Techniques and Tips

Mighty, Miniature Paintings

Mighty, Miniature Paintings

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We’ve all been in situations where we have to dig in and endure hardships and setbacks in order to continue doing what we love. We do it because humans are driven to create, to express, to do that one thing that we know in our hearts we were born to do. For many of us, creative expression is that thing. It certainly is for Joyce Washor, author of Think Big, Paint Small, a book dedicated to the art of miniature paintings.

Joyce didn’t start out working on tiny substrates, but a developing problem in her shoulder left her unable to lift her arm to paint as she had in the past. Of course, that didn’t stop her from making art. She simply began working with more manageable, even miniature, boards and canvases, and with positive results.

“Many of the painting principles that I learned throughout the years didn’t make sense to me until I started painting on a smaller scale,” Joyce says. “Working small gives me more time and energy to devote to each painting, from mixing the right colors to paying attention to the brushwork and composition … The small paintings have all the same attention to detail that my larger paintings had. I don’t need to choose different objects to paint, but how I paint them has changed. I need to be more decisive with color choices and concentrate on using brushstrokes to define space and forms concisely. This has made my paintings stronger.”

Curious to try painting small yourself? In the following excerpt, you’ll learn how to arrange a composition for a miniature painting. Discover the rest of Joyce’s tips and lessons when you get your copy of Think Big, Paint Small today.

Scaling Down Your Compositions for Miniature Paintings

One of the hardest things to get used to when painting small is scaling down your composition to fit within a sight size of 2.5×3.5. Obviously, whatever reference you’re painting from is probably not that small, and it can seem like an overwhelming challenge to scale things down. When I was first struggling with this concept, I came across a postcard from a two-person show I was in that featured an image of my 11×14 painting at about 3×4. Seeing this visual was a great help to me–it was a realization that I don’t have to sacrifice anything to paint on a small scale.

While setting up your still life or contemplating a landscape, you can use your hands or two L-shaped pieces of cardboard (fits together to form a frame) to block in a composition at the size you want it. This way, you can see exactly how much you can comfortably fit within your format at the very beginning of the process.

If your resulting drawing is still too large for this smaller format, you can use a photocopy machine or computer to scale it down. If you usually paint at 16×20, try going from an 8×10 to a 5×7 and on down until you reach the small format that you’d like to paint.

After I spent a couple of months painting at the 2.5×2.5 format, it began to feel the same as an 11×14 or a 16×20. It’s a little hard to explain, but the paintings feel so large and complete to me it’s as if I can walk around in them.

Shrinking Your References for Miniature Paintings

One of the best things you can do to render what you see as life-sized into a small format is to draw the composition as a single unit, not as individual items.

  1. Draw the Basic Outline

Start by blocking in the outermost edges of the objects—but as just one shape, not individual shapes.

  1. Fill in the Outline

Draw the edges of the shape made by the objects, and add the table top.

  1. Finish the Sketch

Now you can look at each object individually and add in each distinct shape.

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