Fine Art in Miniature by Barbara Stanton
I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a pencil. As a toddler, my Grandmother would hand me a pen and paper to keep me quiet in church service. In junior high, my art teacher encouraged me to develop my drawing skills by pointing out that I was improving with every drawing I did. My high school art teacher taught me that being creative is more important than copying a photo. If I had to rely on photographs, then I had better learn how to take them myself.
I taught myself to draw but needed help learning how to use oils. I started painting while in high school when I found a private art teacher at a local gallery. I went on to attend community college and took every art class I could and discovered the joy of life drawing. I won a summer scholarship at the San Francisco Academy of Art and enjoyed the thrill of taking art classes in the city. I took a portrait painting workshop with Daniel Greene. He made me want to rush out and rent a portrait studio the next day! He made it seem so easy. I really loved it.
I consider my work seriously and put many hours of labor into each piece. Because of this my work may seem costly and out of reach for the average collector. Prices range from $65 (1/4 scale) up to $1,500 for a 4”x6” portrait which can take as much as twenty hours to complete. On average, the range is about $200-$500 each. For this reason, I make and frame prints of each painting so that anyone can afford to collect my pieces. They are not considered “fine art prints” because they are done with a laser color copy machine and I don’t number them. I only make thirty copies, directly from the original painting so they are the exact size of the original, and each one is custom framed and ready to “hang.” I don’t consider myself a miniaturist. I am an artist who specializes in painting miniatures. I am mainly an oil painter. I make my own silk canvas which is like a scaled down version of a full size canvas. I also like to paint on Ivorine (a synthetic Ivory like plastic), and on art boards. Anything smooth and archival will do. I have dabbled in almost every medium including watercolor, pastel, pen and ink, graphite, egg tempera, etching, and acrylic.
I got glasses for the first time at 29 and was shocked to learn that my failing vision had robbed me of color as well as sharpness! Suddenly, I saw what I was missing and started to paint again.
The hardest thing about making miniature art is framing it! I didn’t know anything about making frames or working with wood. I found that ready-made frames were mostly too “toy” like. I needed real scaled down frames and I found that you can buy the moldings from some of the dollhouse catalogs. I really scored when I found Steve Goode of S.H. Goode & Sons. He makes the best fine hardwood moldings. I make my frames custom for each piece. I also wanted each painting to have its own easel, in case my collector didn’t have a dollhouse or roombox to display them in. I wanted anyone to enjoy my work in their home, regardless of the kind of collector they were. I copied an easel I had in my studio and made a tiny version of it. It took me a while to find the right hardware for it, but I did. They come in several sizes and are fully adjustable. It’s not that easy painting so tiny. Everything about painting small felt right to me. I never wanted to go back.
My friend had bought a dollhouse kit and this huge plywood shell sat in her living room for the next few years. It was driving me nuts because she hadn’t worked on it, so I dragged her to a dollhouse shop to prod her. I was amazed at the detail in the furniture and accessories in the tiny rooms. These weren’t toys, they were scale models of real things! They weren’t cheap either. Suddenly I thought, “So if they have real silverware and electric chandeliers, where are the real paintings?” I knew I could paint that small because I had painted miniatures for my Mom. I never thought anyone would pay me for the time I put into them until I found the dollhouse market. I investigated the miniature world further and found that there were other painters out there but most of them were painting reproductions of old masters. Very few artists were producing original art in miniature. I had a niche. My paintings are my own. I like to say, “I’m not an old master, I’m a new one!”
I love painting all of nature: landscapes, seascapes, florals, still life, animals, and people. It’s always about the light and color. Occasionally I get to paint on location, but mostly I work from my own photographic references that I have collected over the years. My camera is like an instant sketchbook. I will never run out of subjects I want to paint. I hope to live long enough to paint a thousand more pieces. In the dollhouse market, it’s nice to have a variety of subjects to offer my collectors.
What types of miniatures do you sell?
I sell miniature art and a few other accessories. I have original oils, a few watercolors and etchings and prints (Collectible Copies). I sell several different sizes of easels and seven different designs of miniature jigsaw puzzles. I have two instructional videos on “how to paint oils in miniature.” I sell the magnifiers I use on the site too.
Painting in miniature is challenging because there is no room for errors. Any little mistake is magnified. A tiny portrait can take up to 20 hours because I have to be always making corrections to get it perfect. A portrait is the most unforgiving subject. People have an instinct about faces and they know if there is a likeness or not instantly. I believe that painting miniatures has helped me learn to paint better because I learn from every piece and I can paint more paintings in less time then if I had painted in full size. Every miniature has all the same problems to solve as a full size piece.
My miniature paintings can have a powerful effect on people. How ironic that when I paint tiny, people notice the subject for the first time. The images may remind them of the beauty this world has to offer. I invite the viewer to share the feelings I had when I first discovered my subject. Feel that moment, and remember their own sacred moments. I hope my paintings will remind them of the preciousness of this wonderful planet. We need to love, cherish and protect it. On a personal level, painting is a form of meditation for me. A way of connecting to my higher self. A spiritual experience that brings joy and healing into my life. I hope my images can bring the same for you.
After painting for the dollhouse people for a while, I discovered that there was a whole world of miniatures in the fine art world. I never thought I really had the respect other artists when I only painted for dollhouses, even if they were amazing scale models. Meeting art patrons and collectors who appreciated tiny paintings has opened up a whole other world for me! I joined an online forum whose members are some of the most amazing miniature artists and I got to know the fine art miniature world better through talking with them. They are all so friendly and helpful. I recommend it to anyone interested in miniatures.
Do you ever collaborate on small scale projects with your husband?
