Tiny Painting Demo: Urban Abstraction

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What Makes it a Miniature Painting?

Urban abstract miniature painting
This miniature painting of an urban abstraction is 6x5cm (about 2.75x3"). It's painted on cotton canvas glued to miniature wooden stretchers, using acrylics. Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

In contemporary painting, a miniature is defined by size, though just what size depends on which society or organization is defining it. (This wasn't the case historically, see Art Glossary: Miniature.) Typically a miniature painting is defined as a painting that's no larger than 5x7" or 10x10cm, or that the subject of the painting must be no more than one sixth of its true size (which would make an adult's head about 9"/23cm.

If you're thinking this is impossibly small to paint any level of detail in, well you'd be surprised what some artists can do on such a tiny canvas with some very thin brushes. A brush might have only a few hairs you can count individually. You can buy such brushes or make your own by trimming an old one with a pair of scissors. But, like any canvas, you're free to paint a miniature one in whatever style of art you choose.

For my tiny canvasI used acrylic paint and a painting knife with a very sharp point and long straight edge. Let's start painting...

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How to Start a Miniature Painting

Miniature abstract painting
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Painting a miniature is just like painting a 'normal' sized canvas, just on a far smaller scale. So, plan your composition in your head or as a thumbnail then sketch it on the canvas or just start painting, whatever you'd usually do.

For this miniature urban abstraction, I had a vision in my head of what I wanted to do of a row of skyscrapers in dark, doom-and-gloom colors. I didn't do a sketch, but had been thinking about it for a bit before I put brush to paint.

I started by painting the whole canvas a single dark color because I knew I wanted the background dark. That way I wouldn't later on need to "fill in" any of the background that might still be white. The color I've used is that favorite of mine, Prussian blue, which is very dark when used thick but gives gorgeous blues when mixed with white.

I painted the edges at this stage, because it's easy to do without worrying about messing up anything by accidentally putting a finger in some still-wet paint. I also knew that I wanted the final painting to be quite dark, so edges in Prussian blue would work fine.

Once the background blue had dried, it was time to start blocking in the main shapes.

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Blocking in the Main Shapes

Miniature painting -- urban abstract painting
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Using a painting knife, I blocked in some rectangles which were intended to represent skyscrapers in a city. I used a silver paint because it would create a slight shimmer to the buildings where it ultimately showed through. Being light in tone, it also stands out well from the background color.

The knife enabled me to get ridges of texture along the height of each 'building'. To do this, you scrape the paint with the knife to one side, then lift it up. It's hard to describe, but if you push on the knife slightly before you lift it, you can get a lovely textured ridge. It takes a little practice to do, but you do already know how. Really you do! After all, you can apply butter to a slice of bread quite neatly, can't you? So next time you're buttering a slice play around a bit with creating little ridges and patterns.

Once the silver was done, I added some additional color...

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Adding More Color to the Skyscrapers

Miniature painting -- urban abstract painting
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

To create visual interest to what at this stage are really just rectangles of color, I added some more color. I selected earth colors as I'd envisaged this miniature urban abstraction as being in "murky, polluted city colors" not "bright lights". The photo shows the painting when I'd added some burnt sienna. After that I added some black, then left it to dry while I added some 'sky' color.

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Adding Some 'Sky' Color

Miniature painting -- urban abstract painting
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

To make the shape of the negative space in the 'sky' area above the buildings stand out more strongly, I painted it a light tone. I created this by mixing in a little white with the leftovers on my palette of colors I've used for the buildings. Doing this means there's an overall unity to the colors across the composition.

In the photo the light tone still looks painted around the buildings, whereas it needs to look as if it's behind them. Achieving this is a question of working right up to the buildings and not worrying if I go over them accidentally because I can always repaint them.

I smeared the paint with the tip of a cloth, then went over the area again with a knife and some extra paint, working right up to the buildings. I also created some texture in it and touched a little of the color elsewhere in the composition, so the 'sky' wouldn't feel so distinct from the 'buildings'. I then had another round at the buildings themselves, adding some additional color and suggestion of architectural elements, as you can see in the next photo.

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The Final Miniature Painting

Miniature abstract painting
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

The photo shows this tiny canvas as it was when I decided to stop, even though I'm not entirely convinced that the 'sky' doesn't need something more and the overall feeling of the painting isn't a bit too bleak. One of the most difficult things with a painting abstracted from reality is knowing when to stop. It's all to keep to just to this and that, to keep fiddling without improving what's already painted.

What I Like About This Painting: The way what at first glance may seem just a textured mess of color emerges into shapes and then the possibility of these shapes being tall buildings the longer you look.

What I Don't Like: The sky seems too flat and uninteresting, lacking texture by comparison, but I haven't changed it because I worry that adding it will make it all too busy.

What I Didn't Intend: If you turn the canvas 90 degrees, squint your eyes, and apply a little imagination, you can see a profile of a person. I didn't even see this until my resident art critic pointed it out!

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Your Citation
Boddy-Evans, Marion. "Tiny Painting Demo: Urban Abstraction." ThoughtCo, Oct. 19, 2016, thoughtco.com/tiny-painting-demo-urban-abstraction-2579204. Boddy-Evans, Marion. (2016, October 19). Tiny Painting Demo: Urban Abstraction. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tiny-painting-demo-urban-abstraction-2579204 Boddy-Evans, Marion. "Tiny Painting Demo: Urban Abstraction." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tiny-painting-demo-urban-abstraction-2579204 (accessed November 18, 2017).