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There is something deeply satisfying about making something historically inspired using techniques as close as possible to the original–to the materials and mediums that “they” did. Two hundred years ago and more, miniaturists worked with watercolor, on bone or ivory. Through years of experimentation and study, including visiting original miniatures, poring over museum collections and reading the records and notes of miniaturist painters or limners of the past, Ms. Johnson honed her technique, and is delighted to be able to offer these tiny, jewel-like portraits on hand, not by commission.

Worked on the finest bone cabochons, most often 30 x 40 mm in size (roughly 1-5/8" tall), they are mounted as you see, in either gold-filled* or sterling silver mounts. (Johnson works on legal ivory on request, as on the George and Martha Washington below.*)

Most are created with the same techniques as the earlier miniaturists used, with watercolor mixed with gum arabic for a wonderful translucency. A few are other watermedia–there is little difference in the finished product, and only a museum professional could tell for sure which is which.

Many hours go into each tiny portrait. When a likeness is achieved and details are spotted in with a 18x brush, the finished miniature is coated with multiple layers of varnish to protect it–otherwise the watercolor might be damaged by the first raindrop.

As always, please keep your miniature from contact with insect repellent or sunscreen. These products can soften the varnish, just as they do plastic eyeglass frames or contact lenses.

These miniatures do not come with mounts with glass in them as many of the originals did. Such reproduction mounts are available, but they are quite expensive, sometimes costing more than the miniature itself. (Ms. Johnson will provide contact information if the buyer is interested, but as she has not worked with this supplier she can’t guarantee satisfaction.)

Each tiny portrait will come to you with a “Briefe Historie of the Miniature Portrait,” and instructions on caring for your heirloom piece. These are both fine art and fine jewelry, and deserve your care.

If you have ever wanted to own a miniature portrait of your own, of the famous men and women of our nation’s past, these offerings are for you.

*Gold-filled means that the layer of gold is 100 times thicker than gold plated items and is therefore much more durable.

*For information on legal ivory, click here.

George and Martha Washington
These two were paired in life, and we prefer to offer them as a matched set. Painted on legal ivory with watercolor and gum arabic, they are very translucent and delicate.

From portraits of the Washingtons late in life, when he was the first President of the United States of America. The colors are subdued and subtle, with a dark gray background.

Signed and dated by the artist. Gold-filled mounts. 30 x 40mm.

$500 the set

A Handsome Continental
This piece is of an anonymous soldier in the Revolutionary army, straight from Johnson's imagination. His dark hair, intense blue eyes and rosy cheeks make him a real heartbreaker. He wears his own hair, unpowdered, and cuts a handsome figure in his blue and buff uniform.

Painted in watercolor on bone, with a blue-gray background. 30 x 22mm.

Signed and dated by the artist. Sterling silver mount.


George Washington
A younger, strong and vital Washington, from a variety of portraits painted when he was General Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental American army. He appears in his blue and buff uniform, the original of which may be seen in the Museum of American History, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Painted in watercolor on bone, with a dark brown background to set off the figure, very typical of 18th century miniature portraits.

Signed and dated by the artist. Gold-filled mount. 30 x 40mm


Donated to the auction to help preserve Illinois historic sites at http://www.saveillinoishistory.com/.

George Washington
Another version of the younger Commander in Chief, against a dramatically graded blue-gray background. Again, he is wearing his blue and buff uniform, with a ruffled shirt.

Painted in watercolor on bone.

Signed and dated by the artist. Gold-filled mount. 30 x 40mm


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"Mistress Kate Johnson humbly wishes to announce that she will produce for the discerning buyer, Completely Handpainted Miniature Portraits on bone or ivory, in the Manner of the 18th Century limners. Worked from a period source or from a modern image of yourself or a loved one..." So reads the opening lines of Cathy (Kate) Johnson's historically-inspired business card she carries with her when taking her miniatures to historic sites and events.

Imagine owning an 18th century-style miniature, to wear or carry or simply hang on the wall. Have one painted of an ancestor, especially popular with genealogists, or choose a famous or infamous person of the past if an image is available-or yourself or a loved one, in period attire. Reenactors, interpretors, and historians often favor these last.

These are true portraits in miniature, completely hand-painted and one of a kind. Because the portraits on this page were done by special order, we can only show you samples; please contact to discuss your commissioned project.

Miniatures on vellum, copper, wood, bone, ivory and other surfaces came into their own in the 18th Century, when artists on the Continent and in America were commissioned to create portraits that were personal, political, or otherwise. These

small, portable images of loved ones, deceased family member, kings, queens, princes, generals, consorts and so forth were the precursor to the photograph, easily worn or carried, and small eye miniatures were exchanged between lovers. (Click here for client testimonials.)

Wendy Riggs, pictured at right, looks wonderful in her miniature -- and brother Taz wears dad's old uniform well.

Eye Miniatures

These special order miniatures can be done on a variety of surfaces, some natural and some manmade, including vellum paper, celluloid (which was used historically in the 19th century), polymer clay, bone, or when available, legal ivory. Bone and ivory still offer especially beautiful translucent effects. Ivory, of course, is the most expensive surface, adding about $15 to the final price. You may choose a flat or domed surface, in ivory; bone comes only in slightly domed ovals.

18th century style miniatures may be based on a photo or on an original painting or engraving; the better image you provide the easier it is to work from with a higher degree of accuracy.

Most portrait miniatures which will be worn are done in acrylic watercolor, for greater permanence. They are sealed with several coats of varnish, since small oval crystals are no longer readily available for today’s mounts. Those miniatures done to fit small frames for the wall or bedside may have glass cut to cover, and may be done with watercolor on vellum paper, as you choose.


If you prefer, you may have a stylized true-scrimshaw miniature done on bone or ivory, like the examples below. With this technique, the likeness is actually scratched into the surface, then the lines are filled with black ink or acrylic; historically this was done with a mixture of lamp black and fat, which may be had on request.

A variation on this theme was seen in the scrimshaw works done by sailors on their long sea voyages, who sometimes used rust, colored inks, and other colorants to make a polychrome design, like the eye miniature, shown below. Scrimshaw miniatures start at $150.

Not all scrimshaw work is portraiture. At right is an example of a recent commission, commemorating an anniversary -- the client decided what elements he wanted included and they were combined in this one-of-a-kind pendant.

18th and Early 19th Century Style Silhouettes

Unlike the familiar Victorian silhouettes done in all black, the earlier versions--called "shades" in the period--often had the clothing depicted in color, and might even have the details of hair, jewelry, ribbons, and facial characteristics subtly suggested with fine touches of a blue-gray hue against the solid black. Sometimes rather crude with a folk art feel, at other times these "shades" were quite elegant. For a similar handling for your miniature, a good profile photo against a plain background is necessary. These silhouette miniatures start at $100.

Sterling silver or gold-filled mounts are available in 30 x 40mm size, roughly an 1-1/2" tall, for $15. Less expensive mounts in either antiqued goldtone brass or silverplate are also available, for under $10. 14K gold mounts available by special arrangement; due to the fluctuating price of gold we can only estimate the 30 x 40mm size at an additional $275; current prices on request.

Custom portrait miniatures vary from $170-$200 for the painting itself; eye miniatures $100. Plumbago (graphite) images on request, for a somewhat lesser amount. These prices are usually not counting the price of the mount.

Somewhat larger miniatures on wood or paper, suitable for framing, can also be had, just as they were in the 18th century, in either oval or rectangular shapes.

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Please contact us to discuss your commission needs on any of these offerings.

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