Creating Small: Mini Masterpieces with Big Impact | Jen Dixon | Skillshare

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Creating Small: Mini Masterpieces with Big Impact

teacher avatar Jen Dixon, Abstract & figurative artist, educator

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Suggested Materials


    • 3.

      Exercise: Warm Up & Control


    • 4.

      Exercise: Intentional Mark-Making


    • 5.

      Testing Mixed Media Material Compatibilities


    • 6.

      Subject & Compositional Choices


    • 7.

      Colour Considerations


    • 8.

      Putting it All Together - Making Mini Masterpieces


    • 9.

      Mini Masterpiece Preservation Advice


    • 10.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

This class is for everyone, whether you're a beginner or experienced artist.

The same rules of mark making, composition, and colour apply to art small or large. I've designed this class to build your technical skills and also a thought process for creating a work of art. Like most of my classes, I'm in this with you for the long-haul, not a quick project. I want you to approach everything you do with greater skills and confidence, mini or maxi.

Some of the things we will cover in this class:

  • Brush practice & intentional visual marks for effect
  • Subject & Composition
  • Mixed media compatibilities
  • How these principles and skills are used in real mini masterpiece examples
  • Preservation of your mini masterpieces

By the end of this class you'll be making countless, gorgeous, little works of art.

Why create small? Perhaps you want to work through ideas, test and get to know compatible mixed media materials, colour combinations, or compositions. Maybe you're in a creative rut and need a project to free your mind and break habits. Whatever your reason, making mini paintings is fun and quick to provide results.

You're also going to see me make a real mess of a self-portrait, learn from it, and then get it right. I show these things because we all keep learning with every artwork we create, and getting it wrong is important for our progress.

I can't wait to see what you create, so upload your exercises, experiments, and mini masterpieces! Let's do this!

Meet Your Teacher

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Jen Dixon

Abstract & figurative artist, educator

Top Teacher

Whether you want to learn new skills or brush up on rusty ones, I would love to help. I have been a selling artist for around 35 years. In my own practice I use pen & ink, pastels, oils, acrylics, and watercolours regularly. My work hangs in private collections around the world.
I love what I do, and I teach what I love. We can do good things together here, so let's get started...

About me:
I'm an Ameri-Brit (dual citizen), living on the North Cornwall coast of the UK. I've been here nearly two decades, but have lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Berkshire (UK). I am studying Spanish daily with an aim for becoming bilingual. Hola, artistas.

