Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Portrait Miniature Experiment

A few days ago I sat down and finished the portrait miniature which I had started a couple months ago.  For being my first attempt I'm somewhat satisfied with it, and I feel like I learned a lot from this experiment.

Watercolor on rolled polymer clay, about 2" x 2.5"

I was mainly focused on trying to learn the technique and get used to the materials and scale of things.  With that in mind, I simply copied from an original in one of my library books:  English Portrait Miniatures.  Sadly, I had to return the book before finishing my miniature OR having the presence of mind to write down pertinent info concerning the artist and subject. 

There are definitely things I want to do differently for the next attempt, most of which relate to tools and materials.  For this first try, I simply used whatever I had on hand, but the student-grade watercolors made my job a lot more difficult.  The white especially... it seemed to 'puddle' on the surface far more than any other color and didn't blend half as well either.  Even if I don't buy any other new paint, I will certainly be investing in a good quality white before my next miniature.

Also on the top of my list are better brushes.  A lot of very small brushes don't have the good flow required for the paint to cling to such a nonabsorbent surface.  I noticed that the same tiny brush which left a good line on paper barely deposited any paint onto polymer clay.  I'm hoping that real squirrel hair brushes (which were used in the 18th cen for such a purpose) will improve things.

My final, and perhaps largest, concern is how to protect the surface.  Even when completely dry, one drop of water would lift the paint right up and and utterly ruin the miniature.  The clay slab is a bit too thick to put under glass with a frame (although that will probably be a possibility for the fake ivory I intend to try at some point soon), so I am trying to find a good spray varnish, intended for watercolor, which will seal the surface.  After all, it would be really pointless to have a miniature that you couldn't even risk taking outside!


  1. What a wonderful little wee thing! Your artwork never ceases to amaze me. :)

  2. Wow, this is really pretty! :clap:

    I'm not the greatest artist, but I've tried portrait miniatures and they all (two so far) came out too big! Just my luck... =P

  3. It's beautiful!

  4. This is so beautifully done!
    Hope you solve the problem with the colour protection soon - as these minatures probably have been the owner's "apple of the eye", there will hopefully be some old technics to conserve the paint, instead of framing it with glass?!

  5. As already expressed on LJ: Beautiful. Absolutely stunning!

    Originals are protected by glass, as I've learned in the Briner Kern museum. The only ones what are uncovered are enamel miniatures, and of course, unfinished works.

    As otherwise - one drop of water, and everything would be ruined.

  6. Absolutely lovely. I'd suggest spraying with a fixative, then putting a coat of UVL varnish to protect it. This seems to work on canvas - I'd try a sample on clay first before doing this lovely piece though.

  7. Thank you everyone for you kind words!

    fiofiorina- Yes, all the originals I've seen that were not enamel were protected with glass as well. In fact, one 18th cen artist stated that he wouldn't even allow his clients to see the finished miniature until it was behind glass. He said that the glass gave a sense of completeness, and that it enriched the colors. The cynical part of me wonders if he was afraid his clients would ruin it otherwise!

    Crystal- That's what I'm think right now too. I'll definitely experiment on a sample piece first, but I'm hoping that fixative and varnish will be the answer!