by Alex Castro

 I often ask my students a simple question, what is the difference between writing and drawing? To my amazement, even a professional artist has a difficult time answering this question for the answer here is a simple one: drawing involves sensitivity and writing involves detailing.

The famed anthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey believed that unlike the primates whose thumbs are very high on their hands, the development of human’s lower thumb position is a distinct advantage in creating the precision grip. This was accomplished with the positioning of the thumb and the index finger. When the thumb came in contact with the index finger, it formed a zero. This played an important role in making tools and writing skills. Writing is a precise skill, a form of detailing.

In painting miniatures, both are necessary. One must learn when to apply each. Too much detailing compromises sensitivity.

Imagine your paintbrush is a divining rod and you are looking for water. You will find that the sensitive part of the rod lies at the ends of the rod, not the tip. The same holds true with your paintbrush. Moving your brush up and down can affect how you capture emotions and express sensitivity. As the hand slides down the brush, we arrive at the writing position or the detailing position.

As a child, on a visit to New York’s Greenwich Village, I marveled at the street portrait artists. I noticed how they would take a blank piece of paper, and holding their pastel pencils from the very end, start by drawing in a circular motion, in an almost aimless fashion. So I thought. This form of drawing is what we call sketching. This was done softly, in a non-committed style.

The artist was developing sensitivity for the subject. As the feel for his subject increased, the hand would slide down, increasing the pressure on the pencil for a more precise grip. As his commitment became more pronounced, his subject became more detailed and the portrait emerged. This is why I always ask my new students to draw anything because it’s not important what they draw, but how they draw.

How does this apply to miniatures? There is a general assumption that the art of painting miniatures is totally detailed work. Not so! Here too, how we use the brush can make the miniature either sensitive or harsh. Even if you use a short handled brush like the Windsor & Newton #7, there is room for expressing emotions in our work. For example, we can speed up a form with a straight line, we can bend the line a little to slow it down, and we can make it thick or thin to express emotions and sensitivity. Also, the introduction of the airbrush has made an impact in the softening and texturing effect of miniatures in a dynamic way (see Airbrushing Techniques). To conclude, I will say that the miniatures may be limited in size or scale, but there is always plenty of room for self-expression.

Written by Alex Castro ©

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