My work covers everything from graffiti-influenced illustration & mixed media abstracts, to more traditional painti... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Hi. I'm Jen Dixon and welcome to Creating Small: Mini Masterpieces with Big Impact. I've had this class in mind for over a year, and I'm so excited to share it with you now. I've made this class for everyone, beginner or experienced artist. We'll build on principles from several of my other classes, but you can also just dive right in even if this is your first class with me. Working small is a fantastic way to think through ideas that otherwise seem challenging and can be a great way to break out of a creative rut. You can create lots of art with minimal supplies and a tight budget or even use a mini masterpiece to plan out a much larger work destined for canvas. They typically don't take much time to make, are easy to store, and can be great fun to trade with other artists or give to friends. In this class, I'll guide you through specific exercises on brush techniques, thinking through compositions, mixed media materials compatibility, color advice, preserving your art, and more. What you learn in this class will give you the skills and confidence to paint small, large, and anywhere in between. Whether your preferred subject is figurative or abstract, you're going to get your creative juices flowing and fall in love with making mini masterpieces. I can't wait to see your projects. We've got lots to cover, so let's jump straight into the materials list, and get started. 2. Suggested Materials: You needn't have lots of expensive art supplies to begin your mini masterpieces. I'll be using a variety of heavy paper stock such as Strathmore Bristol Artist Trading Cards in vellum finish for my demonstration, but as long as you have heavyweight paper or card cut to 2.5 x 3.5 inches, you've got what you need. You can also use hot-pressed watercolor paper. If you use cold-pressed watercolor paper, you may find the texture too visually distracting on a small scale, but give it a go if that's what you have on hand. As far as mark making supplies, I recommend pens, pencils, charcoal, soft pastels, watercolors, gouache, and acrylics basically whatever dry and water-based supplies you have on hand. You'll instinctively figure out what you find most versatile and pleasing as you create. You can of course, use other materials such as oils and oil pastels, but we'll focus on water-based and dry in this class. Other things you'll need are masking tape, some basic heavy cartridge or sketch paper for exercises, a variety of paint brushes large and small and ideally spray varnish or fixative to preserve your art. At the end of this class, I'll talk briefly about ways to present and frame your mini masterpieces. I've included a materials list in the downloadables. Now, go wrestle up some supplies and let's get started. 3. Exercise: Warm Up & Control: I covered brush techniques in a few of my other classes but in this video, we'll create a handful of very specific marks in three sizes to get you off to a great start. Practice these and you'll be prepared for almost anything. Prepare a favorite color in a fairly deep hue. Mix up a lot of it, you can always use the leftovers for more drills the next time you paint. I've mixed two colors I love by St. Petersburg White Nights, indigo and turquoise. I like the White Night's paints because they offer good-quality enlarge pans for reasonable price. I'll be using a round brush by proart in size eight. Using heavy cartridge paper or a page in your sketch book, we'll start with our practice patch work using short hatch marks. Your first block will be thin, the second a little fatter, and then much heavier for the third patch. Lets begin. Try to stay fairly uniform with the amount of white space in between your marks and also the length and size of your marks themselves. Being messy is easy but learning control takes practice. I can tell I haven't warmed up yet because my marks are a little erratic, but that looks pretty good. So that was all on one brush load of paint. So, now we'll go for medium size mark. So a little bit different pressure, but also trying to remain consistent in size and spacing. Finally, the fatter marks. So what you're doing by doing exercises like this, is learning control and being able to create repeatable marks when they're required. There's no shortcut for this kind of skill building. Great. So we've got small, medium, and large hatches. Next we'll work on our verticals. Again starting thin, I am resting my hand on my paper as I go, and I'm pulling towards myself which is much easier than pushing away. So again, be mindful of the white space between your marks, and try to stay nice and straight. Time for the medium mark, so a little bit fatter. So, I've just pressed my brush down a little bit more. So, it's more than the tip, providing the mark-making now. Nice and even. There's something almost meditative about doing these sorts of exercises. Now finally, I'll be pushing a little harder with my brush. So, I'll be getting more ink from the belly of the bristles. I said ink but we're working with watercolor. That's all right. There we go, nice consistent fat marks. Next, horizontals. So again, starting with the thin. I always find horizontals trickier than verticals. There we go, that's pretty good. Move on to our medium marks, I seemed to have carried them over quite far. So, my medium marks might be a little bit shorter. I can't stress enough how important it is just to learn control using exercises like this. Finally, I'm going to try it. I get a little bit more dry brush that way so I'll really press down onto the belly of the bristles. There we go, needed more paint. So that's our first practice sheet. So, we've done a hatches, verticals and horizontals. Next, we're going to do some shape work. So for this part, we're just using another sheet of heavy cartridge and we're going to be doing beans, Vs, and pulses. So, beans are really just little ovals and you can vary the direction of them just to make the mingle with one another. But again, we're going to start with thin lines, and try to control the entire shape with a thin line having a nice closed. Bean. Sometimes, my brush just catches the tooth of the paper a little bit, and I have to lift up and finish in a slightly different way. Here we go. But it's okay if you do that. I'd love it if you could practice getting a continuous line. So, start to finish in one stroke. But sometimes, things don't turn out the