Tuesday, July 08, 2008


So I'm sure you guys are probably bored with my current obsession with Elizabethen miniatures, but I wanted to post up some progress on these things. At Fair Oaks Tudor Fayre, our little prototype miniatures nearly sold out at $10 a piece (a friend refused to pay $5 and insisted we raise them to $10). A LOT of people asked about them and gave excellent suggestions, so I decided to dive deeper into this and really learn how to make something special.
I started by getting better frames. The frames I was using had no back, and came with prongs on the inside (to hold the cabochon stone in) that I had to break off with pliers. They also had tarnishing on the brass. The new frames are cameo frames, with backs, and are much higher quality metal, some brass and some plated. They were also cheaper! I bought an assortment, 30 in all, some to be made into double-sided miniatures.

The next problem was the gloss gel medium I was using the seal the images into the frames. It bubbled too much (I think a couple bubbles are kindof nice), and I could see the marks from the palette knife when it dried. Boo. I "discovered" acrylic resin when I read an article on casting acrylic jewels for costume jewelry, and I've had a love affair with the stuff ever since. It's a bit hard to use, but works wonders. There are still little bubbles, though not nearly as many, and I can pop them before the stuff hardens, if I'm really paying attention. In many ways the resin is harder to work with than the gel medium -- for one, you have to wear a respirator and rubber gloves, and the stuff can kindof take off out of the frames and be hard to clean up if you overfill. If you add too little catalyst, it takes FOREVER to dry, and if you add too much catalyst, it tacks up too quickly (I lost one of the miniatures that way..goopy mess).

Not that I want to give my secrets away! :-) If anyone out there is interested in jewelry-making, though, this resin stuff is awesome. I'm hoping these new, and vastly improved miniatures do well at the next two faires --Golden Gate and Folsom. I only have about 25 of them, but they are really beautiful, and I think fairly priced. I am going to offer them on the website as well, with a "mix and match" option of choosing the frame and the image, and then I will make the thing and send it off. I'm pretty excited about the whole thing, as if you can't tell :-)

Thursday, July 03, 2008


So there's portrait painting in the style of the renaissance (pick one: holbein, clouet, hilliard, anon?), and then there's limning, an art all itself. In studying Nicholas Hilliard's miniatures, one notices a couple things. Predominantly, there are almost no shadows on the face. The faces are very pale, and the costumes intricately painted, but with very little shading. Hilliard's miniatures were painted with watercolor on vellum, and although they seem very simple, they are not! This little painting is my first attempt at painting in Hilliard's style--that is, limning and not painting. It is for the purpose of placing in a tiny frame, and isn't just a painting shrunk down to fit.

L'Elizabeth R. introduced miniatures as a new product last weekend, at the Fair Oaks Tudor Fayre. They were very popular, and we nearly sold out of them in the first hour! Many people asked if I would be making more, and gave excellent suggestions as to who should be in them (Raleigh, Leceister, The Wives, and particular portraits of Bess...pelican and phoenix). Others inquired about having custom miniatures done, so this is my practice piece to see if it's even feasible.

The nice thing is that the lighting is so simplified that this kind of painting doesn't require a lot of time adjusting, rendering, and darkening up values. There are set rules to limning, as outlined in Hilliard's "Treatise on Limning" (or some such title), which I think will make these custom portraits quick and easy to produce. It's a lot like drawing and coloring :-). This doesn't look much like my mother, but that's another thing abouut these little renaissance portraits--they were painted to flatter the sitter, so wrinkles and signs of aging were OUT. There are some incredible portraits of Elizabeth, painted in 1599, the year before her death, in which she is as youthful and wrinkle-free as her portraits from 1560. It's a fine line to walk...this doesn't look like Mom, but if Mom wanted a completely accurate representation, she'd take a photograph.
I like to say: Cameras add 10 pounds and 10 years; Paintings take away 10 pounds and 10 years. :-)