The Core Elements series of miniature painting classes are the first of their kind: divided into their elemental aspects to focus in-depth on the particulars of Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Ether. We break it down, take it slowly then build it up step-by-step. This innovative structure is a comprehensive miniature painting programme and has already given many students a thorough grounding in the book arts.
Alongside the Elemental classes there is a series of Masterclass courses in which we paint a single item - for example, a single face - very slowly, for the duration of the entire class.
The first of a series of unique classes, we'll start with the Rocks course I created to take you step-by-step through the process of creating a beautiful miniature painting using Safavid Persian and Mughal Indian traditional techniques. We'll prepare our own paper, mix our own pigments to make our own paints and learn traditional tracing, drawing and painting techniques. At the end of the class you'll have your own miniature painting to keep/take home and complete using skills gained during the experience or you can book further classes to work on it more. We'll learn how to hold the brush and you'll get the opportunity to try unique miniature painting natural sable hair brushes that I created to accomplish these specialist techniques, honed over many years. The 5 element classes are: Earth (Rocks), Air (Clouds), Water (Lakes, Rivers and Seas), Fire (the Dragon, the Phoenix and the Simurgh) and Ether (the Supernatural and the Night Sky: Angels, Divs and Demons). The 6th complementary class is The Art of Marbling. The 7th complementary class, The Art of the Black Pen: Siyah Qalam is a masterclass that dives deep into practise and brush techniques. Finally there is a chance to make your very own Book of Miniatures, similar to a muraqqa album (a collection of miniatures) bound in a luxurious leather tooled cover. Taken together they are a comprehensive miniature painting programme I created to give you a solid, well-rounded knowledge and thorough grounding in all aspects of the practice, history and theory of miniature painting and the book arts.
We'll be painting and learning these exciting processes and techniques in my artist's studio workshop in NW10 near Notting Hill, shared with my designer and craftsman husband. You'll get the opportunity to see - and paint - inside a working art and craft studio in London. We'll look at photographic examples of historic miniature painting and study close-ups in books to inspire us before diving into creating our own.
Aside from the taught classes, Vaishali also offers group and private tuition in all aspects of miniature and oil painting.
CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
Using - and arguing with - the methodology of the ancient wunderkammern, the cabinets of curiosities of the Renaissance - we will paint a collection of wonders in oils divided into Naturalia, Artificialia and Mirabilia. Classifying the world is not new; the Ancients had their divisions and lists, the Medievals their florilegia and encyclopedias and the Chinese have their own quirky way to ‘measure’ the world with their system of classifiers which I am also studying. To classify is also to divide, so we will ponder what separates one thing from another but also what they have in common, with a more associative mindset inclined to natural magic that doesn’t necessarily support the artifice of separating science from religion. One thing may be related to another sideways or obliquely; the most tenuous of connections can create a relationship or a story. A raven is like a writing desk, a coral like a tree or broccoli and a rhino horn is like a unicorn horn which is like a narwhal horn which is a long thin thing a bit like a pen or a paintbrush. Looking deeply at the ‘thingness’ of a thing engenders a real understanding and appreciation for it, possibly a love for the world around us. We’ll skip around the classes of Naturalia, Artificialia and Mirabilia and move between the worlds, coming up with our own categories and groups of miracles.
There is something magical and mysterious about copper. Although we will be using that most western of mediums, oil paint (which incidentally was first used in Afghanistan and Chinese caves but never taken up as fully and completely as in the west), copper retains a link to the east and lamps and copper trays and binding jinn. We will bind oil paint to its smooth surface to create delicate and glowing small paintings. We’ll start with the beautiful, pristine warm copper surface and then later explore other surfaces such as wood, cotton and linen canvas, primed paper… you can paint oils on anything (you may just need to protect the surface). Oils on copper are the most lasting and vibrant of the old master works; the vibrant colours are preserved better on its metal surface and the warm glow of the copper ground strikes through - the ground always strikes through.
Oils are buttery, creamy, slippery and delicious. Once you start you won’t be able to stop. It takes a bit of time to master; there are few rules - ‘fat over lean’ - and what you see is what you get. Sometimes crisp, sometimes crystalline, sometimes soft with layers of pulsating and shimmering colour that is only possible in this vastly versatile medium. Colours are infinite. Possibilities are endless. You can paint the whole world. It’s the universe in a box, in the company of small paintings that you can display as a collection on a mantelpiece or on your wall. To paraphrase the Mahabharata, what is here in the Cabinet of Curiosities, you will find elsewhere. But what is not here, you will find nowhere.