way we want them to. So, you may have to finish it otherwise, and that's okay. Just do your best. So, there are a bunch of beans. Now, we're going to do medium beans. So, a little bit more on the brush, a little greater pressure. I really like this color of blue I've mixed. Again, that's the indigo and turquoise colors from St Petersburg White Nights. So, nice repeatable shapes. Here we go, some mediums. Now, we'll try the large ones. So, trying to keep them a similar size is difficult if you want to leave a white bit in the middle, but do your best. So, nice chunky beans. Great. Now, we'll move on to Vs. So, again, nice thin marks. So, we're pulling down and pushing up as a single mark. Now, these are a little bit closer to being like the hatches and that you can have fairly uniform rows. It's much easier to create a fairly even square. Here we go. So, there's our thin. Again, this is a size eight brush that I'm using. It's a synthetic bristle. It's a little bit thicker for our mediums. Put more over there. I have a bird feeder outside my window. You may or may not hear birds on the recording. They're so cute. Here we go. Finally, some nice chunky Vs. Being able to change direction with the same pressure is an important skill in brush handling, so practice. Here we go. Finally, pulses. So, pulse is where you have a certain pressure. So, I'm going to go hard to soft. These are really tricky. So, then, soft to hard, hard to soft. I'm just alternating mine. Really, really good skill. So, I'm actually physically lifting up my brush when I get thinner. I'm pressing harder to make the fatter bits. I can also try a pulse in this way. So, pulse, lift up, pulse, lift up, pulse. Little bit different kind of mark. Whatever you decide to practice will be beneficial. Here we go. These are a little bit more difficult to do the various sizes, but we'll give it a whirl. So, here we go. I've added a lot of paint, and that's way too much paint on that, but that's okay. A little fatter than my thin, small strokes. I probably won't be able to get much wider with this particular brush because there is a limit to how broad the brush is, in general. If I switched up to a larger size like 12, or something like that, you'd see a nice big change in the big marks. But I'm going to just experiment and see what I can do. So, maybe try it. That's not so good. Experimenting is good though because otherwise, how do you know what you can do? That's an interesting mark though. I'm sure it could be useful for something. Now, if I turn my hand, how do I get? That's interesting. But basically, I'm limited to the width of this brush. So, small or medium for my size eight. If I wanted to do a larger pulse, I'd have to move up in size in my brush. But basically, those are your practice strokes. So, you've done hatches, verticals, and horizontals, beans, Vs, and pulses. So, practice those as a warm up, and then, I'll see you in the next video. 4. Exercise: Intentional Mark-Making: Now that you've warmed up with some brush mark practice, let's take things further by making marks with more specific intentions. We'll look at the following terms and explore how to convey them in marks. Whether working small or large, considerate mark making will add to the visual interest of your art. On heavy paper, cartridge, or sketchbook, we'll use our leftover exercise paint and explore these terms. When we look at flow, we're thinking about how things travel across the page, just a general feeling. So, flow if you can imagine almost in a sense with water, so watercolor is perfect for this obviously, but, how does something just flow? So, I want you to just take that term in mind and I want you to think about the different ways that may be flow can be achieved. So, obviously, big areas of pooled paint can help describe flow. But, what if you want to use smaller marks to think about flow? So, what if we make little marks? Some of them are joined up, some of them appear on the fringe, on the out side of the bulk of this mark, but there's still a flow to this. So, flow can be described in several different ways. Flow can be with line, so if you want to think about just gentle marks. So, that's an example of how you can explore flow. So, let's talk about imbalance, which also can be odd numbers. So, imbalance. Now, a lot of design principles hinge on odd numbers and also you have things like fibonacci sequence's and there's all kinds of numerical mathematical things involved with design and art. So, an easy way to remember that, is to think about threes and fives. So, if you were to create something with say three marks, that provides some imbalance. If you were to create three marks in descending size, that also creates imbalance. Thinking about shapes. Remember we were doing beans in our exercises. If we teeter them a little bit like stacking stones, again imbalance. You notice everything I'm doing so far is in threes, and you don't have to stick to that, but if you think about rules of thirds when you're doing composition and things like that, imbalance is really easy to achieve even if all you remember is odd numbers. So, we looked at this example with the descending size and there are some imbalance also. So, something about each one just is that, tiny bit uneasy. So, almost a little bit as if something could easily go wrong or something is just teetering on the edge of collapse. So, imbalance. Let's next look at white space and negative space. So, white space is also a term that you'll hear in relation to design. So, if you think about the page layout of a magazine or a newspaper, white space is the area between content areas. Also with painting and drawing, the white space is the area between your shapes and your forms. So, I'm just creating areas of white space between my shapes, and that helps to give some visual interest to what's going on. So, white space in between, as well as within shapes. A negative space is also essentially the white space between things, but oftentimes, negative space can be utilized to bring about more detailed shapes. Like here, I've just done an abstract chair, I should've left another leg in there but that would be the negative space. So, I've basically painted all the background and left out the shape that I want you to focus on. So, now let's look at rhythm. An easy way to think about rhythm is if you think of it in terms of music or sound. So, an easy way to tune in to what rhythm can look like visually is to listen to something. So, what would maybe the sound of rain be like if you needed to draw