Activity: Make Your Own Miniature

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

In the 18th and 19th centuries, some people would hire artists to create a miniature—a pocket-sized portrait of a loved one or a public figure they admired. Although these paintings were tiny, artists painted them in great detail to make the figures recognizable.

 A miniature watercolor portrait of the French Cardinal Richelieu is painted on an oval-shaped piece of ivory with a gold frame.
French; Miniature Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu, 19th century, Carnegie Museum of Art
A miniature watercolor portrait of a young woman with a bouquet of flowers at her waist is painted on an oval-shaped piece of ivory with a gold frame.
After Caffarelli; Miniature Portrait of a Young Girl, 1779, 19th century, Carnegie Museum of Art
A miniature watercolor portrait of a middle-aged woman is painted on an oval-shaped piece of ivory with a gold frame.
French; Miniature Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1810, Carnegie Museum of Art
A miniature watercolor portrait of a middle-aged woman is painted on an oval-shaped piece of ivory with a gold frame.
Henry Edridge, British, 1769–1821; Miniature Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1790, Carnegie Museum of Art
 A miniature watercolor portrait of a young man drawing his initials on a tree trunk is painted on a circular piece of ivory with a silver gilt frame.
French; Miniature Portrait of a Gentleman, ca. 1793, Carnegie Museum of Art

Discuss with These Questions:

  • Take a close look at these portraits. Compare the two that you find the most interesting.
  • What are some similarities between the two figures that you chose? Differences?
  • Consider their facial expressions. What emotions might these people be feeling? What do you see that makes you think that?
  • Another way that the artists identified the figures in the portraits was through their clothing. Examine the clothing each figure is wearing. What do you notice? What might these details tell you about the figure who is wearing them?
  • What else can you guess about the figures from the way the artist has portrayed them?

Get Creative: Make a Miniature Self Portrait!

Materials needed: scissors, paper, and something to draw with (pencil, colored pencils, fine-tipped markers, etc.)

  1. Cut an oval out of a piece of paper that is about three inches wide and four inches tall.
  2. These portraits are painted from the waist up. Look at yourself in the mirror or take a picture of yourself with a cell phone or camera. Focus on yourself from the waist up.
  3. Experiment with different facial expressions like a cheesy smile, a goofy face, or puppy-dog eyes. Which facial expression will you have in your portrait?
  4. Start by sketching your head. What shape is it? Is it more round or oval? What about your chin? Draw that shape above the middle of your oval paper.
  5. Divide the shape of your head in half vertically, and then horizontally, by drawing lines across it and down the middle. Place your eyes on the horizontal line (one on each side of the vertical line). Did you know that your eyes are close to the middle of your face, not at the top? Once you have drawn the eyes, place your nose and mouth below them. Keep in mind the kind of facial expression that you want to show!
  6. Next, draw your outfit. What clothes will you wear to signal something about yourself? A uniform? Your favorite sweater? Maybe a big hat?
  7. What will you hold in your portrait, if anything?
  8. Optional: Add some color to your miniature portrait. Colored pencils might work well if you have them. You can also draw a frame around the outside border.
  9. Are you thinking about a loved one or a friend? Mail your miniature portrait to someone who is on your mind so that they remember you, just as the people in the portraits from our collection are remembered. Write a sweet note on the back!