Friday, May 13, 2011


The initial stage of an Indian miniature painting is the drawing. In the past, charcoal was used to outline the image and this was then traced over in somewhat feint watercolour, usually of a reddish-brown colour, using a fine brush. The neutral reddish-brown tint is suitable for most objects, and particularly good for outlining skin tones in figures. These days, a graphite ('lead') pencil is often easier to use than charcoal. A medium hardness 2B pencil, which is soft enough not to engrave the paper, but hard enough to keep a sharp point. For very fine drawing, a harder pencil may be required. While doing the brush drawing (tracing over the pencil lines with watercolour), corrections can be made to the pencil drawing if necessary. After the watercolour outline has dried, a soft eraser can be used to gently remove traces of pencil marks that are still visible. Drawing as lightly as possible with the pencil makes erasure easier. Graphite has a slight disadvantage over charcoal in that it is less absorbent and does not take the brush drawing as well as charcoal. If the graphite line is too thick, the watercolour tends to bead on top of it.

During the next stage - blocking in colour within the outlines - corrections may be made if parts of the outline seem too heavy and thick, by slightly overlapping the outline with the body colour.
Finally, sometimes a third layer of outline, in a more saturated colour, is needed to sharpen up the image. Care should be taken not to be heavy-handed or the delicate life of the image may be destroyed - a very fine brush is used. 
Varying the weight or thickness of lines, and even breaking them slightly here and there, adds energy to the outlines and allows the images to 'breathe'. Though miniature painting is a very precise artform, the calligraphic expression of the drawing should still be evident in the final painting to a certain extent.
The fine Mughal-style brush drawing above, from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, is probably a study rather than an outline for a painting, as the paper does not appear to have been prepared for a coloured miniature.

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