Miniature painting is 'the art of the line'; indeed, it is all about the line. These paintings embody a fineness of line from China and vibrancy of colours and pigments from India and Central Asia to be synthesized into beautiful miniatures in the royal courts of Safavid Persia and the Mughal Empire, which in turn influenced and was influenced by the equal magnificence of Renaissance Europe. Pigments, paints and paper all vary; climates, seasons and moods can change; the essential, enduring tool, of course, is the brush. Miniature painting is inconceivable without the perfect brushes. These indispensible, trusty tools are your dependable stalwarts and loyal friends and are absolutely vital to the success of your pieces.
I created a range of unique specialist miniature painting natural sable hair brushes which also complement my taught courses. The brushes are designed for specific techniques and also to invite contemplation. They include: the Rocks brush for rendering strokes; 3 different Clouds brushes for fine details, miniature outlines or illumination; the Water brush for washes; the Fire brush made using an ancient brushmaking technique from a single swan feather for unusual calligraphic strokes; the Ether brush tool for tracing and transferring among other uses. You’ll be able to try these unique brushes during the real-life studio courses and they are available for purchase with a 10% discount for course students. I also ship them internationally.
You can preview and purchase the brushes here: https://www.theperfectbrush.co.uk/
Vaishali Prazmari incorporates Persian, Indian and Chinese elements into her work. This cultural richness has a historical tradition dating back to the Silk Road and is epitomized in Islamic, Safavid Persian and Mughal Indian miniature paintings. She integrates both the ancient and modern in her own works and brings traditional miniature painting to life for a wider audience through her various roles as artist, educator and curator: www.vaishaliprazmari.co.uk Born in London, she has lived on an island in Hong Kong, Paris, and she currently lives and works in London.
Vaishali holds degrees from both the Slade School of Fine Art and the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts and holds an MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies (UCL) specializing in floating islands. She studied Persian and Indian miniature painting under various masters and during her MA at PSTA and Chinese painting under a master in Hong Kong. Having been immersed in the ancient traditions of Chinese painting, miniature painting and oil painting as well as today's contemporary art she is now working towards a PhD at the Slade painting 1001 paintings generated by the 1001 Arabian Nights. She has been painting ever since she could get her chubby hands on a brush.
Art is transformational; I want to make you into an artist.
1. Art is art
If art hasn’t transformed your life, even in a small quiet way, then it’s not art; it hasn’t fulfilled one of the functions of art (more on this later). If it hasn’t changed and shifted something deep and subtle in you, then it’s not art, it’s artisanal and/or craft or design. I’m not making a hierarchy (I’m married to a designer craftsman), I’m pointing out a subtle but fundamental difference. I love craft and the best artisanal pieces are also full of soul. Art is spirit and something else and absolutely unique, in a class of its own. This is what I want to transmit. Art has taught me as much as I’ve been making it all these years. Art has made me what I am and who I am. I want you to feel this same subtle yet profound shift within yourself when you start to realise the potentials of art. The more artists in the world, the better. There are many ways to be an artist. There are many functions of art.
2. The functions of art
One of the functions of art is its didactic role, in teaching and educating and guiding people. Its role has shifted slightly for our contemporary era but essentially this is still a part of art. I’m thinking through a lot of this for my PhD in art and the 1001 Nights. Storytelling is another function; magic and ritual are others. Transmitting what it means to be human and also teaching us how to live. I’m not teaching you how to live; I’m teaching you art so that your own art can teach you how to live. My art and I have our own unique relationship and I want you to experience your own with art too; it’ll do for you exactly what you need it to. Throughout my life art has always been there for me, it’s saved me when I needed saving and celebrated with me when I wanted to celebrate. It is the sidecar on the motorbike travelling constantly with me through the roadmap of my life. May your painting rise with you and your art always be at your back.
