Christian Miniature Art

Miniature art is a centuries old tradition, with organizations and clubs around the world specifically geared to its development and marketing. In a world filled with art lovers of every kind, all with an insatiable appetite for art in just about any form, it seems ironic that this particular kind would still flourish.

I created the miniature art on this page with various handmade papers, acrylic, watercolor and colored inks. I tried to be true to the spirit of the art form by keeping the work small, yet rich in surface texture and detail. Some gorgeous organic papers made of banana and grass fibers inspired the works on this page. There is a texture and dimensionality to the full-bodied papers that is difficult to capture adequately in the photos.

"And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments,
to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered."
2Ch 31:21

Miniature art invites us to draw closer and to pause to admire the detail of a small surface. It can be art in any media: for e.g. watercolor, pencil, oil, acrylic, needlework or fiber art. The art can also be in any format - sculpture, living landscapes, carvings on a grain of rice, painting on piano keys...

Some define it by tight rules of scale, where the art must be small enough to be carried with you, and where a portrait head in a painting must be no larger than 2".. Regardless of the debate of the size, the work is usually appreciated for surface detail and the beauty of finish in a small format.

"I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys:
I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water." Is 41:18

Italian manuscript paintings from the 1200-1500’s, were masterful examples of detailed miniature art. Illuminators were much sought after to create Christian themed work, from the illustrations of saints to Biblical stories. These were executed in meticulous detail with fine brushwork in luminous colors and expert gilding, usually around a calligraphic alphabet that began the literary work.

The Thorne miniature rooms at the Chicago Museum of Art are a somewhat more contemporary expression of miniature art. The 68 rooms displayed at the Museum form a breathtaking exhibit of miniature art, in multiple media. There are wonderful Persian carpets, detailed period furniture, fabrics and art, in rooms minutely duplicated with a level of finish that is mind boggling. The two books below are worthwhile resources for any serious enthusiast of miniature art and for the casual lover of all things little!

The recent popularity of Artist Trading Cards or ATC's, is an indicator that miniature art in a contemporary format is still flourishing. Polymer clay and mixed media artists create and trade these at their meetings, or in organized swaps.

However, true miniatures are not merely small format works, but art that despite its size, or maybe even because of it, required consummate skill to create. They are works of art - visual statements, meeting or exceeding all the usual artistic criteria, like excellent composition, color, design, emotion and content… I am not certain that ATC’s quite fall in that category. I’ve seen too many artists whip them out in record time, with an ease made possible by ‘discoveries’ of small works within their larger, sometimes poorly executed works.

For the contemporary Christian artist, it is helpful to sometimes switch from working large to working small. Creating miniature art may be just the thing to get you out of being stuck. More than thumbnails, they require a greater commitment to finish and complexity in a small format.

My top reasons for creating miniature art on a occasional basis are as follows:

  • I can experiment with new and unfamiliar media that I may want to use later with greater proficiency on a larger work.
  • Working small is a low risk proposition.
  • I am more likely to play and be relaxed about the outcome.
  • It is an opportunity to try out ideas and symbols that I may never use again.

I am occasionally surprised at solutions that small format works clarify. However, duplicating the results in a larger format does not always work since sometimes the piece loses its spontaneity and freshness when scaled up. Still, it is worth a try.

I find myself switching media often. It keeps the act of creating art fresh and engaging for me. I switch from sculpture to painting, from working in relief to trying something in the round, from ink drawing to painting in thick, juicy oils … My studio is in a constant state of change as one set of tools is put away for another.

I hope that you too will go ahead and create miniature art and experience for yourself how satisfying it can be to work small.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Okay, now I think I'll go and tackle something monumental!

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