it? You might get areas of sparse marks, sparse widely spaced and maybe if rain eases up, maybe they'll get smaller, further apart. So, something about that is, is almost visually audible if that makes sense. Maybe a favorite song of yours has crunchy guitars at the beginning and then maybe softens out into something before having another burst of energy. So, you've got a visual rhythm there. Rhythm is difficult to describe. But when you see it you can recognize it. Now these loopy forms are almost a kind of calligraphy. Someone who does this sort of mark very well is the artist Cy Twombly, lots of visual rhythm in his work, so, he's a very good one to look to. Next let's talk about direction, which we're also going to include travel and journey. So, all pretty much the same kind of term, but when we do that we have an idea that we might be going someplace. So, this mark has begun here and maybe is going off into the distance. So, we've given the eye something to focus on and something to trickle off into the distance with. If I do this it's basically a horizontal journey, so, we're just going back and forth. So, a horizon line unless you give something to point to it, you would just take in the vista all at once. So, just look at it at face value. However, if you had something like pretend this is a road going off into the distance, all of a sudden now we've got some travel. So, we've got a direction that I'm leading you in. So, I'm saying start here and go off into the distance, and you can take in the side to side horizontal as well, but I'm actually directing you to go some place. I'll just use that blob that I've just put in place, you can do that in more abstract ways. So, if I've got a shape like this because I've got almost a labyrinth style mark. You follow the coils, you follow that travel of the mark. You can also have groupings of marks helping to lead you someplace. So, travel, direction, and journey. Next, let's talk about convergence. Convergence is basically just coming together, so things gather. So, convergence can be elements bringing you to a central place. Similarly to what we did with the direction, coil that was almost petal-like. So, we have brought together tightly wound shape here, so we're converging on that. You could make it more distinct by adding more shapes. So, still we're having our focal convergence here, there's a secondary convergence happening here just swerving inadvertently because of the way things nest together. Now, you notice when I'm making these sorts of marks holding my brush in different ways, loading it with paint, just making some gentle marks. But here we have another convergence we're going from strange lines to a really broken, mess of smaller marks. Finally, let's talk about tension and conflict. Now, mind you while I'm doing these example marks, I haven't thought of every possible way you can convey these terms visually. So, I'm really excited to see what you come up with and how you might use rhythm, or white space, or convergence. Third, tension and conflict. If we think about, I really like doing these kind of shapes. If we think about something like that, how is that conflicting with another element? We've got this blobby thing and we've got a very sheer, straight, sharp mark. So, they're two very different kinds of marks, but they're interacting with one another. You could have textural tension and conflict. So, where I've got dry brush in one area, I now have a very wet mark, so there's tension and conflict between those two types of marks. It can of course be in the depth of color that you use, so, might have something really dark and saturated next to something much lighter. You can also use some of your marks, like in rhythm you might put in some of those scratchy little marks, but have them play with something softer. So, there is tension and conflict because of these different elements on the page. So, looking back through these, you can see with your visual vocabulary there are so many different types of marks that you can make just by using a few keywords to trigger interesting ideas. Being able to create visual interest with your marks can take practice, but if you keep in mind a few of these terms and explore how to convey them visually, you will improve the impact of your work even when creating on a miniature scale. I recommend keeping a little cheat sheet of these terms, I've included one in the downloadable. 5. Testing Mixed Media Material Compatibilities: Knowing the compatibility and visual effect of various materials is crucial when working in mixed media. Here, I'll walk through a handful of the hundreds of possible combinations when using various water-based and dry art supplies. For these tests, I'm using a mixed media, smooth finish, heavy paper from Clarefontaine. It's called, Paint On. I'll first create a three-column test page using an undiluted standard formula, Winsor Newton Gouache, Golden fluid formula acrylic, and Sennelier's Heavy Body acrylic, called Abstract. Whatever you have on hand, create your own columns too. Let these samples dry and gather a handful of drawing materials. I'm first testing three very different hardnesses of soft pastel. The first and hardest is by Jaxell, the second by Art Spectrum, and the third and softest is by Unison. The pastels all seem to mark well on all columns, with the heavy body acrylic showing the most underlying texture. Next, I sampled the Derwent pastel pencil. It made a very disappointing mark on the gouache, but seemed better on the two acrylic samples. I also have an acrylic formula gouache. So, I'll likely do a test for these pencils on that formula in future. I continued to test a few pens and Indian ink for how they behave on the sample columns. I found the Posca reactivated the gouache, and I had to clean the nib. Indian ink seems to have a little bit of trouble sticking to the acrylic, but not so much that I wouldn't consider using it. Whatever materials you try, make notes on your test sheets and keep them for reference when needed. Next, I want to check the intermixability and reactions of acrylic gouache and watercolor. A quick word about using water to thin acrylic, acrylic paint needs an acrylic polymer binder to hold its pigment in place. It works differently to watercolor. So, if you want to thin acrylic by a lot, you'll need to add acrylic medium to keep the paint stable and permanent. But for what we're doing here, we won't need a medium because we're not thinning drastically. This first experiment will be dry acrylic. So, we're