An artist uses size to make things appear near and more important, or far away and less important. Larger objects draw the eye first. In terms of the Alphabet, larger objects have maximum contrast. This results in more emotional impact and a sense of dynamism and depth.

TypeContrastResulting Attributes
LargeMaximumEmotionally Active
Esthetically Dynamic
Spatially In Depth
SmallMinumumEmotionally Passive
Esthetically Decorative
Spatially Static


Carol Cloar used Size in his painting “My Father Was as Big as a Tree.” Cloar paints the father large in the foreground and the tree farther away in the middleground. Because the father is so large, he appears to be as big as the tree.

“My Father Was as Big as a Tree” by Carol Clure

Other modern painters have used size to their advantage, including abstract painters such as Morris Louis, who painted pictures of such huge size that the frame was unimportant.

Leonardo da Vinci, who never painted a picture except to illustrate an intellectual point, uses the Element of Size brilliantly in the “Mona Lisa.”

“Mona Lisa” by Leonardo DaVinci

The lady occupies the foreground. The landscape, in the middleground, is moved to the background by making it smaller than it would normally appear. The picture therefore goes from foreground to background and eliminates the middleground. In so doing, Leonardo obtained maximum contrast of the large lady imposed on the faraway landscape.

Try it!

Drag the slider in the center to compare the two images and see how the effect of the picture changes with the size of the Father.

Click the buttons to resize the figure and background. As Mona shrinks and the background gets closer, Leonardo’s effective use of Size to emphasize the figure gradually disappears.

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