So, I just put the last hand to a tiny portrait of a familiar face, an old friend of mine in need of a present for her husband's birthday. For those of you interested in miniature portraits, I'd like to share the process behind it all... Or rather, snippets of it. ;-)
This time I'm working on vellum (=calfskin, poor little baby ;-( ), which wasn't the material par préferénce in the 1700s, but it was still used from time to time along with enamel - the favoured material for miniatures of the previous century. Vellum has a nice sheen to it which is comparable to ivory, another not too animal friendly material which was the preferred base for miniatures in the 18th century. (Ivory and vellum can be replaced with synthetic surfaces like ivorine or polymin, by the way.)
Well, here we go..
1. Sketching, sketching... As usual I'm using a photo for reference and drawing according to the classic sight-size method.
2. After cutting the vellum to shape with scissors, I transfer the outlines of the drawing onto the surface using the carbon paper technique... For the first watercolour layer I'm using light blue for the skin and gray for the hair, building up transparent layers of shadows. For midtones and highlights, the vellum should be left more or less blank, making the natural glow of the material shine through.
4. Putting on the first layers of colours... not easy since vellum - like ivory - is a non absorbent surface so one has to keep the brush as dry as possible too keep the separate layers intact. One should always dilute the colours slightly with a good medium (I'm using Eliza Turk's Aquarella) or gum arabic. Be careful with the latter, though, too thick layers of gum arabic can make the colours crack and peel off the surface (been there, done that!)
5. The second layer. Time to do some highlights in pure, opaque white.
6. Done! Kind of...
7. I always prefer to use frames with (convex) glass, but this particular frame didn't have one so I had to use (a non water soluble!) lacquer, a firm backing for the vellum (which has an annoying tendency to warp) and glue. But the glittering paste locket is lovely anyway. :-)
One word of warning though - DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME without prior experience of portrait and/or watercolour painting as well as field studies of original miniature paintings in museums and antique shops - and handbooks (there are several out there). Unless you want an opportunity to invent new swear words... ;-) After all, it's about trying to paint a person's likeness in a tiny scale onto a non absorbent surface, so if you decide to plunge into it - expect a lot of trial and error.