going to paint some swatches. Full strength and also diluted. So, I've just dipped my brush in water using the acrylic that's still on it. So this is the Golden Fluid Acrylic. Next, full strength Sennelier Abstract Heavy Body, and the heavy body diluted. Maybe a bit more on diluted one. There we go. Now, we'll let those dry. So I've painted swatches of both Golden Fluid Acrylic and Sennelier's Abstract Heavy Body acrylic, and I've let my samples dry. So, we've got the full strength swatches and we've got the paint as a diluted version of theirs. So now, we're going to test how watercolor behaves on dry acrylic samples. So, I've got some of that St. Petersburg White Nights paint that we used in the exercises. I've still got some of that left. So, trying it on the Golden Fluid Acrylic, and you can see how the plasticky surface, doesn't allow the paint to adhere evenly. Now, to try it on these Sennelier, very similar result, but you do get a little bit of that heavy body texture showing through, which can be quite nice. So the watercolor sits in the grooves made by the brush marks. So that's the differences on full strength acrylic on paper. Again, this is that mixed media paint on paper from Clairefontaine, so it's got almost a bristle surface, but not quite. Diluted, you can tell that it soaks in a lot more to the diluted paint. So watercolor adheres unevenly on the surface of dry full strength acrylic swatches, and it stains better on the diluted patches. So, remember that if you are painting watercolor over acrylic, that the acrylic will be permanent but the watercolor can still be manipulated or washed away. It will not permanently bond to the dry acrylic surface. So, watercolor will soak into the paper more on the watered down acrylic patches as it finds gaps in the diluted polymer emulsion binder. It also stains the tooth of the paper. So, if you were to use acrylic medium in the dilution, the soaking in of the watercolor down here in the diluted bits, would be far less effective. Now, let's look at how watercolor reacts in wet acrylic. So, we're going to have to work patch by patch on it this time. So here is full strength Golden Fluid Acrylic, and going in with the watercolor. You can see that it immediately starts to bond into the acrylic. So when that dries, it's going to be more permanent because it's actually mixing with the polymer emulsion; sort of the watercolor and the acrylic sort of become one. You're essentially just diluting the acrylic, the wet acrylic with pigmented water. You see that the watercolor still won't push into the acrylic there. It's not strong enough, so it still offers a little bit of resist. So what happens with diluted, much more wet in wet, almost watercolor-like reaction. It's a little bit more blending and bleeding and background going on. You can see where it's staining into the paper a little bit more. So now, let's try the Sennelier, the heavy body acrylic. Because it's a much more solid style acrylic paint, the watercolor is sort of sitting on top of it without blending much; whereas in the fluid acrylic, it sort of became this one milky color while it blended with the acrylic polymers. It will be interesting to see how that dries. For diluted, heavy body. So again, different type of paint, heavy body as opposed to fluid. But still getting a softer edge, because we're going into what is essentially dampened paper. You can see over here on this side the diluted watercolor in the fluid acrylic has given it a really interesting stained look, and we're going to get a similar effect here. So, these samples with the watercolor will be a little bit more permanent than on the dry acrylic because it's actually blending in to the polymer that's in the acrylic paint. We'll come back and have a look at the samples once they're dry. Finally, let's see how gouache watercolor and acrylic behave together. So, gouache and watercolor are known for playing well together. They will blend, and both can be thinned quite easily. Gouache is a much heavier body paint compared to watercolor. So, if you drop it into wet watercolor, it will remain fairly strong in shape and color as it just bullies its way through the thin paint. So dropping watercolor into wet watercolor, we already know, will spread pretty readily and blend, but trying to drop watercolor into gouache, it will stay fairly isolated because it just doesn't have the strength to push its way around and that is diluted. So, now you can see some of the effects possible with just gouache and watercolor. Things get extra exciting if you want to add metallics. Because Metallics really shove things around because of the mica in the paint. But again, if you drop metallic watercolor on top of gouache, especially gouache that is already drying, it'll stay fairly intentional in its shape, whereas putting it into the wetter stuff, you can see it really branches out. Now, what happens when we add fluid acrylic to the mix? Add some acrylic and try some watercolor with it, a little bit of that blending going but you can see the acrylics already begun to get a hard edge underneath. Here we go, just a little bit of blending and let's add some gouache. Now again, fairly predictable results putting the gouache into the wet watercolor, but it doesn't spread too much because we've got some of the acrylic polymer in there also. So, it's a little bit stronger, a little bit plasticky, and let us get a small watercolor, you can see where it started to dry over here also so it sits more on top. I can still mix it, but it is a bit more resistant. If we tried to drop acrylic in, you can see it so heavy, it just pushes everything aside. It goes a bit muddy too. But you can see I'm just adding more in a single place and it's just pushing, pushing, pushing and just for funzies, let's go in with some of our metallic. Metallic just doesn't have the strength to do a lot. It finds the path of least resistance and just oozes into that area. So, that could be really useful if you want some sort of marble effect. So, all of these materials are compatible when wet and can be blended together. But when looking for certain effects, keep in mind that watercolor is lightest in weight, gouache is second, and acrylic is heaviest and least likely to be moved by anything lighter than it. Whatever materials you have on hand, I'd love for you to try some samples and see how your paints behave. Don't forget to upload them to the projects section. Now, let's have a look at how our earlier samples are drying. So, here we have our dry acrylic with