Artists Who Find the Biggest Joys in the Smallest of Paintings

Would it surprise you to hear that there is literally an entire world of traditional art, with thousands of artists entering hundreds of shows around the world, year round, that you may not know about?

If you have not learned about traditional miniature art, you are missing out. I’m not talking about miniature shows that you see around the holidays where galleries sell “gift priced” studies. I’m not talking about the artists who paint scenes on grains of rice or carve pencil tips into amazing sculptures. These are all beautiful as well. But I am talking about the traditional miniature fine art world.

“Vanilla” by Deb Keirce, acrylic, 2.5×4 recently won Best of Show.

In a nutshell, traditional miniature painters adhere to the following rules. We paint objects 1/6 their original size or smaller. For example, a human head is 9 inches tall. You will not see a head in a miniature painting, larger than 1.5 inches tall. We also paint on substrates that are 25 square inches or smaller. This is what sets us apart from other forms of miniature art.

Collectors of miniature art tend to be very conventional. The best selling work is usually wildlife, landscapes, and florals. In this way, we are not much different than the art world at large. Abstract art is not as prevalent in the miniature world, although most shows do have a category for it.

“Watering Stones” by Deb Keirce, acrylic, 4×6

Any media is acceptable in miniature art shows. Mixed media, paper sculpture, bronze, clay, oil, acrylic, and watercolor are all common. As a nod to the days of the medieval scribes, where miniature art originated, you will often see gold leaf, silverpoint, egg tempera, Russian lacquer techniques, and other unique media at the shows.

What you will not see in a miniature show is canvas. It is just too textured to paint on in miniature. Try it if you don’t believe me. We paint on smooth surfaces. I personally prefer sanded, gessoed panels. However, many of us paint on vellum, illustration board, polymin (a synthetic form of ivory available in sheets), and wood. You will often see paintings on piano keys, feathers, and other smooth objects as well. While primed copper and aluminum are popular with photorealists who paint very smooth mural sized paintings, I have not seen metals used as a substrate (yet) at the miniature shows.

When you paint in miniature, you quickly realize that you need to do things a little differently than you do on larger artwork. For example, to read properly, miniatures are typically more detailed than their larger counterparts. Also, while it is fine to use impasto for highlights, you cannot create texture with brush strokes in the same way you would for a larger piece. Many of us use magnifiers while painting, because at most exhibitions, collectors view the artwork through magnifying lenses.

You need to be certain your art is secure in its frame, with no rattles. Minis are meant to be held. They offer a viewing experience that is more intimate, and thus need to be more durable. Hardware should be delicate, and fine wire is used that will not scratch you when you pick it up.

Hand in Hand by Deb Keirce, oil 6x4

Hand in Hand by Deb Keirce, oil 6×4

Many artists who work in little use stippling to create details. Others cross hatch. Most of us employ tools that are pointy to move the paint around, and achieve a level of detail you don’t get with brushes. While it is important to use pointy brushes to paint miniatures, you need enough bristles to hold paint, and to allow it to flow down to the point. You actually cannot paint with a brush that has only one or two hairs, so you resort to other means to get the paint onto the canvas when it is important to be highly detailed.

Frames are juried along with your artwork, so many miniature artists make their own frames. It is sometimes difficult to find framers with equipment to create frames out of 1 inch moldings for paintings that are 1 to 6 inches tall. For portraits, it is common to use thin metal frames, as was done in Europe, before the days of photography. People commissioned pocket sized portraits of their loved ones, and often kept them on chains like lockets. Mats cannot be over cut and frame corners must be firmly and neatly joined or they will not be juried into shows.

The miniature world if full of the nicest and most talented people. There are groups on Social Media that support each other. And, there are miniature shows around the world throughout the year.
Have you been assimilated? Have I talked you into becoming a miniature painter? Seriously, once you enter my little world, I doubt you’ll want to leave!

Debra is a NOAPS Member and a Top 150 Finalist in NOAPS On-line International Exhibit. She is an international award winning artist of Contemporary Realism, painting the hauntingly familiar. She connects with fans and collectors through her newsletter.

Debra and her family live in Northern Virginia. Using oil or acrylics, she paints familiar scenes in a realistic style. Debra is inspired by the magic in daily stories of joy, desire, challenge and encouragement.

Painting full size art is fun, but Debra also specializes in small paintings. Part of her process for creating miniature fine art involves the use of magnifying lenses and close range binoculars. She enjoys demonstrating these techniques for art lovers.

More information about Deb and her art can be found at

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Artists Who Find the Biggest Joys in the Smallest of Paintings

  1. Debra Keirce says:

    What an honor to be featured on the NOAPS blog! Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s