Several local artists I know through our regional clubs have become interested in miniature painting. Apparently there is an art group in the area dedicated to this art specialty. I don’t know much about it simply because I’ve shrugged off any suggestions to paint miniatures. I struggle to add details to my larger oil paintings. I’d never be able to paint tiny little details.
But then, I learned — much to my surprise — that I have painted miniatures on occasion. I came across a definition for miniature art and found that most organizations and exhibitions based on the art form specify a surface area of 25 square inches or less. That means my little 4 x 6 landscape paintings technically qualify as miniature.
Not that I’ll be rushing to put them in any shows. My “tiny treasures” as I call them are generally practice pieces, not serious works. Sometimes I want to lay-out a composition and see how it might look. Other times, I might be in the mood to paint but not in the mood to start on a large canvas.
That was the mood I was in on Sunday as I played around in the studio. So I grabbed a 4 x 6 canvas panel and set about creating a peaceful landscape scene. Because of the small size, it’s difficult to get a good photo. I should probably add more shadows to the trees, but since this is just a quick little painting, I probably won’t do anything more to it.
Above, I stated that my 4 x 6 paintings would qualify as miniatures, but actually, that would be stretching the definition a bit. My small paintings are really only that and nothing more — small paintings.
A traditional miniature is about much more than size, you see. It’s very much about the level of detail. If you were to look closely at a true miniature, you would see the fine brush strokes. You would notice the technical expertise of the artist — the use of hatching, stippling, and glazing, for example.
As I began reading more about miniatures, I was astonished to learn that the term miniature has nothing whatsoever to do with the size. Huh? How’s that? Well, my research indicates that the word actually comes from minium — the red lead paint used in illuminated manuscripts during the Renaissance, or from miniare — a Latin word meaning “to color with red lead.” Originally it seems the term was only applied to watercolor paintings done on vellum as part of hand-made books. In time it was expanded to cover any ground and every medium. Or yet another possibility is that the term comes from the Italian word miniatura, meaning illumination, and still harking back to manuscripts from the 1500’s or thereabouts.
While I don’t plan to paint miniatures for show, I will definitely continue making small paintings from time to time, and in the future I will concentrate more on learning how to create the fine details that would clearly mark the canvas as a true miniature.
If you’re interested in this type of art, I’ve come across some very helpful tips.
Increase Your Working Area
It’s helpful to glue or staple your ground to a piece of cardboard — or other firm surface — that’s at least an inch or so larger. This allows you to move the painting around easily as you’re working. If you use staples, keep them close to the edge so they will be hidden by your frame. Once the painting is finished and completely dry, use a cutter to remove the excess cardboard.
Use the Right Brush
A good miniature brush will have a very fine point, and it will also have a “fat belly” so that it holds a lot of paint. Look for brushes marked specifically as “detail” brushes or “miniature” brushes, such as this Winsor & Newton sable brush.
Steady Your Hand
Rest your little finger or the side of your hand alongside the painting, or use your other hand as a support. You’ll be working on a very small area, of course, so large arm movements aren’t needed.
And if you want to see a miniature painting happen right before your eyes, check out this video demonstration. The painting happens to be one from the new artistic love of my life George Inness, repainted in miniature by Grant Godwin.
Painting on a small scale is definitely a challenge, but I think it will also be a great way for me to improve my techniques.