Saturday, 1 September 2012

September Artist of the Month Mary Jansen

Hello everyone. It's the beginning of September and time for me to introduce our new Feature artist this month. Mary Jansen. She is an amazing award winning artist in the world of watercolour miniatures. For those of you that are unfamilair with miniatures. These are painting less than 4 by 6.5 inches!!! Many of Mary's paintings are much smaller than this (some even as small as 2.5 by 3 inches) but are painted with such detail and precision!
 So please give a warm welcome to Mary and her miniature paintings.
"Saucey Sunbathers"

Thank you so much for the honor of letting me share my artistic journey with you! Indeed I am humbled for there are so many accomplished artists out there with far more accolades tucked under their artist’s beret than I could ever hope for. But for many of us perhaps it’s not so much the attention but the process that makes art real for us. It’s akin to savoring an amble through a breathtaking fairy woods and discovering treasures on the way more than the satisfaction of completing the journey.

"Rook on the Rocks"

Isn’t there always a sense of loss when one finishes a painting? I think for many of us that is true.
Painting is a partnership between the revelations of the soul along with the disciplines of application. One cannot function properly without the other. Over the years one tends to develop that symbiotic relationship and create a style. For me I have devoted much of my creative energy to the world of miniatures. Here I feel safe and secure in the world of the small.
"Quiet Repose"
I’m not sure why I love to paint small. I suspect it has something to do with my childhood. When I was young my mother taught me to take notice of the world close up. She would give me a loop of string and instruct me to cast it over a random piece of earth and then sit quietly and observe the contents of that periphery. Never was this exercise a disappointment for there is a fascinating world “in small” that is often overlooked. Elegant little flowers, fascinating insects and interesting grasses and fungi reveal themselves to those who have the patience to observe. In the same sense I find that painting miniatures provides for me similar stimulation as I strive to add detail that might otherwise be overlooked.
"Maggie's Nirvana"
Miniatures are a growing art genre in the United States. Miniature portraits were popular among the European aristocrats back as early as the 17th century and were often the only visual reference one had in the initial process of selecting a politically powerful spouse from a distant country, (ah politics!). Those portraits were often painted on ivory or vellum with oils or casein. Since then miniature art has expanded to include all topics of interest as well as a broadening variety of mediums. The basic regulation that most contests abide by is the requirement that the subject matter be no larger than 1/6 its original size. This gets tricky if one enjoys painting insects!
 "Red Eyed Flights"

 I find that painting with watercolors on a hot pressed Crescent Watercolor Board provides the best mediums from which to work. The board is smooth but not so slick as to offer staying power for the several washes of paint applied. I am continually on the lookout for different types of substrate for detail is crucial in miniature competitions. The brushes are ridiculously small! I have several that I use but my old friend is a 20/0 round that I find most reliable. With this kind of work I of course need the assistance of a magnifying glass, (and unfortunately, reading glasses as well!) I don’t want to skimp on the detail work.

But detail, though important, is not everything in the miniature world. Judges look for exquisite lighting, character of subject matter and composition to name a few. It takes just as long if not longer to compose a miniature painting as it does a larger one for the same considerations apply in the tiny format.

 "Awkward Adolescence"

It’s a thrill to attend any of the miniature shows throughout the country. There are so many that it is not possible to compete in all of them. Two of the larger international shows occur in the winter and most miniaturists attempt to participate in those. One is the MASF show in Dunedin, FL. The other is the MPSG exhibit in Washington D.C. I have won top awards in both as well as in several other shows throughout the country. Please stop by my blog some time and take a look:

"Afternoon at the Fair"

I’ll put a virtual pot of tea on and we can chat about art!


christiane fortin said...

Beautiful article congratulations Mary your are my star!

betty said...

As you do, I felt the same way when a painting was finished - kind of lost and relunctant to leave. The painting process gives me a target to reach and work for and once the project is completed, it is satisfying but yes, lost. thanks for sharing. I learned something now about miniature paintings.

Diane Morgan said...

Terrific article, Mary. Love your work!

James F. Smith said...

Thanks for sharing!!!!! As usual I get up in the morning and look into the Miniatureart Forum looking for more masterpieces from our group. Know I get some press from you!! Thanks Mary!!

Mary Jansen said...

Thank you everyone.
Betty, there is that sense of loss when a painting is done but you know in your heart that there are more creations sitting on the back burner of your soul. They are just jumping up and down to be revealed. I take comfort in thinking that and it propels me forward! I hope the same is for you!

Anonymous said...

wow! and to think they are so small. How long do you take for each painting? Do you do it all in one sitting?


Mary Jansen said...

Hi Jean! Thanks for checking out the blog! I've been hooked on minis for quite a few years now. There are so many opportunities to show them and posting them is not cost-prohibitive like the larger paintings are. Each miniature takes days to produce. I could never do one in one sitting. They are just as work intensive as a larger painting...sometimes more. The judges look not only for good composition and lighting but they also look for detail. This is what takes forever...putting in the detail! I work with a magnifying glass coupled with my reading glasses. It's a very intimate process but also a meditaive one for working up close in one's own little bubble allows one to let go of outside worldly worries. You should try one some time!

Shirley Scoble said...

