Famous Paintings in Miniature: Flowers in a Vase by Rachel Ruysch, circa 1685

In an attempt to help my fellow miniaturists through this incomprehensible time of Covid-19 social distancing and self isolation, I'm picking up my free tutorial series. 

I do hope this helps pass the time until we can all go about our daily business again.

Stay indoors, stay safe, and stay in touch!

Famous Paintings in Miniature: Flowers in a Vase by Rachel Ruysch, c 1685

Follow the links below to see other tutorials in this series:

V Kandinsky's Swinging Schaukeln 1925 

VI Monet's Waterlilies

VII. Norbert Goenuette's The Boulevard de Clichy under Snow, 1875/6

VIII Hans Holbein the Younger's A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling, around 1526-8

IX August Macke: Frau mit Sonnenschirm vor Hutladen, 1914

X Arthur Rackham's A Night Before Christmas

A little bit of history

Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) was born in the Netherlands. Her father was a well respected scientist and professor of anatomy and botany, and he allowed her to draw and paint from his extensive private museum collection. 

Ruysch’s keen interest in botanical art grew as she accompanied her father to the Hortus Botanicus, a botanical garden in Amsterdam that was popular with artists of the time. She would have met and exchanged ideas with many other artists, and at 15 she was apprenticed to the Dutch flower painter Willem van Aelst.

Ruysch painted this piece, Flowers in a Vase, shortly after completing her apprenticeship. 

Free, expressive and dynamic flower arrangements were a key feature in her work and she went on to become one of the most important floral artists of her time, working for nobility and royalty throughout Europe. 

Astonishingly she managed to juggle her successful career with raising 10 children! Ruysch died aged 86 in 1750.
Many Dutch Golden Age still life paintings contained insects and Ruysch’s were no exception. Was it to bring them to life? Or was it to send a subliminal message to the artists patrons? I suspect in Ruysch’s case it was the former as her caterpillars, grasshopper, ant and spider are quite charming.

What you'll need

  • Smooth mountboard in any colour
  • Sharp craft knife, cutting mat and steel ruler
  • Sharp Pencil and an eraser
  • 2 or 3 water pots
  • Size00 or smaller acrylic brush with a good point
  • Size 6 flat acrylic brush
  • Small soft watercolour fan brush
  • Fine misting water bottle
  • Atelier Interactive Acrylics in
    • Burnt Umber
    • French Ultramarine
    • Yellow Ochre
    • Arylamide Yellow Light
    • Arylamide Yellow Deep
    • Pearl Titanium Tinting White
    • Titanium White
    • CrimsonBurnt Sienna
    • Pthalo Green

Let's get cracking

Step 1

Squeeze out a little Burnt Umber and mix with a little Pthalo Green to make a dark green-brown. 

Squeeze out a little more Burnt Umber, leave a gap, and squeeze out a little Yellow Ochre then roughly mix so that you have a full range of colours varying from Brown to Yellow. 

Dab the top left hand corner in Burnt Umber/Pthalo Green and the bottom right hand corner in Burnt Umber/Yellow Ochre, and then use the soft fan brush to tickle and blend the colours. 

Add more Yellow Ochre mixed with Tinting White and a tiny touch of French Ultramarine to the bottom right hand corner to lighten. 

You’re aiming to have the bottom right hand quarter a paler greeny-yellow/brown and the rest of the area should be very dark greeny-brown.

If you find that your paints are drying too quickly to blend, just give them a light misting with a fine nozzled spray water bottle. 

Step 2

Next, draw a horizontal line to represent the table. 
  • For a 1/12th reproduction, draw the line 10mm from the bottom of the page. 
  • For 1/16th draw the line at 7.7mm.
  • For 1/24th draw it at 5mm from the bottom of the page. 

Mix Burnt Umber and Arylamide Yellow Deep and block in below the line using your size 6 flat brush.

Step 3

To place the centre of the peony, measure as follows: 
  • for 1/12th measure 27mm from the top and 16mm from the left, 
  • for 1/16th measure 21mm from the top and 12mm from the left   , 
  • for 1/24th measure 1.4mm from the top and 8.2mm from the left. 

Paint a single dot in Permanent Yellow Deep.

Switch to your size 00 round brush and pick up some Titanium White, then, 
  • on a 1/12th scale dot in a peony measuring 88mm in diameter. 
  • For 1/16th it needs to be 66mm and 
  • for 1/24th it needs to be 44mm in diameter.

