Monday, September 13, 2010

Painting in Miniature

Painting in Miniature

'Smoke' PPG Envirobase on razor blade

It started for me a few years ago in Norway. I was fortunately enough to be assisting Mike Learn in a class he was teaching in Skein. Mike’s airbrush, The Mojo, a custom, hand tuned airbrush was available for the students to purchase. Among the people to pick up the brush was a new student that was just learning the art. He was eager to see what his new airbrush could do so he asked me to paint something small for him during a break. Since it was an automotive airbrushing class, there were plenty of single edge razor blades that the students had been using to cut masks for their work. This tiny flat piece of metal seemed to be a perfect canvas to put the new brush through its paces. The brush worked perfectly and allowed the little blade to be covered with skulls. Here is a quick video.

From there the seed was planted with me. It became very artistically exciting to push the control boundaries of both myself and the tools. The razor blade became a great canvas for these new miniature paintings. Unlike some of the other small paintings that I am producing, there is never any doubt with the razor blades in regards to the scale of the art. ‘Rebirth’ is a painting that measures three inches by four inches yet if there is no visual reference like in this photo, it is difficult to understand how small this painting really is.

Rebirth - PPG Envirobase on board 3"x4"
So the question arises, why paint on such a small scale. There are several reasons that create excitement for me in working this small. As mentioned before, the challenge of pushing the limits of control has advantages and rewards on its own, yet I find there is more to it. The impact of these micro paintings on the viewer surpasses all but the most intense of my larger paintings. I believe that something in our human nature often causes small objects in our everyday life to demand attention from us. For example, think of how quickly we notice a shiny coin on the ground or the impact of a single jewel hanging against skin. This juxtaposition is what makes that impact. I am witnessing this same impact as someone looks at a motorcycle painted on an object as common as a razor blade. There have also been a couple of other small advantages to working this size. Paint usage drops considerably as well as the reduced cost of shipping and framing. Not bad bonuses at all.

The challenge now comes in helping people understand the value of a piece of work like this. Traditionally, the size of the painting can affect the value of the work. This requires a change in perspective in regards to looking at miniature work. These very small paintings need to almost be thought of like jewelry rather than hanging art. When thinking about the work and artistry that is involved in cutting a diamond or creating a fine watch, those aspects add to the value of these tiny objects. In addition, the rarity and quality of a precious stone or the limited number of handmade watches also increases the value of those pieces. Miniature painting needs to be thought of in the same way. It is not the substrate that determines the value of the art, rather it is what that substrate is transformed into. The value of the painting comes from the effort, skill, quality and talent that went into the creation of the artwork. The responsibility in helping the viewer understand these things falls on the artist. Fortunately, as it always is, the paintings will have a far stronger voice than my own.

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