How to Paint Miniatures

If you are thinking of 'taking up the brush' how about giving miniature art a go?

Helpful hints and tips to get started...

What books are available?

Two very helpful books for the beginner are:

1. ‘Painting Miniatures’ by Pauline Denyer-Baker Des RCA which gives plenty of clear information on all aspects of miniature painting. Pauline’s book is available from Amazon - (£16.99)

2. ‘The Techniques of Painting Miniatures’ by Sue Burton. This book is out of print but is still available on Amazon. It also deals with all aspects of miniature painting by drawing on the experience of 28 leading miniaturists’ work and the methods used by each artist in his or her work.

Are there demonstrations I can attend?

During the annual exhibition of the Royal Miniature Society in October an artist will be in the Mall Galleries North Gallery each day to demonstrate and answer questions. Details will be on the website nearer the time.

The Hilliard Society of Miniaturists will be holding a Workshop on Sunday 26th June 2016. This will take place at the Town Hall, Wells during its exhibition.

For further information please go to the Society’s website.

What brushes will I need?

It is important to have the right brushes for painting miniatures, kolinsky sable being the most widely used by the majority of miniaturists. However many art shops do not stock miniature brushes, or have a limited and often expensive selection.

Two of the companies which specialise in brushes and will post out your requirements are:

Polymers Plus, who have a wide range of materials as well as brushes.

Rosemary and Co have a full range of brushes and orders placed usually arrive within 24-48hours.

Both companies are very helpful and will be happy to advise.

What medium should I use?

Most people who take up the challenge of miniature painting will already have had some experience of painting and will have a selection of paints. However some may take the opportunity to try a different medium.

Acrylics are popular because they are versatile, fast drying, and mistakes can be rectified with relative ease.

Watercolour is the more traditional medium, and the image is generally built up in layers of ‘stippling’, or tiny dots. It is recommended that if you are purchasing watercolours for the first time, to buy artist’s quality, not student range. There is a world of difference between the two. 

Oil paint is another option but it appears that acrylic has largely taken its place for ease of use.

What paper or surface should I use?

Painting surfaces are varied but whatever you use it must be smooth:

Paper. Hot pressed (HP )paper is smooth - as opposed to NOT which has a rough texture - and Arches is one of the most widely used. 

Vellum. This is a specialist surface and unless you are very keen to try everything, it is best left for future experimenting. It is available from Polymers Plus.

Ivorene and polymin. Ivorene was a man-made substitute for ivory which is no longer used, for conservation reasons. However, ivorene is now no longer available in the UK and polymin has taken its place. This can be purchased at Polymers Plus. Because it is a non-absorbent surface, it can be challenging to work on but for portraits particularly, it is a popular choice because it has a quality of light which cannot be achieved on paper.
This surface is fully dealt with in Pauline Denyer-Baker’s book.

Will I need a magnifying glass?

Most miniaturists use a magnifying glass, whether hand held, on a flexi-stand or strapped round the head. Generally they will have a magnification of x3 or x4 and the size of the lens does not necessarily mean greater magnification, although there may be less distortion on larger lenses which will also give a greater area for viewing through. These may be purchased from a model shop, craft shop. Again, there may not be a great deal of choice in smaller shops but most options will be found online. Larger magnifiers may have a built in light as well, and light is an important point to consider.

Some artists may only work during daylight hours and have maximum daylight in the work room. The reality however is that for most of the winter months, an artificial light source is necessary, and a daylight bulb is by far the best. There is little or no colour bias, and it is much easier on the eyes. Daylight bulbs can be purchased from craft shops, and a good selection of daylight lamps is also available from The Daylight Company.

Expert advice from some of our top miniature artists
‘Pickings from the paint pot’

‘I use a mix of Winsor and Newton and Schminke watercolour paints. Schminke colours have a wonderful clarity. I also use Schoelleshammer paper which has a hard surface although the downside is that it is mounted onto thick backing card which can be a nuisance when it comes to framing. Schoelleshammer can only be obtained from Jacksons art supplies, as far as I know. I use brushes from Rosemary and Co, series 92 4/0 and series 93, 2/0, 3/0 and 1.’

‘I use vellum and Arches paper for my work. I don’t recommend using vellum until you feel comfortable with your standard. It is quite absorbent and it can be difficult to rectify mistakes.’

'I use Arches paper for larger work, but have always painted miniatures on vellum. It is a beautiful, smooth surface with enough " bite" to hold on to the paint and provides a robust ground for layers of watercolour to be built up by stippling, resulting in intense, jewel-like colour. I don't think mistakes are more difficult to correct than on paper. I use Windsor and Newton artists watercolour paints and Windsor and Newton Series 7. Miniature. Finest Sable brushes sizes 0, 00 and 000.'

'I use series 33 kolinsky sable brushes (from Rosemary and co) in sizes from 10/0 up to 1, and most of my watercolours are Winsor & Newton or Daniel Smiths. Be aware that colours may have the same name but each brand is slightly different. I like Arches HP paper (I often prefer to do my initial drawing on a separate sheet of paper and then trace it lightly across to the Arches paper when I’m happy with it, thereby avoiding any erasing on the final surface, which can ruin it for miniature work). I also use a hand held magnifying glass.'

‘ I use any HP watercolour paper and I buy my brushes from a model shop. They are nylon but when the point goes I use them for watercolour washes’