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Selecting the Perfect Surface for Miniature Oil Painting

I’ve just started an online oil painting class through The Great Courses, and am absolutely loving it. Some of the info I knew from either experience or from previous classes in high school, but a lot of the information is new to me. I took classes after school in oil painting, but I didn’t have the formal training one would get if pursuing painting in college for example. I learned one artist’s approach and those techniques have served me well over the years.

Getting back into oil painting, especially with miniatures, presented a wild amount of issues that I’ve been trying to tackle in order to offer work that could be worn. Painting with oil is one thing, but to preserve it properly so that when you wear the piece so that it won’t get damaged has added a lot of extra steps.

I used to paint with oil on canvas, but with miniatures you have to find a more solid surface. The fabric in a cavas would eventually stretch out and warp if worn and that was the first problem I had to understand. I found a range of interesting answers in my search.

I found out that artists used to use copper to painting on top of, like large sheets of copper. This wasn't an option for me for two reasons. I didn't want to use metal because it was already heavy as an earring option since most of my work is statement. The other thing is that copper patinas/oxidizes over time and that would react with the paints. Oil paints are minerals that have been crushed and ground and then mixed with an oil to create the paint. The minerals/natural pigments can also change colors and patina over time which if painted on copper, would create this double patina.

The material needed to be lightweight and something that wouldn't react to the paints. This led me to wood panel. The next challenge was to find a slice of wood that would be thin enough to turn into an earring. I'm looking for something that is roughly 1/8" (3mm) or less in thickness. It's very hard to find wood that wouldn't warp at such thinness. There's also the issue of density in the type of wood you choose, and density adds weight. I had gotten some gorgeous walnut wood and felt so badly painting on top of it, that I couldn't use the material.

Combining all these questions of weight, non-reactive/something that wouldn't patina, thinness, warp, and nothing pretty that I'd feel badly using it was the new challenge. Eventually I found a plywood panel at 1/8" thick, and suddenly that solved all of my questions. I still hand sand each panel down to 3/16" which makes each painting extremely lightweight. It doesn't conflict with potential warping but instead becomes the perfect size to work with.

I'm going to keep this short because there's a lot to cover with miniature oil paintings and I'd like to turn this into a series. If you have any questions, leave a comment below, send me an email, or a DM and I'm happy to answer anything in regards to oil painting.

Take care,


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