The art of miniature has its beauty in its intricate, neat and detailed works. These simple-looking paintings are a result of months of hard work, dedication and tiring efforts. Prior to the creation of a miniature, an artist does always make sure that he is well equipped with the materials that are required in the construction of a beautiful miniature painting.
To begin with, the artist starts to prepare his colors through the process of grinding the pigments. Almost all mineral pigments used in the creation of a miniature are prepared through grinding and washing in the “khalva yantra” commonly regarded to as mortar and pestle.
Over a period of several days, the hard mineral stones are converted into fine powdered color. This powder is constantly filtered and sedimented to separate any additives and impurities.
The creation of a miniature painting begins with the artist preparing the sheet. A special form of handmade paper called “Wasli” made by combining multiple layers of sheets made from rice stalk and bamboo that are especially designed for painting, is coated with a layer of Asbestos or chalk white powder usually known as “kharia” locally. This coating of kharia ensures that paper becomes thick, flat and ready to be used for painting.
There are many types of brushes that an artist deals with while creating a miniature, the larger ones are used for color filling, the smaller ones for bordering and washes, whereas the thinnest brushes are required for detailed and intricate work. These thin brushes are made from squirrel hair and are the most important aspect of an Indian Miniature Painting.The squirrel hair brush is very delicate. A good squirrel hair brush is curved and converges to a single point from the tip, this natural curve of the brush hairs makes the drawing line thin and even, which is the most important aspect of a miniature painting.
It is often said that miniature painting is the art of the line, as the method of painting rests entirely upon the craftsman’s line. The artist often practices a particular stroke before actually making the line. Then at the right moment, with one swift stroke, he would complete the line. As part of miniature painting practice while working with squirrel hair brush, generally craftsmen hold their breathe to be able to draw very thin, delicate and even lines in the painting. For the apprentice, drawing begins with a circle. Through this, he learns the technical aspects related with the brushes. The brush is usually placed between the first finger, and the thumb with the second finger underneath, so that the brush is held in a triangle.
It is to be noted that the brush should always be loaded side to side, not from the tip. This protects the tip of the brush, which must always remain sharp and pointed. An apprentice may spend hours in making these circles on his sketchbook to properly learn the art of using a brush.
The oriental technique of drawing with a line brush rather than a pen sketch is a skill that is virtually unknown in the world of contemporary western art.
Realism, by the nature of its perspective, takes the window-onto-the worldview of time and space, representing them as a frozen moment captured within a single picture plane. Indian traditional painting on the other hand, represents time and space at multiple levels, offering many as opposed to one single fixed view or moment ‘in’ time.
The first part of of the drawing of any miniature painting is the initial spacing or “khakha jamana”, the subject chosen by the artist is then drawn as a rough sketch with swift movements, considering all the suitable proportions and the laws of geometry. Craftsman usually mark off the border or “parki boundary”, usually three to four inches wide which may contain creeper motifs that frames the painting and the center of the image is then generated through this boundary.
Following this a first thin white wash of chalk white or “kharia” is applied to the painting. The drawing is again repeated but this time with a black line also called “the direct brush method”, where the drawing is made directly on to a given surface with a brush and black ink.
At this point during the painting, burnishing is done by placing the paper face-down on a flat marble or a thick glass surface, and then polished from the back with a burnishing agate. By doing this, the craftsman vigorously presses the pigments into the paper, this way pigments develop brightness and the colours sparkle. It is an essential part of the process as it heightens the color and renders the paint surface smooth in the preparation of for the next stage of the painting.
This practice, rarely found in other traditions, is largely owing to the use of mineral base colors. Mineral pigments have to be polished before the final detail stage of the painting to enable the brush move easily over the paint surface. Also, mineral pigments in their natural state appear dull and muted, so the process of burnishing intensifies the color.
A knife is used to remove the excess pigments from the drawing. The painting is then filled with liquid colors which are the base colors made from mineral, earth or by an alchemical process, and the mixed base colors made from a mixture of each other. The craftsmen use round brushes for color filling as they hold much more paint than the flat ones. The artist lines the area which has to be colored and then quickly fills in the space. This keeps the paint ‘moving and wet’ so that one area does not dry before the other, leaving patches. This technique also prevents the paint spilling out and touching other areas. The blocks of color must fit tightly together, so that a clear differentiation could be made between two different areas.
After filling in the colors, the painting is once again burnished to allow the elements to settle well and complement each other.
Now the painting moves to the next stage of putting details to the subject. Sometimes, “prataj”, a technique of stippling of minute lines converging at the tip of the leaf is used. Prataj is an intricate technique but is different from stippling in the manner that no visible brush marks are left after ‘prataj’. Also, several “washes of color” may also be applied which involves application of a stronger color over the base color to leave a faint impression.
Eventually, the outlines are traced, details incorporated and volumes, borders defined. In traditional miniatures; the broad borders ensured that the painting always remained intact during handling and viewing.
Final touches include giving definite pearl like droplets with chalk powder and the “Suikari” work which involves piercing the picture with a blunt needle done with the purpose of giving a glittery effect to the painting.
If the subject demands use of Gold as pigment (which was a very common pigment in miniature paintings), the gold under paint shade is made by mixing ramraj (lemon yellow pigment), kharia with a hint of dhumsa. The under-paint provides a base for the gold, so that only a thin layer of gold paint or leaf is required to give the desired effect.
To conclude with, these painting are truly a marvel that India has so far managed to sustain from her past.