Small Incidental Images / by Jeannine Cook

I think I have always been attracted to the small and intimate, rather than the large and often grandiose in art. When I spent many hours in the Louvre as a young, homesick girl in Paris, I found myself constantly returning to the galleries where drawings, or small sculptures and other three-dimensional objects were displayed. Things that you could, in theory, hold in your hands, things that were proportioned to the human body, that could be studied close up and very attentively...

There is a discipline and orderliness required in small artwork for the close scrutiny required means that incoherence or mistakes show up more readily. Think of the rather extreme example of miniature portraits, that marvellous subset of likenesses on ivory, vellum or other delicate surfaces.

This is a dashing miniature portrait of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, done about 1606 by Isaac Oliver (1558/68-1617), a pre-eminent miniaturist. It was saved from export by the ArtFund and is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (on the right).

On the left is another Isaac Oliver miniature, done in 1615. It is a portrait of Charles, Prince of Wales (later Charles I). This is in the Berger Collection, Denver, Colorado.

Such small images fascinate and delight. But there are plenty of other versions of diminutive artwork that can be arresting. Lea Coli Wight , a highly acclaimed artist from New Jersey, writing in American Artist in November 2009, was quite correct when she observed, "The beauty of small incidental images can be as profound as those that are grand and orchestrated."

Perhaps the incidental aspect of life, when one is living amidst great natural beauty, is easier to see. A walk beneath wonderful trees, a stroll through a garden dancing with flowers, or even a bird-watching session ... can suddenly yield images that one translates later into artwork. The initial excitement can stay with one more easily if the resultant art is on a smaller scale. Perhaps that is why I love working in small scale silverpoint drawings - the passion can still burn brightly.

I think it also helps artists to keep fresh if they work on a scale that does not require enormous investments of time. I know that there are many times when context and commission require large work, but I sometimes wonder if the excitement can be sustained very easily in such cases. Perhaps, in the end, it is a matter of taste. I'll keep gravitating to the "small incidental images", I suspect!