So, do you think 3/4 inch is a tiny painting? Aside from a ½ inch eye portrait, it’s the smallest face I’ve ever attempted to paint. Chloe’s portrait will be placed in a hefty Celtic locket for my son.
I work from photos because the painting process is very time consuming and a live model would probably age before it was done! And it would be impossible for the model to get into and stay in the exact angle/position over numerous sessions. The slightest variation would throw off the accuracy of the painting.
After preparing the surface of a LEGAL ivory cabochon 3/4″ in diameter, by spraying it with Matte Workable Spray Fixative, I drew the most important lines of the face. I used a very fine lead mechanical pencil and a light touch. It took a lot of tiny adjustments… a hair’s width can make a huge difference.
(A note about ivory: I purchase mine from Boone Traders, who only sell ivory obtained from certified legal sources, such as mammoth ivory or old piano keys.)
I’m painting in oils, and in the next step I use sepia thinned with Galkyd Lite medium to lay out the shadowed areas. It’s not exact, but it has to be close to where things need placed. Using a clean 20/0 detail brush, I can adjust the edges of the shadows by pushing the paint in tiny increments. Kind of looks like the Man in the Moon at this stage! (Please ignore the tape sticking out from behind the cabochon off to the left.)
After the first layer dries, I go back in and define the darkest lines and areas, add more shading to give it form and make sure everything is exactly where I want it. In the lower left side, I started blending in some white. Eventually, it will be all shades of warm grays and white. This is called a Grisaille. It’s the underpainting, and by itself it looks rather dead.
I’ve added the dark that lies beneath the hair strands on the upper right. Also the earring and ear canal. After blending in more white over the highlight areas, the Grisaille is finished. I’m ready to start applying the glorious blues, greens, violets and flesh tones that will make this pop right off the ivory.
A note about painting surfaces: For very small paintings I prefer ivory, but if you object to the idea, you can use what Boone Traders call Vegetable Ivory… it is a very hard seed that when sliced and polished, looks just like warm ivory. I use copper for larger miniatures: anything bigger than 1.5 inches. An ultra smooth surface texture is paramount to paint the minute details in miniature.
The next step involves glazing the color zones. The “red” zone is typically the strip across the middle face: the cheeks and the nose. If you look closely at your subject’s face, you can see bits of green and blue undertones. Also violet in certain areas. It looks almost clownish, but it will all blend and have beautiful effects on the finished face.
I’ve warmed things up with glazes of warm fleshy tones, added a little reflected light on the chin, and gave the lips some base color.
To finalize the portrait, I’ve added depth and color to the eye’s iris, added eye lashes, adjusted some of the shadows, and warmed the total face even further with a very thin glaze of transparent oxide yellow and a touch of red. With a light touch, I added darks, then highlights to the hair strands. I think it’s done!
After it dried completely, it got a good coat of ICE, a jewelry grade resin clear coat to protect it, seeing as it will be worn as jewelry.
Hopefully this gives you a good impression of true miniature portraits.