The delicate luminous and traditional look of a miniature is due to the base upon which it is painted. The best bases are ivory, Kelmscott vellum, and ivorine, all of which will take oil, alkyd oil, and transparent acrylic colors.
Hot pressed Plate Bristol is a good choice for watercolor, as the seal is so hard that colors can actually be lifted out, a necessary skill in miniature painting. Strathmore brand is about the best, and they give very generous samples, large enough for a small painting in miniature technique.
For miniature engravings on hard scratchboard, transparent acrylic has good staining power if one wishes to rub color into the white-backed or silver-backed etchings.
Miniature painting began with small finely detailed paintings contained within early books and manuscripts that were painted in watercolor. These works contained delicate layers of paint using very” tiny strokes and hatchings. Circa 1700, Rosalba Carreira from Bruges discovered that ivory would give an even finer and more delicate look to the miniature, which by then had been cut from the manuscript and was carried either in a horse saddle bag or a courier’s vest or pocket. Originally, they were carried just as the miniaturist painted them, on the back of a cardboard playing card, then set into a small lightweight frame which strengthened and protected the work and allowed the work to be clearly seen from all sides.
Ivory, cut about 2/8^th inch thick, settled well into a small thin gold frame, protected by convex glass (to protect it during transport). Ivory workers in England began cutting the ivory even thinner which increased its luminosity, and painters tentatively began using oil and egg tempera colors on this surface. Originally, pigments were ground by hand and the paints bound with oil were thick. So the art work contained raised lines which looked heavy, and were unpopular. In comparison, the delicate color and detail of water bound pigments were more favorable.
Oil colors can look like watercolor when painted on ivory or ivorine if ground very well (as they are today) and dispersed evenly using a fine binder. The tiny grains in ivorine reflect like a light prism; this effect cannot be acquired with opaque surfaces like card, paper, wood and gessoed surfaces. Therefore, I suggest starting with ivorine as a good surface if one wishes to use more durable oil glazes in a miniature painting. However, ivory is still the best surface for watercolor miniatures.
Unlike ivorine, it has some softness in the surface on which the color can grab and remain, without soaking into the surface as it does on other surfaces like watercolor paper, card, plate Bristol, and even vellum. Vellum is an ideal surface for any miniature painting�its cells reflect the light and it does not absorb the color as much as hot pressed card or paper. It is semi-opaque, and to a degree reflects back the light from the cells of the skin from which it is developed. The problem with vellum is that it can be extremely expensive for those who are just learning to paint miniatures.
Cold pressed paper is not suitable for a miniature if you want to achieve the historical look of fine detail and delicacy. Use only hot pressed mat paper or the Plate Bristol previously mentioned. The undulations in cold pressed watercolor paper can deflect the course of a brush stroke, and edges are difficult to achieve, as in a soft flower petal. It is better to try the many other surfaces available like Plate Bristol, especially if working in watercolor, or ivorine if working in oil.
A coarse woven cotton canvas will also deflect a brush stroke and is difficult to make smooth with gesso, although some fine Belgian linens may be suitable. Canvas board or stretched linen canvas should be covered with 5 to 10 thin layers of gesso, and sanded and sealed after every layer. This will provide a smooth surface with some porosity which can be an interesting base for a landscape, as the oil paint, when stippled, will slightly sink in giving interesting and realistic effects of flowers, grasses, and bricks on cottage walls for instance.
The brush can be gently pressed down into the paint and medium and twirled to a point, then touched lightly to a paper towel (I prefer Viva brand) before painting.
A very fine sander like sanding film or a fine piece of silk can remove raised lines and bits of lint from a painting without affecting the painting surface, especially non-porous surfaces like ivorine. Silk is also used to burnish up watercolor paintings and remove dried dust. A layer of Liquin Light Gel rubbed (not brushed) onto the surface of the painting will seal and even-out the shiny or matte patches that often form an uneven surface. This can only be done when the painting is absolutely dry. Rub in with a paper towel _over_ your finger — _never rub in with just your finger._ Also never place a brush in your mouth to smooth bristles or make a point, as there is still toxicity in painting materials. Always check your art material safety warnings.