels, and all my other equipment every day through weeds up and down the embankment of my neighbor’s pond. It would have been ideal to leave it set up but cows came to the pond to drink and after one near disaster I lugged everything away each evening.

“End of Summer, the Pond”, 30×60″

The shape of this canvas was a challenge. It is twice as wide as it is high, and ordinarily I prefer a canvas closer to a square. It’s particularly difficult to compose a painting with a strong horizontal element – in this case the waterline – on a very wide canvas since the horizon line exaggerates the extreme horizontality of the canvas.

After painting a large part of this maquette on location, I worked from it and photographs to create the full-scale work, adjusting the composition based on difficulties I had encountered creating the maquette.

“Morning on the Pond”, 60×120″

It took a number of months of small adjustments and rethinking parts of the canvas to finally feel satisfied with End of Summer, the Pond. Compare the print of the larger work and see how I subtly shifted the composition and other elements, solving compositional problems somewhat differently in each painting.

— Marcia Burtt

“Fog, Sun, and Tides”, quintych, 2011, 2 48×78 in., 3 78×48 in., commissioned by Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

ready to be painted on, 2 48×78 in., 3 78×48 in.

quarter scale study in progress

studies in progress


“Fog, Sun, and Tides” in progress, 48×78 in.

“Fog, Sun and Tides”, study, installation view