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These Amazingly Detailed Paintings Of Chicago Fit In Your Hand

CHICAGO — Artist Jonathan Larson creates detailed paintings of Chicago with a bonus: They'll fit almost anywhere, including the palm of your hand.

Larson, 22, of Lincoln Park, said he began painting on 2-by-2-inch canvases about a year ago. Larson paints as a hobby after he's home from work, and he doesn't use anything particularly special: just tiny paint brushes and a small canvas, no magnifying glass needed. He uses a 3-D printer to make frames small enough to fit the paintings.

Kelly chats about these really small pieces of art.

“It’s like taking a larger painting and shrinking it all down, so [you use] smaller brushes, smaller canvas, but the same subject matter,” Larson said. “From there it’s trying to have the steadiest hand you can.”

Focusing on the small paintings means he can finish his projects sooner — each takes four to six hours, while a larger canvas might take more than 30 — and people can fit the finished works in everyday locations like cubicles at work (hence the term that describes his work, "Cubiclism").

A recent painting of the Bean made by Lincoln Park artist Jonathan Larson. Larson makes the tiny paintings on 2-by-2-inch canvases. [Courtesy Jonathan Larson]

Larson posts the paintings on Instagram and his website and has sold some of them through an Etsy shop, but he's gained more attention since posting a tiny, detailed depiction of Cloud Gate (AKA the Bean) to Reddit. His painting has become one of the most popular posts in the history of the website's Chicago subreddit.

Larson's Etsy shop sold out of paintings, though he's working on more and will take commissions for $120.

“I should have had more inventory when I sort of posted this out there,” he said. “I was not prepared for the amount of attention it’s gotten. Just in the last day or two there’s been a whole lot more attention than I’m used to.”

The depiction of the Bean isn't Larson's first homage to Chicago: He likes to take photos on his phone while traveling around the city and has amassed thousands of shots he uses as references for his paintings. He painted a series of Chicago doorways and the Lincoln Park Conservatory, among other things.

“When I have some time to paint I’ll just go back through my phone and see which ones jump out at me,” Larson said. “It seems like people really connect to the Chicago-based paintings.”

Larson has frames 3-D printed for his small paintings. [Courtesy Jonathan Larson]

Larson, who grew up in the suburbs, took art classes in high school and at the beginning of college. His high school teacher would yell at him for being too detailed and take away his projects when he spent too much time on them, he said.

He didn't paint for several years, but after graduating from Vanderbilt and moving to the city he took it back up. He immediately focused on miniature paintings, he said

“Now that I don’t have a whole lot of time to be painting every day, it seems logical to scale it down a little bit,” he said.

Larson has tried to work faster, but with "mild to no success:" He'll get home, start painting at 8 p.m. and won't stop until he realizes it's 2 or 3 a.m., he said. He tries to finish each painting in two to three sessions, but sometimes he will start and finish a painting in one session: "And then I'm sleep-deprived," he joked.

Despite his recent surge in popularity, Larson plans to continue keeping his painting as a side job.

“I think I like it as a hobby rather than a job,” Larson said. “It’s certainly nice that it’s getting some attention, that people seem interested.”

Check out more of his paintings:

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