3. Where we begin
You can learn to paint. This is part of it. It’s not the whole picture but it’s where it starts. Circles, scribbles and smiling faces for children. In fact - the earliest human artefacts all contain painted images of ourselves - the human figure (which itself spawned a whole style - ‘figurative’! Go figure!). It’s such a deep part of our history as a species that, for me, it must have a function that goes beyond basic recording or informational purposes. We paint ourselves, we paint the world around us that we can see, we paint the world we can’t see. Miniature painting is at the same time a great mystery and a preserved jewel of a technique that I want to promote to greater prominence in the world. So it starts here, but it’s not the whole picture. Like its geographical heartlands situated in the crossroads between Europe and the rest of Asia, I’m starting at the heart and then I’ll expand outwards, West and East following the Silk Road to the two other great painting traditions of oil painting and Chinese painting, which have longer documented histories and are also more directly aligned with mood and spirit and much much more. The journey of 1001 paintings begins with a small miniature.
4. The 3 mediums
One became two, two became three, and three became ten thousand things. I’ll start with the water and water-based media. This is also the most accessible and perhaps familiar. When you start to paint with oils and the endless possibilities hidden in the layers you will never look back. It’s a medium that you can truly think as fast or as slow as you paint in, which is perhaps one reason for its enduring popularity. Oil paint was actually first used in the east, in Afghanistan, but it was western painters who took this medium and pushed it to its highest potential. We can do both things, we can do all the things, we can do hard things. The last phase of my vision of this teaching is Chinese painting, as the medium of ink flows like spirit itself. It’s miscible with water but it’s not quite water. Those are the 3 mediums I’m most familiar with too (I say ‘mediums’ as for me they are really also mediums in the spiritual sense; ‘media’ has connotations of mixed-media art which is something else). Along the way I’ll play too; there are other mediums such as egg and milk - casein paint - which I’m experimenting with myself. There is always room to play! I believe in working hard and playing hard too.
5. The 5 years
I’ve been teaching art since 2012. It started with the Elements series of courses where I broke down miniature painting into the 5 elements of Earth (Rocks - my first love in miniature painting), Art (Clouds - the direct influence of Chinese clouds and a chance to situate miniature painting in the continuum of the Silk Road), Water, Fire and Ether. I have also taught courses in the mysterious and fascinating Siyah Qalam style and in the art of marbling (which is an in-person course only due to the glorious mess). Together these offer a comprehensive overview of the book arts minus the calligraphy. My vision for continuing teaching is to teach broadly, widely, vastly for 5 years. This is where the Masterclasses in specific subjects come in. I’m at a stage in my life where I’ve done my 10,000 hours in painting and I’m now thinking very expansively and painting 1001 paintings.
6. Tiptoeing mastery
Join me in making loads and loads and loads of paintings! Quality comes after quantity. I have wasted a lot of paint myself. Not every piece you create will be a masterpiece and it’s not supposed to be; that’s why you keep painting, one after the other, 1001, not 1000. You keep going, one step after another, one story after another. The more you make, the fewer you chuck. I have thrown away, washed off, painted over, repurposed and burnt countless works, big and small. Now I find I keep most of what I make, which is why I’m painting 1001 of them. Mastery doesn’t come overnight and it doesn’t come in every single piece. It kind of creeps up on you and then once you’ve built up a body of work, you look back and think actually, that one is quite something! It’s more interesting to look over an oeuvre than a single piece from an artist. Look at the whole and keep thinking holistically.
7. Deepening commitment to the philosophy of fluidity
Every year I’d like to show selected student work as a celebration gift to you and milestone and record of the good memories of painting together in my Carpet Pages gallery in the desert. That’s why you need to keep making paintings and also to finish paintings! My relationship with you is important to me which is why I am only able to take on a small number of students; I have a lot of energy and yet it is not endless. Eventually, after I’m 40 and have given you sufficient vocabulary and grammar having painted the ten thousand things, I want to teach narrowly and deeply and mentor and guide you in creating your own sentences - your own art. When you choose the path of art you are choosing a lifelong commitment to a relationship that will forge you as much as you are creating it. It’s not for everyone and that’s good (I knew people who left art school to become firefighters for example, and we need both firefighters and artists). It might be for you if, like me, the greater mystery of why we are here is to wonder what’s around the corner and what’s next to paint and you feel increasingly that the world is fluid, not fixed, so the best vehicle to transmit this philosophy of fluidity is to use paint. To think artistically is as natural as breathing and there is always more.
I’m here and I’m ready for you at this stage in my life to take you through the next 5 years of intense rollercoaster hard work (no shit). I will build in play (I need it too).
Work hard and play hard!
And see you in the desert!