Step 4

Mix a little Pearl Titanium Tinting White with a touch of Crimson and use this to dot in the pink highlights on the peony. 
  • On a 1/12th scale measure 9mm in from the right and 18mm up from the bottom and use pure Crimson to dot in a 2mm diameter rose. 
  • For 1/16th the position is 7.4mm from the right and 13.5mm from the bottom with a 1.8mm diameter rose, and 
  • for 1/16th it is 4.9mm from the left and 1.2mm from the bottom, with a 1.2mm diameter rose. 

Step 5

Use the pink that you made by mixing Pearl Titanium Tinting White and Crimson to add a highlight to the top of the rose. 

Now mix a tiny touch of Pthalo Green with Crimson to create a dark red and use this to define the lower petals on the rose by adding a shadowy line.

Step 6

Using Arylamide Yellow Deep block in the shapes for the lilies. 

  • On a 1/12th scale the right hand lily reaches out 5.8mm from the edge of the peony, the orange daisy type flower to its left reaches out 4.1mm and the tip of the top lily bud measures 11.7mm from the top. 
  • On a 1/16th scale the right hand lily reaches out 4.4mm from the edge of the peony, the orange daisy type flower to its left reaches out 3.1mm and the tip of the top lily bud measures 8.8mm from the top. 
  • On a 1/24th scale the right hand lily reaches out 2.9mm from the edge of the peony, the orange daisy type flower to its left reaches out 2.0mm and the tip of the top lily bud measures 5.8 mm from the top.

Step 7

Mix a touch of Crimson with Arylamide Yellow Deep and paint in a few shadows on the yellow petals, concentrating on the tips and the undersides of the petals. Next stroke a little of this orange onto the tops of the lily buds. 

Add a touch more crimson and paint in a few darker shadows to make your flowers and buds more three dimensional.  

Step 8

Now we’ll begin to place some of the leaves. 

Mix a little Pthalo Green with a fair amount of Pearl Titanium Tinting White until you have a very pale mint green and then add a touch of Arylamide Yellow Light to warm it up a little. 

Use a dabbing action with your brush to paint in the leaves on the palest sprig on the left hand side. 

The bottom leaf is almost on the table and, 
  • on a 1/12th scale is 5.3mm from the left hand edge. 
  • On a 1/16th scale this is 3.9mm, and 
  • on a 1/24th scale it is 2.6mm from the left hand edge. 
Use the same colour and a wiggly stroke to paint in the long leaf on the right hand side, noting the horizontal position in relation to the two lily buds. It almost, but not quite, reaches the right hand edge of the painting. 

Follow this with the beginnings of another long leaf to the left, and a larger leaf in the centre.

Step 9

Moving on to place the bottom of the vase, 
  • on a 1/12th scale measure 7.6mm in from the right hand side, 10.5mm from the bottom and 11.7mm from the left hand side. 
Draw a gently curved line to represent the bottom of the vase following these measurements and then block in the vase shape using Burnt Umber. We don’t know the exact shape of the vase at the top but it doesn’t matter as we’ll be covering this area in flowers later. I’ve made mine quite pointy. 

When this is dry, add highlights in the Burnt Umber/Yellow Ochre and the Burnt Umber/Yellow Ochre/French Ultramarine mixes that we used in the background. 
  • On a 1/16th scale those measurements are 5.7mm, 7.9mm and 8.8mm, and 
  • on a 1/24th scale they are 3.8mm, 5.3mm and 5.8mm.

Step 10

Next we will place the edge of the table. 
  • On a 1/12th scale measure 6.4mm up from the bottom of the piece and draw a horizontal line, then draw another horizontal line 2.6mm from the bottom. 
Pick up some Yellow Ochre and paint in the highlights on the table top using a gentle horizontal stroking action, leaving a texture similar to the grain of the table. 

Mix a little Burnt Sienna with Yellow Ochre and Burnt Umber and paint in the shadow cast by the vase, and using the same colour paint the edge of the table. 

Go over the highlights with a super-light touch to add some warmth to the wood, taking care not to obliterate your highlights. 

Paint underneath the table in Burnt Umber, then, still using Burnt Umber, return to the shadows on the top of the table and darken slightly.

Step 11

Now we’ll add a few more flowers. 

Darken some Crimson with a touch of Pthalo Green and paint in the flower on the right hand side overlapping the edge of the vase. 

