Why Tiny Tins Painting?


When I first started drawing and painting, my goal was to go as large as possible. My dad almost always worked large, and so that is what I saw most often when I was growing up. Small seemed, well . . . diminutive. And I didn’t want to be diminutive. Not when I was young, anyhow. I wanted to be big! I'm not sure that's important anymore.


When I tried landscape painting on sizable canvases, both the larger canvases and the magnificent landscapes overwhelmed me. I could never “capture” the grandeur of Nature on my canvases. Certainly, I have much to learn about landscape painting, but ultimately, I felt disappointed in my art.

That wasn’t a good place to be. However, disappointment has always served me well as motivation for cultivation and growth. And in art, the cultivation and growth has been a little like discovering new equipment on the playground. Fun!


I discovered Altoids tins (little hinged tins of “curiously strong mints”). I saw that Altoids tins were being used for everything—little plein air watercolor palettes, sewing kits, shrines, and even a cute little bed for a felt bunny, which my talented mother-in-law made for our girls. Why not paint with my chosen medium of acrylics in tins? I mean, the whole thing—painting, palette and all—and then done! Be brief, be brilliant and be gone!


I also shifted my focus to people and portraiture. At the beginning of the pandemic, I became obsessively committed to portraiture, thanks to distance learning with a favorite artist of mine, Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso (Oil On Canvas Art | Gabrieladellossoart.com | United States); a brilliant portrait group, Pretentious Cleveland Portrait Artists (PCPA) (The Pretentious Cleveland Portrait Artists. (literarycafeartists.com)), which went online in March 2020; and the vision I developed through the Created to Thrive mentoring program (Artist Mentoring Program - Matt Tommey Mentoring).


So I tried downsizing my portraits from 16x20, 11x14, 9x12, 8x10, 5x7, 4x6 and . . . I started putting people into tiny tins. And cows. And bugs. And little stories about bugs and candies. They all started living in tins, like lively, sometimes witty, minty sardines! In fact, everything has started fitting nicely into small spaces.


I may be speculating, but I think pandemic has something to do with this—living in close quarters with kids and pets and more kids. Embracing the “small” helps. Defining little rooms of my own helps.


A small space also helps me get focused. I might be a bit ADHD, though we didn’t diagnose these things when I was a kid. I’ve always felt like I’m shifting on the inside—perhaps on the outside as well. Like a butterfly, I move from flower to flower in my mind, taking a little of what was good and moving to the next thing, carrying it with me. Right now, the Altoids tin is my creative lepidopterarium. I move from tin to tin within the same space.


I realize that, though I felt like bigger was better when I was a kid, I’ve always been in love with the little things. I hold the bugs and the birds, and even we "the small people," precious.

Perhaps this time is also a celebration of the small things and an opportunity to make the most of small spaces.


I will be updating my website and Etsy shop (sarahsartlife) with more tins and bottle caps and cigar boxes, featuring precious little things. Especially little portraits of so many beautiful souls! Keep checking back. I’d love to meet with you on my journey. And in the meantime, happy painting in your small space in this world!

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