Portrait Miniatures


Pauline Denyer-Baker Des RCA

Techniques and Supports

Miniatures are not just ‘small paintings’. The supports  used, ivorine, vellum and mammoth ivory* dictate the techniques the miniaturist has to use to apply the paint to them. They are mostly non-absorbent, so that the wash on wash technique used for watercolour can only be used once. A second wash would wipe off the first. Consequently the colour has to be applied in a series of layers consisting of millions of tiny dots, (stipples), or lines, (hatches), using very pale and dry watercolour on a fine sable brush with a perfect point. This is a technique used by etchers such as Durer, (with a stylus), to create form and texture when drawing on their metal plates.

* Mammoth Ivory is found in the permafrost in Russia , from the buried tusks of mammoths.

Kelmscott vellum, is made from the skins of goats. cured and dried, and finished with gesso, then polished to create a smooth velvety surface, which is more absorbent than ivorine.

Ivorine is made from cotton dissolved in acid, and is totally non absorbent. Plant labels and ping pong balls were made from it, although it has been superceded by modern plastics.

Elephant ivory is not generally used now, for environmental reasons. However, some old elephant ivory is still available, but most miniaturists do not choose to use it, including myself.

So this may help to explain why miniatures are more expensive, as they take along time to perfect.