In the early days of miniature painting in sixteenth century Europe, the work was done mainly on vellum or ivory, occasionally on old playing cards which had a smooth surface. Of course, now the thought of using ivory is abhorrent, but antique ivory is still available in the form of old piano keys. A friend gave me a piano key, cleaned with toothpaste to remove years of build-up from sticky fingers practising their scales, with instructions to paint on it. Of course the early miniatures were all portraits, so I decided on a more modern approach.
This was very much an experiment, as this was a surface I have never worked on before. My inspiration was a small image of the shadows of palm fronds, distorted on a beach, and I treated it without too much attention to accurately reproducing the image, the emergence of an abstract image was what I was looking for. One of the beauties of ivory is the warm colour and the texture of the growth rings which are just visible on close inspection, so I wanted to leave some of the natural colour.
The paint is oil paint – other media may work, but this was my choice for this piece. Using a small pointed brush, I used the paint quite thinly, and found I could scratch out areas with the edge of a tiny screwdriver, but the paint does stain. There is more experimenting I can do using solvents I think. This is not really cleanly done, don’t look too closely! But I enjoyed the experiment, learned a lot and will do it again.
The ruler is included in the photo to give a sense of scale.
Oil paint on ivory piano key, 4.7 cm x 2.2 cm (1 ⅞ x ⅞ in)