Back in my younger days I had a teacher say to me, “Every artist has a scale.” What that means is that artists have a size that they work best at. Big, small, or somewhere in-between, all of us have a scale that we are most comfortable with and prefer to work at. Over the years I’ve found this to be true, my scale is mostly large, but that’s not absolute. With some things my scale has changed over the years.

First of all scale has a lot to do with tools, space, and money. If you want to work large then you’d better have large tools. Drawing a wall size drawing with a regular size pencil is a tough task. Maybe some larger pencils will be in order. Large tools are often harder to come by too. Especially for young artists who probably don’t even know such tools exist.

Tool are related to money but space is even more so related. If you don’t have the money for a big studio space then you’re probably not going to work very large. It’s mostly successful (ie monied) artists who make huge wall sized paintings. If you’re of modest means, making a modest living, and not selling much art, then you probably don’t have the space to make wall size paintings. That’s why when I say my scale is large I don’t mean wall size paintings. My means are modest.

For a lot of my drawing on paper, ink or pencil, I like to work on 11×17 inch paper. That’s the size that most comic books are drawn at so it became my default size a long time ago. When I make my big ink drawing that are on much larger paper: 22×30 inches. That would be a big drawing to me. My acrylic on canvas paintings of the last few years have been on 24×36 inch canvases. Though I’ve painted on bigger canvases I don’t have the room for them these days.

In my Ink books (my sketchbooks) I draw small. The book itself is 5.5×8.5 inches and I get even smaller by drawing from six to twelve thumbnail drawings per page. When coming up with ideas I like to keep things small so only the basics get drawn. I try to strip off all the extraneous stuff that is better added after I nail down the basics.

I used to make all of my pencil drawings the same size as my finished ink drawings on 11×17 inch paper. I had to do it like that before the digital age as the only way it could be done was to ink right over the pencils. But in the mid 1990s when I got my first computer I could scan in my pencils and then print them out on another piece of paper to ink on. No longer did the pencils and inks have to be on the same piece of paper.

Since the work of pencilling and inking could now be done on two separate pieces of paper they also didn’t have to be the same size but for many years I still kept pencilling on 11×17 inch paper. Probably because I didn’t think about it that much.

At some point in the 2000s I started drawing on smaller pieces of paper. Sometimes a few different sizes. I’d start on 9×12 inch paper, make a drawing, then blow that drawing up to print on an 11×17 inch piece of paper and finish it. Sometimes I’d start the drawing on a 6×9 inch piece of paper and blow that up to 9×12 or 11×17 inches. Sometimes I found myself working at all three sizes to make a finished drawing. That started to be too much.

Nowadays I have mostly done all of the drawings for my 11×17 inch ink pieces at 6×9 inches. I’ve gotten used to that scale. Occasionally I blow one of those up to 9×12 inches when I need to figure out more detail but I almost never draw in pencil at 11×17 inches. I save that size for the inks.

The idea of scale came into my mind today as I was drawing some of my Great Gatsby illustrations. All of last year I did those drawings at 11×17 inches but this year I’ve been doing some smaller 6×9 inch spot illustrations. I’ve been trying to keep them simple. For the most part I’ve been successful at keeping them simple but occasionally one demands to be drawn bigger. Or sometimes small is not the right scale.

I was just working on a spot illustration that had a lot of sweeping lines in it. I was doing it on 6×9 inch paper and from the moment I made the first line I knew something was off. I’m not an artist who usually has to “Warm up” before drawing but as I was making this one I felt that I should have. My hand was not making the brush strokes like I wanted them too. Halfway through the drawing I thought that things were going wrong because 6×9 inches was too small. The scale was off.

I finished the drawing and even used some Pro White to try and fix the lines but I quickly decided to go big with it. I printed out another version of the drawing on 11×17 inch paper and got to work. The extra size made things a lot easier. I was able to get the lines I wanted and I finished the drawing fairly quickly. I think it took me less time to ink the big one than the small one. I was even able to add some details that weren’t in the small one.

This also isn’t the only one of the smaller spot illustrations that I’ve gone bigger with. I’ve done it with a few of them. Usually it’s after I finish the 6×9 inch drawing, contemplate it for a few minutes, and then say, “Screw it. I’m going bigger.” Some drawings demand to be done at a larger size. Maybe each individual drawing has a scale too.