watercolor over top. Now, I mentioned that it won't become particularly permanent because you're putting watercolor over top of a very plasticky surface. So, you can see that you can still disturb the watercolor on top of the dry acrylic. However, in the diluted samples, much more difficult to disturb the watercolor, and that's because it's really soaked into the paper quite a lot more than when it sits on top. So, much more permanent result by putting the watercolor over the diluted acrylics. This sample isn't quite dry yet, but it's getting there. But this was our wet acrylic and wet watercolor into it. So, looking at the full strength fluid acrylic with watercolor. Because we put wet into wet, it bonded a little bit more. So, unlike our dry acrylic samples, it bonded a little bit and slightly more permanent even though it's on a plasticky surface. This part isn't dry, so I can still push that around. On the full strength heavy body, can really see this interesting pattern that's developed as the watercolor begins to sit inside and find its way amongst the particles in the full strength acrylic paint. So again, it'll be, that's not quite dry yet but it'll be slightly more permanent this way than putting wet onto dry. Of course, with the diluted samples, you can see how they've really blended out into the paper and into the paint below. It's a much more of a coming together of those two mediums. 6. Subject & Compositional Choices: Let's talk about subject matter. Simplistically, objective, and representational of art referred to having recognizable people, animals, landscapes, or objects in them. Non-objective and abstract refer to much less recognizable subjects, using shapes, colors, forms, and gestural marks. No matter what your subject, figurative or abstract, consider what is engaging; Why is somebody expected to look at your mini masterpiece? Are you telling a story with your subject? Presenting something decorative? Engaging with a pattern, or color, or a combination, rhythm, flow mood, emotion? You needn't answer all these questions before beginning. But begin to cultivate the instinct to examine your work through these questions. I have a whole class on the building blocks of composition. But for this class, will just cover a few quick tips to get you rolling. Lets fast track here. Landscape or portrait orientation? Edge to edge, or floating vignette? I asked you a few moments ago, why is somebody expected to look at your mini masterpiece? What is the focal element? If you know what it is, then let's look at some easy to remember guidelines for compositional placement. Here and in the downloadable PDF, Is a reference of many different ways to place elements on your page, large or small. There is also the photographer's friend, the rule of thirds. Which is typically found as a grid in camera viewfinders. A perhaps more instinctive and flowing way to determine composition, is by deciding how you would like the eye of the viewer to travel around your creation. Here are a couple of figurative examples of composition planning using the rule of thirds. Try creating thumbnail sketches of your subject with slight variations, to find the right balance for your mini masterpiece. For more on composition, see my class, Composition Rules: The Art and Science of Better Visuals. 7. Colour Considerations: When working small, everything gets huge. What do I mean by that? Well, when creating tiny works of art, subtle shifts and color become more difficult to achieve because there simply isn't the space for it. Choosing a limited palette is not only useful for discipline but pretty much a necessity when working in miniature. You may find that preplanning a palette of colors using swatches on scrap paper helpful. But more often, I tend to just keep in mind that if I'm painting small, that I might be able to get away with one or two variations of each color at most. For this reason, keeping an eye on using colors that play off of one another tonally, which is the value of a color if translated to grayscale, or picking color wheel triads or complementary hues is a great place to start. If you're after a softer look, throw in some analogous hues from the color wheel, which are colors that appear next to each other. Not sure what your favorite colors look like in grayscale? I have a short Studio Fu class on that. But in a nutshell, try taking a photo in neutral light of your art or color choices. In your smartphone, iPad, or computer, change the photo to mono or whatever your most neutral, black, and white setting is called. You'll immediately see what pops in value and where you might need a little punch. Mini masterpieces need contrast too. Don't try to cram in more colors in place of shadows and highlights because that will bite you in the butt. Especially, if you're making a figurative piece. All these said, break my rules whenever it feels right. But if something doesn't work well, revisit these suggestions during troubleshooting. So, in summary, choose a limited palette, choose colors that offer a tonal range, and don't forget your shadows and highlights. Say it with me. Light, medium, and dark. Light, medium, and dark. I swear that's going to be on my tombstone. 8. Putting it All Together - Making Mini Masterpieces: Now it's time to put everything together. So, I want you to cut yourself a generous stack of whatever stock you've got on hand or maybe even try a couple of different ones. So, two and a half inches by three and a half inches is the standard artist trading card size. So, that's what I'm using as my model for the mini masterpieces. In metric, it is 6.35 by 8.89 centimeters, which is a little bit quirky to try and cut. So if you've got something that's got inches on it, that's probably going to be easiest. Artist trading cards are two and a half inches by three and a half inches as a standard size, and that's what we're going with, with all of our mini masterpieces. However, that doesn't leave you a lot of room to tape something down. So, if you were to tape something down using that size, you would have this border on there. Well, what if you want to do all the way to the end? I'm going to show you a little cheat way that you can do it with something already cut to size. So take your masking tape, and we're going to put it on the back of our card, all four sides. So now you have your card taped on the back and this sticky border. The next step is to just take more tape and now tape it down. So now your card is stuck in place. When you're done, just peel it up, and carefully peel