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The Art of Being a Miniature Artist

Royal Miniature Society exhibition at Mall Galleries, London.

Today I headed for Mall Galleries, the hub of eight of UK’s leading art societies: oil painting, portrait, marine, wildlife, watercolour, pastel, printmaking and sculpture.  Each holds their annual exhibition, and the current show is operated by Royal Society of Miniature Painters.

Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers was founded in 1896, to be devoted exclusively to contemporary miniatures. However, in 1926 the RMS extended its welcome to other forms of miniature art. Today,  the Society aims to protect and esteem the practice of the traditional 16th Century art of miniature work. It has to be mentioned that, since 2001, RMS has HRH THE Prince of Wales as a royal patron.

As an artist who appreciates the artwork that enters one'spersonal space, I do find miniature painting as fascinating as it is intimidating; intimidating mostly because of my awareness of the infinite patience needed for its fine techniques - and the inevitable involvement of the brushes the size of human hair. That is said, I also like a good challenge, and thus I enter the threemedium size rooms of the North Gallery with the intention to view all the 561 works there.

A few were on the walls; most of them were beautifully presented in Victorian style display cabinets. 


Being what they are, they do require a magnifying glass to appreciate the details of the work and immaculate techniques, be it hatching, stippling or pointillism.

Armed with my magnified glass and caffeinated patience, I soon give up on my initial ambition to view all the works and settle for the close study of only those works that caught my eye.

Here are the paintings that stood out - in my opinion.

Tom Mullinger |  Charles Dickens 1867 (after Jeremiah Gurney) , oil on paper and  Edwardian actress Lily Elsie |  oil on polymin.

Tom Mullinger | Charles Dickens 1867 (after Jeremiah Gurney), oil on paper and Edwardian actress Lily Elsie | oil on polymin.

Raoof Haghighi |  Linda  | acrylic on paper

Raoof Haghighi | Linda | acrylic on paper

Eileen Bass |  Still Life with Cherry Blossom  | oil on ivorine

Eileen Bass | Still Life with Cherry Blossom | oil on ivorine

Roy Cooney |  Robin  | line engraving original print and copperplate and  Blue Tit  | line engraving original print and copperplate 

Roy Cooney | Robin | line engraving original print and copperplate and Blue Tit | line engraving original print and copperplate 

David Weston | Highland Fling | watercolour on paper

David Weston | Highland Fling | watercolour on paper

Joyce Rogerson |  Chaffinch in Spring  | watercolor on vellum 

Joyce Rogerson | Chaffinch in Spring | watercolor on vellum 

Hanna Woodring |  Little Blue Milk Pail  | oil on board

Hanna Woodring | Little Blue Milk Pail | oil on board

Anthony J.Parke |  Sky  | oil on board

Anthony J.Parke | Sky | oil on board

It was unexpected to discover quite large workby Iain Gardiner that stood out just because of the difference in size. At closer look I discovered that the artist has applied the miniature technique on large canvas. It took him three years to complete and has to be recognized as Herculean effort, butI wasn't entirely convinced whether it was worth it. The painting doesn't invite the viewer to take a closer look, but without the closer look one simply will not notice effort that went into the making.

Iain Gardiner |  Self Portrait as Commuter  (and close up of the collar)

Iain Gardiner | Self Portrait as Commuter (and close up of the collar)

Having spent two hours at the exhibition, I've ended up fully entranced by the sense of intimacy that miniatures give out. There is something unique and almost magical about being able to hold a complete work of art in a palm of your hand, to be able to take it with you should you wish to do so. 

With the feeling of whole new level of appreciation, I was heading for the exit when my attention turned to a lonely figure of an artist. He was working on the unimaginable tiny portrait in watercolours, almost invisible brush in one hand and a magnifying glass in another. 

He has been there all the time, completely absorbed in his work and seemingly undisturbed by all the comings and goings at the gallery. He invoked the image of medieval monk, meditating over the parchment of the scriptures. When I talked to him, he turned out to be a British miniature artist Micheal Coe, also present at the exhibition with his own award winning work 'Girl with the Pearl Stud Earring'.

Michael Coe |  Girl with Pearl Stud Earring  | watercolor on vellum

Michael Coe | Girl with Pearl Stud Earring | watercolor on vellum

Being seasoned artist and a member of RMS, he has repeatedly exhibited at prestigious places both in UK and abroad, such as The Hilliard Society, The Royal Miniature Painters and Gravers Society,The Miniature Painters Sculptures and Gravers Society of Washington and The Miniature Art Society of Florida.

We had a good artist talk about his technique(watercolours on vellum), how long time it takes to complete a miniature portrait (4 weeks for 4 cm high painting) and of course how he prices his work (turned out to be avery modest range from £1000 to £3000 for the commissions). Knowing the size of the minimum turnover to run a business, I commented that he had to do a great deal of commissions to at least cover all the costs. Imagine my surprise when he said that he didn'tdo more than 3-4 commissions a year. I guess my silence spoke for itself because he then explained to me that a while ago, he decided to give up on this own expectations of commercial success in order to gain what he really need the most - peace of mind. Hechose not to be dependent on sales or popularity and rather paint what he wants. He added that his choice, liberating as it may be, had consequences - like not having a car or a mobile phone and ultimately not even a website. I must admit that there was something undeniably Zen about him and his way of thinking. Although I have met a great deal of artists without a car (although very few without a mobile phone), none of them would choose it deliberately. It seemed like Michael has truly achieved a piece of mind by making a priority of what was right for him.

Perhaps the art of miniature is the true art of Zen of the contemporary art world; the art of patience and endurance of focus, the art of discovering the endless universe behind the tiny brush strokes. It doesn't grab your immediate attention or offers instant gratification   - it quietly asks you to make an effort in order to be generously rewarded.

However,  if you are a miniature artist with the taste for prestigious awards, the good news is that the Royal Society of Miniature Painters accepts international submissions to their annual exhibitions. For terms, conditions  and the list of awards and prizes go to www.royal-miniature-society.org.uk

Tom Mullinger receiving the award for most outstanding Portrait Miniature at the opening reception at Mall Galleries.

Tom Mullinger receiving the award for most outstanding Portrait Miniature at the opening reception at Mall Galleries.

The much coveted award, Gold Memorial Bowl, on display at the gallery.

The much coveted award, Gold Memorial Bowl, on display at the gallery.

Should you be accepted into the open exhibition for three consecutive years, you will then be invited by the Society to become an Associate Member, which is an award in itself.

Natalie Holland2 Comments