Mary you are inticing me to give miniatures a try. I would love to attempt one while we have you to question about how to's. Thank you for taking time to share your stunning work.

Mary Jansen said...

Hi Shirley! Thanks for taking a look. And yes! Give miniatures a try. There's nothing to stop you for there's so little risk involved. You need only some time, a magnifier, a solid substrate of sorts, (I like to use Crescent Watercolor Board...cut up into small pieces obviously) and your paints. Now, the surface you choose to work with differs according to the medium you are most familiar with. There are several different kinds to explore. Tell me more about your art and I would be more than happy to get you started on your first miniature!

Anonymous said...

iptersin5could you give us a recommened abosulute beginners list of needed equipment for miniatures?


Mary Jansen said...

Hi Diana,
Here are some materials that I find most reliable:

Watercolors- Daniel Smith transparent watercolors are my favorites, (their quinocridones are simply dreamy!). I also use Winsor Newton, (professional grade, of course!)
Brushes- there are many on the market but I like Princeton 20/0 rounds and liners, (I think they are actually called miniature brushes). They are inexpensive and take a lot of abuse. You can order them from
Surface- I order large Crescent watercolor boards and trim them down to many individual formats. If you enjoy acrylics, scratchboard or oils then the Ampersand clayboard panels are nice as are the gessobords.
Some painters dig deep into their pockets and buy vellum, calf skin or a surface called "polymin", (supplied by I find Polymin is just too slippery a surface when working with transparent watercolors though. I think cassein and guache painters enjoy that surface.
It's a challenge to find the perfect suface that provides just enough tooth for watercolors to take but also a smooth surface that the miniature genre demands. It can be tricky. But I find several layers of paint provides for me the intensity and luminosity I need to be satisfied. It just takes more patience and time working on a smoother surface.
Magnifiers- this is a personal purchase. You have to play around with what makes you comfortable. I work both flat on the table as well as on a mini easel so I have a lit magnifying glass that extends on a flexible arm. Some miniaturists simply use hand held magnifiers or ones that slide down as a visor from a head band. I find that cumbersome. Strong light, (daylight lamp) is important for you do not want to miss any detail. You also want to have the freedom to manipulate and turn the painting easily and quickly for better accessability and viewing. As you work you will develop personal tastes in set up.
Frames and more surfaces- If you are a purist and have the money to spend on vellum or ivory, (faux) then there are resources for that as well. Here is a link to a lovely miniature site where you can glean information from other miniaturists as well as take advantage of material suppliers and show listings:
There is a link within this site to a Yahoo Miniature Forum that is also very informative.
I hope this helps. Please don't hesitate to ask more questions!

Rebecca said...

Wow Mary, I'm amazed with the detail in your work!
What things do you like painting most? How much does the size of your paintings affect what you paint? Do some subjects work better as miniatures than others?

Oh and me and mum want to know if you've ever painted your bear died dragon - if so can we see? :-)

Mary Jansen said...

Hi Rebecca!
Let's see...what do I enjoy painting the most? That's a difficult question for any subject that displays a strong sense of light, composition and mood is alluring to me. But as I look back at the paintings I have done I do notice a certain trend towards subjects donning feathers, fur and scales! Recently I have been exploring landscape possibilities in miniatures. It's always such a challenge to put as much punch into a miniature as one possibly can and landscapes have so much to offer in this respect. I love a challenge and landscapes provide just that when one must discern perspective, mood, realistic value and color in relation to perspective. If one can successfully encompass all those things within a 3 x 4" format then one has hit the jackpot!
But then, I simply love the artistry of animals too. I love to paint them from a more personal, close-up frame of reference. Presently I'm working on a marine iguana and am thoroughly enjoying every beautiful scale and horn. They are majestic creatures! And yes, I WILL be painting our lovely Bearded Dragon soon for he too has such an intriguing pattern of scales, (he knows it too!). I would like to paint him strutting upon a pile of treasure...for he is a dragon you know! (And he does have an affinity for shiny things!). I'll post a pic of him for sure but it will take some time to compose the painting. Like your Mum, for this one in particular I'd like there to be some deeper meaning. I'll keep you posted....
Thanks so much for asking!!!

Ona Kingdon said...

Hi Mary :)

What do you ship your miniatures in? I had to send mine to France and realised I had nothing appropriate to send it in. I created a small box out of card this time but wondered if there were special boxes for miniatures you use like we use the airfloats for the bigger paintings


Mary Jansen said...

Hi Ona!
Miniatures are so easy to post. Because of their size they are less vulnerable to breakage. Therefore one needs only to pack them in a sturdy cardboard box with plenty of bubble wrap. My rule of thumb is to pack them in a box approximately three times their width to assure safe cushioning. I wrap the piece in a protective soft cloth, wrap a rubber band around that to secure it then wrap the piece in several layers of bubble wrap. This should be nested in enough bubble wrap to assure there is no "jiggling" in the final securing of package. That's it! Oh, and insurance, of course! One must always insure the package at the post! I don't think they even make airfloats this tiny size...not that I'd use them anyway! There's no point with minis!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Mary for being our featured Artist for September. Good luck with your minature shows this fall


Mary Jansen said...

Ona and readers, thank YOU for honoring me with your blog's "Artist of the Month"! It was a delight and a pleasure!