off the masking tape. Here's a mini masterpiece I've got in progress. Now already just with these marks and these color choices, we've got things that we've already talked about in our color and also in our intentional mark making, and also with composition. So let me tell you a little bit about this piece so far. So, already we've got tension and conflict between those two types of marks. So we've got this very swirly mark and we've got this slash of a mark. Also what's happening is, the eye of that mark, the green bit is on a third, and it's also on a third in this place as well, and the purple slash goes essentially from a third on this side to a third to this side. So this is also giving us travel. So, with these two elements just in this position alone, just at this stage, we've already got tension, conflict, direction and thirds. So, even though it looks like a couple of haphazard marks, they're actually very well thought through and executed. Here's something else talking about the color, right now, the green and the purple, if you look at a color wheel right now, they are two parts of a split complimentary. So, we've got green and if you look at this white triangle here on the color wheel, so we've got green, talking with red violet. Now, if I wanted to choose the next color to use in this piece, a wise and logical choice might be to go with something red orange. Now I'm going to add another mark but I've already decided that it's going to be, let's have a look at that. So this is a watercolor pencil. So it's already going to be a red orange to go with these in the color wheel. So, if I want to make something interesting happen, maybe I'll add a mark that conflicts with what's happening already on the page. So, I'm just making this messy coming together of small marks. I like that. So, I'll set that down for a moment and just experiment since it is in fact water color pencil, it doesn't want to give it up. It is the watercolor pencil. Right. So that's not moving around much. So, that's fine. I'm going to go into my palette and I'm going to just pick up a tiny bit of scarlet lake and cadmium red pale, just to give myself this really lovely red orange color. Since I've wet some of my marks there, I'll just dot some stuff in, and I like the concentration of it being off center. So again, causing some imbalance. I like that. I like those three colors together and the color wheel backs it up for why I like those three colors together because they are the split complementary colors of the green and the red violet and the red orange. Now, I'm going to let that dry and then maybe go in with some other kinds of marks, maybe with pencil or I really like the pigment liners too. I know I said I was going to wait and let it dry, but I decided as it was drying, that the intensity of the red orange just isn't enough for me. So, I found an ink that is also a very fantastic red-orange color. I'm just going to drop some ink in there, just for some punch. Let's get bubbles with the droppers. Actually I think it's better that way, it's all right. Suck those bubbles back out. There we go. That's what I'm talking about. That's a really good punch of color. So, that's the Dr. Ph. Martin's Bombay Indian ink in bright red, which is a very good sort of red orange. I'm not sure I can leave well enough alone. I've got some gouache on the side and yellow. I know I said I wasn't going to add more colors, but for some reason I think this need yellow. So, that looks like a fine place to add yellow and maybe just a little bit up here in that white, and I'm going to have some mingle with my red-orange. It's just that little extra fiery, isn't it? I'm not 100 percent on what I've just done but that's okay because it's a mini masterpiece. I can make loads of these and these are for experimenting and you can try out all your wild ideas and not worry about having too much of an investment either in time, materials or whatever. So, here we go. Now I'll let that try, and now for a non abstract mini masterpiece. Because of the nature of this, not being abstract, it needs to have a certain level of detail. I've used that taped down trick where we tape it from the back side and then tape it down to the board, that way it doesn't move around on me. Now, this is supposed to end up being a self-portrait type of painting. This could go well, this could go badly, I don't know. I never tried painting myself this small, but I'm just going to mix up some colors. I'm using yellow ochre and alizarin crimson to get a vague, fleshy color. I'll test it here. My complexion is a bit yellow so I'll add a little bit more yellow ochre to it. Right, and I'm just going to build up in where I know the shadows are first. So, I know where the light is coming from on this particular photo that I'm going by and it's okay if I bring it up into the hair because that'll help unify the look of the painting. I might add a little bit of blue. I think that's cobalt I've got in there. Just to be a little bit more shadowy. So, it's about building in stages and layers right now. There we go. So, I'm mixing my colors with colors I've already got in my palette because I want things to look cohesive and as if they're in the same family. So now I'm going to take that sort of warmish color that I've made. I'm going to add a little bit of paint just to get a shadowier color. Neutralize that warmth a little. I'm just going to dot some in. But remember, with this being a mini masterpiece, don't get too bogged down by trying to include every detail. Implication is enough, and also something to consider when you're working on a mini masterpiece is black will be very very harsh. So, your best option is to make something that approximates a black. Right now I'm taking a bit of indigo and a little bit of a brown and some of this other color that I've got on my little palette. I'm just making something a bit shadowy. It's not a true black, if I paint it over here, it's a bit of a blue black. But proper black-black, like mars black or something, would be far too drastic. So, I'm just going in. I'm just mixing new colors into the colors I've already got. Just allowing everything to mingle because everything will look nice and out of the same family. It will have a nice cohesive look to it. I'm just going to keep building and see what happens. So, my first attempt at doing a mini masterpiece self-portrait was overworked as heck and I didn't quite get the likeness right. So, I learned a lot from that one. Because they are mini, I'm fine with just starting again and