I have discovered that one of my favorite things about doing art projects with clients is the opportunity to learn something new – and that was definitely the case on one of my most recent projects!
Enter Jen. She and her boyfriend Mick are passionate about their hobby of doing period reenactments, specifically the period of the Seven Years War (also known as the French and Indian War). Jen was faced with a common challenge; after many years with Mick, what could she get for a birthday gift that would surprise and delight him? This is where her period knowledge came in – and my education began – when she asked if I could do portrait miniatures of she and Mick.
As I came to learn, portrait miniatures were common in this era. They originally became popular among elites in England and France in the 16th century, but this popularity then spread across social classes in Europe and into the United States from the middle of the 18th century up until the mid-19th century when the rise of photography started to take over the role of the miniature. It was common for soldiers to carry miniatures of loved ones, and for women at home to also have them of the men while they were away. Since Jen and Mick and their reenactment compatriots focus on the seven years war (which took place between 1756 and 1763) the portrait miniature was a perfect fit!
But this is not where my education ended. While Jen had great pictures of she and Mick in period garb, Mick was not wearing a wig. This all seemed normal to me until I learned that for a soldier of the status that Mick portrays, he would never be depicted in a portrait without a wig. Adding a wig was the least of my concerns, however, when I also learned that these portrait miniatures were about 1 inch high!
Enter my next lesson – how to paint on an extremely small scale. As a muralist, I am obviously used to working on a very large scale – and even when working on canvas, my paintings tend to be on the larger side. I had certainly never done a 1 inch portrait! Since I have done portrait work and even a good amount of caricatures (which are great practice in identifying what features make a drawing look like that person), I had that as my starting point. As it turns out, this experience, plus a magnifying glass and some patience and some VERY small brushes, did the trick! I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge – and more importantly, Jen and Mick were thrilled with the results.
These portraits are on my main site – but here is a snapshot that includes my finger to give a sense of scale: