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Technique of Indian Miniature Paintings

Article of the Month - August 1999
Viewed 24708 times since 2nd Oct, 2008


The themes of the miniature are generally inspired by paintings commissioned centuries ago by Indian Emperors. Initially, the sketch is prepared by the artist on a smooth surface of a paper in light blue or reddish-brown ink. This primary sketch is drawn in soft lines suggesting only the outlines of the figures. These are later corrected and bold, accurate, hard lines are drawn. A thin coat of white pigment is applied to obliterate the incorrect lines.


Once the master sketch is drawn, it is copied or pounced (traced). Traditionally tracing was done with a piece of transparent deer skin which was placed on top of the drawing, the outlines of which were then pierced. The deer skin has since been replaced by tracing paper. The stencil thus prepared, it is then placed over a fresh paper and black pigment is passed through the pinholes leaving soft outlines which are later reinforced by brush.


The pigment are first blended and laid flat on the paper. No consideration is made of tonality, instead contrasting colors are used. Tendency to represent the minutest details, principles of maximum visibility and love for ornamentation were possible only when the colors are laid flat. The floors, carpets, arms and armour, utensils etc., are depicted with profuse embellishment. The draperies however are left comparatively plain. The three dimensional effect is achieved by two methods of shading : the original color is spread on the surface, then darker colors are applied ; or the shading pigment is gradually mixed with the original pigment while still wet. The ground colors are not necessarily light but are lighter than those to be applied in subsequent fillings. Human figures are painted first, animal figures next, and the background is colored last of all. After coloring and shading, the outlines of the object, as delineated in the primary sketch, are reconfirmed by a darker tone and the figures given a well finished form.

Gold Highlighting and Burnishing

Gold highlights are the last step before burnishing. The burnishing process involves laying the miniature face down on a hard, smooth surface and gently and firmly stroking it with a polished piece of agate stone. Burnishing provides protective hardening and gives an overall unity of texture to the paintings.

Calligraphy and other stages

After the painter has finished, the picture is passed on to other artists for trimming or to the 'wasligar' for mounting. Then beautiful hashiyas (borders) are mad and the calligrapher or 'naqshanavis' is asked to write part of the text or inscribe the name of the artist at the lower part.

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  • dear nithin article on techniques of miniature painting is really thorogh. but i do disagree with u at places. "...themes of the miniature are generally inspired by paintings commissioned centuries ago ..." this is not so . if you have had the oppertunity to look at the contemprary miniature done today by fine artists then you would fine that most of them are inspired by the culture and globalization that has set in a fast pace in the society.secondly about the "three dimensional effect that you" that you mention is not present in the miniature.its a very much 2-D paintings and even the great ustads of early times never tried to achieve 3-D in miniature because the technique didnot call for.(its my opinion ...u can disagree with it).one thing that you forgot to mention was the PERSPECTIVE. miniature doesnt have perspective in the normal and technical sense that we know perspective to exist. it has its own style of putting things and arranging figures and furniture found in the paintings.last but not the least the statement that i disagree with is the 'calligraphy' part. you say "After the painter has finished, the picture is passed on to other artists for trimming or to the 'wasligar' for mounting. Then beautiful hashiyas (borders) are mad and the calligrapher or 'naqshanavis' is asked to write part of the text or inscribe the name of the artist at the lower part." these days paintings are made individually by the artists them selves. its not a joint effort any more. and if you are talking about the times of the raja maharajas then you should have written the whole articles in past tense. this is all that i have to say in this situation. dont mean to offend you but then u did ask for a review....regards kaif ghaznavi
    by kaif ghaznavi on 14th Apr 2005
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