Search

The Process Behind Miniature Oil Paintings

If you follow me on Instagram, then you know how much I love the process of making jewelry. I wish that everyone could experience the joy of making something with their hands which is why I try to bring my audience into my studio to show you how I make jewelry.


My goal with showing process is manyfold. I love when other artists can tell a story about how they make their work because their passion usually inspires me to keep pushing and exploring. I also feel like the process of making jewelry is so much more complex than what meets the eye. I think there's something incredible about coming up with an idea and creating it with your hands. And probably my last reason, is that so much of what surrounds us is manufactured or made by machine and there lacks that human touch. I'm not against technology at all, but there is something to be said about our relationship to objects. As a society, we don't feel like anything is precious anymore because we don't have that emotional connection.


Somehow by showing and talking about process, we can begin to reconnect to art and art objects on a more emotional level and to me, that's really important that I can give that to my audience.


I thought I'd try something different with this blog post and talk about my process of making miniature oil paintings. First, let me show you this photo and then I'll give you a breakdown of everything you're seeing.

I take these process snapshots all the time and sometimes expect you to see what I see, but as I look at this image, I now see that there's no way you'd know what you're looking at unless I tell you.


This is a snapshot of my life's work. I come up with drawings, I visit local gemstone supply shops to gather my materials, and then I can begin making.


Drawing is very important to me and my jewelry. I have many notebooks filled with designs and sketches, and a sketch is the most essential point of inspiration for me. I often return to old notebooks to see if there is a worthy design that never got made. Some designs will sit in my notebook for years, some of my 'wilder' thoughts are spilled on to the paper but I'm still to afraid to make them, or sometimes the design just isn't worth the fuss. I have my own language when it comes to drawing, so when I see my own sketch, I know immediately what I was thinking or intending for the design.


Then comes the shopping for materials. Most handmade jewelers will have a surplus of gemstones in their studio. Gemstone shopping is something that can be rather time-consuming, let alone the fact that you not only have to have an eye for what your customers will want but you have to understand the quality of each stone. When I first started making jewelry, I didn't have a clue of what was good so I started asking my suppliers a lot of questions. I'd ask them to show me a piece that was of higher quality so that I could see the difference and have them point out things about a gemstone that would increase its value.


I made a deliberate choice to spend a little extra on quality gemstones so that I wouldn't have to worry about whether I was using a good stone with my design. Lately, I'm more attracted to colorful translucent gemstones because of the way light reflects through them. I differ from some of my fellow jewelers because I create the design first and then select which gemstones best fit the project, so I do need to have a surplus of gemstones so that I can make the best selection. Also, looking at gemstones somehow affects what I make. I'm very inspired by color and I can spend hours looking for the perfect color harmonies online.


Finally, comes the making. In the central part of this image are three pairs of earrings that look like a pastel orange color. This is where all of my miniature oil paintings begin. I'm currently working on a video that will show you each step in the making process, but I want to introduce the prep process for miniature oils in this post as well.


The process for making oil paintings is almost entirely my own. There wasn't anything on the internet that said, 'this is how you make miniature oil paintings' because frankly not too many people are doing this process. I have seen miniatures used in jewelry but with a paint called gouache which dries a lot faster than oil paints, but I am not familiar with how it works so I prefer to stick with oils. With oil paints, you can blend them easily and I prefer their high pigmentation.


I have been experimenting with a number techniques to try to get these miniature oils just right. I recently discovered that there is a thin plywood which works perfectly for this type of work. It's lightweight, has three layers of wood and only measures 1/8 of an inch thick. I have been painting on wood because of how lightweight I make an earring and it allows me to make a statement earring without worrying too much about whether I am exceeding my weight limit of 9grams per earring.


In this image, I have sawn each form using my jeweler's saw. Then I file the edges of the form to make them more uniform and then I sand the entire piece to make it smooth. After that, I apply an acrylic gesso which acts as a waterproofing layer. I come from a desert climate and I was nervous to work with wood because of the possibility of it warping under the painting, or having the wood crack. I transfer my drawing from sketchbook to gesso wood canvas and from there I add an acrylic wash over the whole earring. That acrylic wash is what makes the canvas look that pastel orange color. I add this wash over the whole canvas because when I transfer my design, I use graphite/lead pencil. The lead of the pencil can interfere with my oil paints and discolor them so this wash keeps the pencil drawing in place.


Everything in this image is a culmination of about a week's worth of work from the drawing to the gathering of materials to to the prepping of the wood canvas. While this photo appears simple, there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make these jewelry pieces come together.


That's all for now. Thanks so much for reading and take care,

Caitlin