I'm already a million times happier with how this one is turning out. So, practice and repetition. None of us are geniuses the first time we do something. So, let yourself explore, give yourself a break and keep practicing. I've also moved up in my brush size. I was working with really tiny brushes and I found that that actually just contributed to my desire to overwork, and so now I'm actually a lot happier with the piece that I'm doing now. Yeah. I'm going to keep going and see how it ends up. It's kind of fun. Right. I'm leaving it like that. I am so much happier with that one. So, that was my first attempt and now that's where I'm at, and this is a much closer likeness. So, here's my reference. Much better as a quick mini masterpiece self-portrait sketch. So, keep practicing. One of the great things about doing mini masterpieces is you can always start another one while the other one is drying. So, I'm just going to have a play with some shapes. That's just white gouache on top of watercolor. Why not a little metallic? I'm going to cover that whole corner. Sometimes it's just fun to mess around, see what you can do, which is exactly why we test our materials. That's going muddy. Not enough depth for me. Time to throw in some indigo just to get that contrast a big punch. So, I haven't got a lot of white space in this anymore but the white space I do have is really important because it's helping to break up the shapes so it's not just one big sort of tie-dyed thing. So, that is flow a little bit. One more little mini masterpiece example. Just do a quick landscape. So, I'm just going to go in here and mix up some blue on my dirty palette because I like having a dirty palette because it just gives some interest to the colors. Just do some rough sky. Here we go. Soften some of that, and we've got some winter landscape back here in the distance. So, I'm just making that sort of a green gray. This is actually a photograph I took outside or out the window of my studio which right now it's raining. So, you may or may not hear some rain. We got this lovely barn. So I'm just making the light idea of slots of board and it's got a gray roof. It's going a little bit of black and a little bit of mucky stuff off my palette, just any old stuff so that it becomes this really mucky color because nobody cleans the roof. Now there's a jet going over now too, it's rain and a jet. Usually, it's much quieter at night when I film than in the daytime but not right now. So, I'm doing all of this with that number eight brush that I like a lot. Just need to wet my palette a little bit. It's gone a bit dry. So, it makes it difficult to pick up paint. But if you just spritz it with a little bit of water, it makes everything a lot easier. So, down here, a bit of shrubbery. Just putting in some very loose shape. It doesn't need to be precise. I'm going to go in and let it all bleed a bit more. Some nice heavy contrast, some shadowy indigo blue being added. Keeping this really quick. Reason for the picture is the bird feeder, which is now bled into my sky, so I'm just going to blot that because it's okay. It doesn't matter. A little bit of yellow just to add some interest to the plants. I think maybe more Posca will do better for this bit. It can be quite stark because it's black but I'm going to give it a shot because, actually, the post that my bird feeder is on is powder-coated. So, it's black. I think I rather like that the way it is. Yeah. Maybe a little bit more just on the barn. Maybe put a few leaves in. There we go and here is my reference. 9. Mini Masterpiece Preservation Advice: Mixed media can be tricky to preserve. You wouldn't ordinarily varnish or watercolor painting, though there are some specialist sprays for that. But what if your mini masterpiece uses watercolors, pastel and charcoal? You'll need to preserve the whole work. Often, the use of a quality spray fixative is enough. A few light coats from about 30 centimeters away is better than a single heavy coating. Let the spray dry between coats. Use aerosols in ventilated areas and try to use a face mask when spraying. You don't want that stuff in your lungs. There are non aerosol fixatives available too, and they rely on a fine mist. Always check the nozzles for clogging and build up before spraying your final work. I've been impatient many times before only to watch heavy drops a fixative splatter on to my work, and this can happen with aerosol or non aerosol. Generally speaking, any work on paper will need to be framed behind glass or plastic to prevent damage. For temporary storage, if not being framed immediately, I use cellophane bags meant for flat things like prints and photographs. They're very cheap and come in a variety of sizes. I buy most of my cello bags from vendors on eBay. Spray varnish is the tougher cousin of fixative and is very useful in protecting mixed media art. Use the same way as fixative, clean the nozzle, hold it a distance, use protection from fumes and mist, and apply in multiple light coats. Framing. Works on paper shouldn't be allowed to touch the glass or plastic due to the risk of sticking to it. Instead, the simplest way to avoid contact is to use a mount, also called the mat, to create a spacer between art and glazing material. Other ways to frame paper are a bit more complicated but include float mounting which involves hidden tape hinges under the art and discrete spacers under the inside edge of the frame. In this example, I've actually built up risers out of foam board underneath the art and framed it in a deep frame. However you choose to present your work, be sure to let the fixative and varnish dry completely. 10. Final Thoughts: Thank you for taking my class; creating small, mini masterpieces with big impact. We covered a lot of stuff in a short amount of time. I know that everything from the exercise techniques to thinking about materials and composition will help you to create satisfying art that shows a real growth in your skills. I'm a big fan of practice and repetition. So, keep up the exercises whenever you have a little leftover paint. Try to make art every day. Mini masterpieces are a great format for challenging yourself to a week, a month or even a year of being creative daily. However, you use your skills and information, I'd love to see what you make. So, upload to the projects section, and connect with me on Instagram @gendicsinarts. If you you've enjoyed this class, don't forget to leave a positive review and I hope you'll learn with me again soon. Thank you, and have a great day.