Small world, `very fine detail'

After years of using large canvases, an artist decided to work in miniature, with gratifying results.

December 16, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

SHE STARTED PAINTING MINIATURES — After years of painting on large canvases, Karin Snoots discovered she could use her brushes to capture a scene in a few inches.

She started painting miniatures - about 1 to 4 inches on each side - two years ago and found it to be an easy transition.

"You can get just as lost in a small [painting]," she said.

Painting small has also helped Snoots, 44, of Damascus, advance her art with more shows and sales in galleries.

She was accepted into several miniatures shows and exhibitions this year, and her work is on display at Atlantis Fine Art in Ellicott City through February. Two of her paintings were also accepted into the International Exhibition of Fine Art in Miniature at the Mansion at Strathmore in Bethesda. That show has 725 works, including watercolors, sculptures, drawings, collage and pastels, and runs through Dec. 30.

Snoots is a full-time technical illustrator for Lockheed Martin, but she said she has always worked on fine-art projects in her free time.

For a long time, "I just wanted to do big stuff," she said.

Her show at Atlantis includes large seascapes of Maryland's Eastern Shore and fanciful paintings of dolphins, turtles and other sea life in bright, tropical colors. She once painted a sign for a scuba shop in Mount Airy that was almost 8 feet on each side.

Two years ago, she went to the miniatures show at Strathmore, sponsored by the Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers Society of Washington, because her mother was a participant.

Snoots said, "I couldn't believe those little jewels that were on the wall. ... I wanted to try it, and I went ahead and did it."

Last year, two of her miniatures were accepted into the juried show.

Painting in miniature dates to the ninth century and has continued through the modern day, said John A. Thompson, president of the 73-year-old miniatures society. He said that in recent years the form has become more popular with artists and collectors.

While definitions of miniatures can vary, common guidelines include a total size less than 5 inches by 7 inches, heads smaller than 2 inches in portraits and highly detailed and well-designed compositions.

"Good miniature painting will draw you right into it because it's this small world, and very fine detail," said Thompson.

While it can be challenging to work at a scale where a bit of dust can throw off the lines, "it's just fascinating what can be put into a small space," he said.

Snoots has made tiny seascapes with crashing waves, pastel skies and sandy beaches, close-up paintings of wolves and lions with precisely defined fur, and a portrait of her smiling grandson, all smaller than an index card.

In addition to artistic satisfaction, miniatures have practical benefits, as well.

Snoots said the large pieces she made were hard to transport and display. They also took a long time to finish when work and family interrupted her. Now she can paint a miniature in a weekend, she said, easily carry samples to galleries and make new pieces on demand.

"My productivity is so much greater," she said.

For many years, Snoots said, she didn't think much about exhibiting her work. But recently she had a change of heart. "I was doing full-time art [as an illustrator], but it was different," she said. In terms of her creative endeavors, "I felt like I was missing the boat."

Fortunately for Snoots, Atlantis decided to supplement its regular representation of national artists by inviting local artists to have short-term shows at the gallery.

Linda Koser, the gallery director, said that when she saw Snoots' work, "I was just intrigued by the talent. The detail is tremendous."

She added, "The energy she has is contagious. It was a good fit."

Snoots, who grew up in Wheaton, followed in the path of her mother, a freelance commercial artist, and her father, a printer. She earned an associate's degree at Montgomery College in Rockville, where she learned technical drawing skills, and then a bachelor's degree at American University in Washington, where there was more focus on theory.

She worked at printing and graphics companies for many years before going to Lockheed Martin in Gaithersburg five years ago.

Regardless of the size of the painting, Snoots said, she continues to be fascinated by nature, especially water and animals.

She and her husband, Ron, who offers critiques and suggestions on her work, bought a property in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and Snoots hopes to spend more time there painting next year. She also works from reference photos of seascapes and wild animals.

She said, "The miniatures especially have allowed me to capture delicate portrayals of things most dear to my heart and then share them with others."

Snoots' exhibit, "Life's Finest Moments," is free at Atlantis Fine Art, 8202 Main St., Ellicott City. Information and hours: 410-750-7950.

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