I have made tiny flower arrangements for his vases. He would rather they were empty but he sells the ones with a little something in them faster. We have discussed the idea of painting or decorating some of his pieces but we both love his turnings the way they are with the natural wood or stone. Maybe someday…
Career highlights you’d like to recount?
Teaching at the IGMA Guild School in Castine was one of the highlights of my career for sure. I have been trying to get to teach there again but haven’t had any luck getting back, so I went as a student twice. Fantastic experience!
I have entered competitions since I was in college. I have a huge collection of honorable mentions! I have also been honored with more then 40 first, second, and third place awards both locally and internationally which include two first places in the Florida MASF international miniature show. I was so excited to get a first prize that I flew out to Florida to accept it in person. It was so wonderful to meet all the other miniaturists and see the show in person. Amazing work! I still can hardly believe that I got those awards with all the incredible paintings in the shows.
Ironically, in 2013, I was handed a project that turned out to be the biggest thing I’ve ever had to do, quite literally! The city of Pleasanton, Ca. commissioned me to paint a public outdoor mural of their founding pioneers. Quite an honor really, but what a surprise giving my specialty of working in miniature! It was unveiled in 2014 and can be seen on Main St. in Pleasanton, the town I grew up in.
Look for me on the PBS series “Colour in your Life” with Graeme Stevenson! They came to my studio in December 2015 and filmed me working on a miniature oil painting. I’m so excited and honored to be a part of this show. You can see past episodes on his website and YouTube.
What is your favorite period of art history?
I love the Renaissance period as well as the Impressionist era. Both times were about creating art in a way that hadn’t been done before.
What advice would you give to new miniaturists?
Get involved with the miniature world. Join a local club. Attend the shows. Subscribe to the magazines. Go to the Guild School (they offer scholarships!) Get on social media sites. Share. Ask questions.
Favorite miniature work of art you own?
I have most of my first miniature paintings still because a lot of them were of my own children. I don’t collect miniature art, but I’ve been collecting miniature toys. I love the details in tiny toys that work like the real thing. My favorite piece is a working train. I set it up in a Christmas display every year. It really makes the scene!
What inspires you?
I am most inspired by nature, color, and light. I’m always aware of how the light falls on everything around me. What color is that shadow? The light caressing the hills! I want to recreate those moments. I enjoy every subject in nature. Landscapes, seascapes, florals, animals, and especially people. My work is inspired by the world I live in. Every painting has a story behind it.
Johannes Landman painted a portrait of the Man in Armor by artist Anthony Van Dyck. I thought he had substituted his own face for the face in the original but when I checked out the original it looked just like how he had painted it. I have come to the conclusion that he was actually Van Dyck in a past life. That explains why he’s so amazing!
What is the most memorable painting you have ever seen?
Johannes Landman once showed me a painting he did of the Girl with a Pearl Earring but she was looking directly at the viewer. It was a portrait of Scarlett Johansson who played the character in the movie. Amazing and beautiful piece!
What is your hope for the field of miniatures?
I am hoping that the next generation will discover the miniature world and keep the hobby alive. I am enjoying the new modern miniatures that are coming out. We have done the Victorian theme enough. The best way to support the artists is by buying their work and sharing their collections to the world.
I have always loved to paint small. The best part is starting and finishing each painting, but I found that I got bored halfway through each large piece. They never turned out like I hoped they would, and they took forever to finish. When I started painting in miniature, I found a greater satisfaction then ever before. Now, I can start and finish a piece in just a few sessions, instead of months! I love the details and it’s all details. I love a challenge.
What’s to come from Barbara Stanton?
I’m excited about the Colour in Your Life show which was recently released on YouTube and on PBS networks across the nation!
I’m working on painting enough pieces to show in upcoming exhibits and for the Prentice Gallery in Mendocino.
I would like to teach more miniature painting workshops in exotic locations. Hawaii? Tahiti, anyone?
Someday, I would love to take a break from oils for a while and really explore egg tempera and etching. Both fascinating mediums.
Motto you live by?
“If I cannot do great things, I will do small things in a great way.”
“Just one step at a time. Every little step counts.”
Favorite miniature quote?
“I work as little as possible!”
Other hobbies you enjoy?
I enjoy the outdoors. Camping, hiking, gardening, antiques. Good movies and dancing to live music. Hanging out with family and friends.
I like to mentor and teach other artists. There is always room for more artists because we are each unique. I have an internship program where interns help me in my workshop in exchange for experience, art and/or lessons. I’m always looking for helpers in my little business.
I am available to teach miniature oil painting workshops. I have weekly art classes (not just miniatures) on Fridays at the Bothwell Arts Center in Livermore. I also help run a figure drawing workshop every Thursday morning. (I have nudes coming out of my ears!) It’s important that I draw from life every week to keep my skills sharp. I do custom paintings (big and small). I sell my work on my website, at galleries, dollhouse shows, and art shows all around the world.
I enjoy the freedom to further my art career and pursue my dreams because of my wonderful husband of 21 years, William Maranville, who supports me emotionally as well as financially. Bill is also a talented miniaturist. He is an IGMA Artisan in turning. He turns wood, stone and other natural materials into tiny vases, bowls and some freehand sculpture as well. We are hoping to travel to some of the miniature shows back east someday when he retires from his day job. He is an Engineering Technical Associate for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL). My two sons, Russell and Clayton Anderson, are very artistic as well. They’re all grown up enjoying lives of their own.
Barbara Stanton of Livermore, California creates fine art in miniature. She’s a signature member of MAA (Miniature Artists of America), an IGMA Fellow (International Guild of Miniature Artisans), MASF (Miniature Art Society of Florida), MPSGS (Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers Society) and Hilliard Miniature Society. To see more of her impeccable work in miniature, visit Barbara Stanton’s website and make sure to follow along on social media: Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube. You can shop her work on Etsy.