Add a few highlights using pure Crimson straight out of the tube. 

Clean your brush and pick up some pure Titanium White to paint in the shape of the white flower above the red one we just painted. 

Mix a touch of Crimson with the Titanium White and add in a few defining lowlights. 

Step 12

Using pure Titanium White, dot in the spray of white flowers on the left hand side. 

Next, paint the white flower above the orange lilies and then place the shapes of the white flowers in the top left hand corner.

Step 13

Now mix a mid green using Pearl Titanium Tinting White, Pthalo Green and Arylamide Yellow Deep. 

Move all the way around the painting adding in the background greenery. 

Notice how free and loose the arrangement is, and use a combination of dots and dashes to add in the leaves. 

Remember to include the single spray of leaves that comes down onto the table on the left hand side.

Step 14

Add Arylamide Yellow Light and a good amount of Pearl Titanium Tinting White to half of your mid green foliage mix and use this to dot and dash in the spray of yellow/green foliage that cascades down the front of the vase. 

Now sparingly add a few highlights to the dark green foliage around the painting. 

Next, using the same colour, add a few shadows white flowers at the top of the painting and then paint in some stems. 

There is also a wisp of foliage heading out towards the top right hand corner and we can add that in now too, twisting your brush to get a free and flowing movement.

Step 15

Nearly there now! 

To paint the tiny flowers that hand down the front of the vase we firstly need to place them with Titanium White. 

Then mix Crimson with Pearl Titanium Tinting White and the tiniest touch of Pthalo Green to add the dusky pink centres. 

The final flower is a pale blue one at the top. Again, place the flower using Titanium White then mix French Ultramarine with Pearl Titanium Tinting White and add in some colour to the flower. 

Finally, add a touch of pale blue to the very top flower.

Step 16

To finish of the foliage, mix Pthalo Green with Crimson to get a rich dark green. 

Add lowlights to the foliage, concentrating mostly on the right hand side where the foliage is much darker. Dark lowlights will really make the flowers pop.

Step 17

Now for the fun part! You may wish to switch to using a sharpened cocktail stick with a very fine point. 

Using a pale yellow/green mix made from Arylamide Yellow Light, Pthalo Green and Pearl Titanium Tinting White, dot in the tiny caterpillar hanging over the front of the vase. 

Now dot in the caterpillar to the left of the peony. 

Next, using a slightly greener mix of the same colours dot in the shape of a grasshopper on the table in front of the vase. 

There is a spider hiding to the right of the peony that we can dot in using Burnt Sienna, and there is a tiny ant on the lower petals of the peony – just use two tiny dots of Burnt Sienna to paint him in.

Rachel Ruysch did sign this piece on the edge of the table but the colour of the signature is so similar to the colour of the table that on a dolls house scale we simply cannot see it, so we’ll leave it out.

Leave your painting for at least a week to dry thoroughly before varnishing with a gloss acrylic varnish.


  • To make my own stay-wet palette I use a small plastic takeaway box lined with wet kitchen roll on the bottom and greaseproof paper on top. When I leave my paints for any length of time I simply put the lid on and the paints stay workable. 
  • Always store your brushes flat, never resting on their points as this will damage them (either in or out of your water).
  • Wash your brush in a series of three water pots, beginning in the dirtiest water pot and working towards the cleanest. You should find that this means that your clean water will stay clean for longer, you will need to change water less often and your colours will not get muddy. Dab your brush on an old rag or piece of kitchen towel before picking up fresh paint. 
  • Always wash your brushes before leaving them for any length of time. Dried acrylic is difficult to get out of brushes and will ruin the flexibility and point of your brush.  
  • Tiny brushes can be hard to come by. If you can’t find one small enough, take the smallest brush you can find, fan out the bristles between your finger and thumb and cut out some of the bristles close to, but not right up next to, the ferrule. 
  • If you make a mistake, don’t panic! Either wipe it off with a damp tissue or wait until it is touch dry and paint over it.
  • If paints in your palette begin to form a film, spray with water.
  • If your paints feel too thick, you can dilute with a small amount of water or a medium such as Atelier Interactive’s Clear Painting Medium. 
  • If the paint on the brush becomes blobby, clean it and pick up more paint with the tip of the brush.
  • Remember we’re painting miniatures, you don’t need to squirt out a lot of paint from your tubes, just a pea sized blob at a time will suffice.

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