Miniature paintings are something I never thought I’d do. I’ve always had a yen to paint big — really BIG — and a couple of decades ago I was doing wall murals and buying great big canvases. I even had an extra rented studio for a while (on top of my first rented studio) dedicated to painting big acrylic paintings. But you know, the trouble with big paintings is that the take up big storage space. When we moved house about ten years ago, I gained a nice room for a home studio, and decided to explore the joys of working small. I switched back to paper and watercolours and drawing materials. I was doing more illustration than painting for shows, and found that it suited me, and my new space, well.
After I started doing comics, I started drawing little sketches on scraps of my watercolour paper, to pass the time when things were slow at conventions. A lot of artists in the comics field do them, in different sizes; I chose 2.5 X 3.5 inches, a common size, both because they were quick and because they fit in the nifty little binder sleeves that are made for trading cards. I sold them for ten bucks, mostly to people who collected such things.
But one year for the Zooly Art Challenge (an animal-drawing challenge that happens in July), I decided to do this size for the whole month of prompts. I originally intended that they would just be quick sketches, but I just couldn’t help myself — they got more and more detailed! I’ve continued doing them on and off over time, and they have evolved: they’re no longer just sketches of my comics characters, but what I consider proper miniature paintings.
In January, I decided to try an experiment: I wanted to see if people would actually buy these tiny things at a price that reflected the work that goes into them, so I challenged myself to do one a day (at least), and posted them just to my friends on Facebook, asking twenty-five bucks. To my surprise and immense satisfaction, many of them were snatched up quickly. Not all, I didn’t expect that. But enough to make me think that I should do a sale more often.
When I posted the first one, the Yule Goat (which was snapped up immediately), I asked people what kind of animals they would like to see me draw — no pressure to buy their request, just to give me some direction of what people liked. I also did some critters I liked for my own pleasure, and put in a few that were the prompts from the Zooly Weekly Art Challenge group. That way I didn’t have any trouble thinking up subjects. I wanted to experiment with different styles, and even got some new pens to play with, to try out different line widths.
I use mainly watercolour and ink (various sorts of pens and brush-pens), with some gouache and maybe gel-pen thrown in for highlights, and they usually take me between an hour and two hours (as opposed to about 15 minutes for my first sketchy ones). They’re a nice way to do daily art without getting too wrapped up in a big project, and they make a nice warmup when I am working on larger things.
At one point I got tired of drawing real animals and did some mythical ones, just for fun. I’d like to do more of these, maybe have a whole line of them. I’d also like to try doing some teeny-tiny landscapes or florals.
Oddly, this time, I found myself doing a horizontal format more often than the vertical, which made it hard to arrange these in sets of four for this post! I tried experimenting with some different styles, from decorative, to comic-y, to as realistic as I could cram onto these little pieces of paper.
If you’d like to try doing mini-paintings like this yourself, I recommend small brushes, fine-line waterproof pens, a good set of magnifiers, and a lot of patience! The tendency, because it’s so small, is to try to do something quick, but these little paintings require slowing down and taking care with the detail. It can be very meditative. Think of them as little gems, as if you were going to set them in a piece of jewelry, and really polish them.
Speaking of their setting, when it’s time to frame them, give them some space — don’t cram them into a tiny photo frame. My friend Greg purchased the Elk, and sent me this picture of how he had framed it. I think it’s a gorgeous job, and asked him if I could post the photo (he said yes). The edges on these paintings are torn using a knife; I think they look best floated, as Greg did here.
The last one I did was a Tuatara, a small reptile from New Zealand. I was really getting into the textures here. It’s amazing what you can fit on a little scrap of paper!
If you want to see some other examples, here are some from last year’s Zooly Daily Challenge, and here from the previous year. These little mermaids go back more to the beginnings, when I was doing simpler drawings.
Thanks for reading! Next up, I will be writing about… writing! To be precise, the process of writing the novel that my webcomic Mermaid Music is turning into. Don’t worry, no spoilers!