It's a small world: Artist Kimberly Jansen specializes in miniature works
WORTHINGTON — One of the most difficult aspects of Kimberly Jansen’s artistic endeavors is signing her name to them. She has to use a magnifying glass to get the job done, because most of her paintings are only an inch or two in size. To complicate the matter, she has to add the initials MAA after her name, denoting membership in the prestigious Miniature Artists of America.
“It’s a society for the ‘top miniature artists in the world,’” explained Kimberly, verbally adding in the quote marks. “There are only around 80 in the world in this society.”
Kimberly gained entry into the MAA in 2006 and was one of the artists featured in a book published for the association’s 25th anniversary in 2010, “Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America.”
To qualify for the MAA standards, a miniature artwork “can’t be more than 25 square inches, and anything in it (the subject matter) can’t be more than one-sixth actual size,” explained Kimberly, whose own works tend to be on the smaller end of the realm.
Nailing down an occupation
While she was growing up in Worthington, Kimberly — the daughter of Jim and Joanne Johnson and a 1978 graduate of Worthington High School —knew exactly the career path she wanted to pursue.
“I always gave the same answer — an artist,” she said. “I never wavered.”
In high school, she mostly hung out in the band room and the art room, Kimberly recalled. During summer months, she took art lessons at the art center in nearby Okoboji, Iowa.
After high school graduation, Kimberly attended cosmetology school, where she discovered her talent for painting on small spaces.
“One day, we had to polish each other’s nails, and for an assignment they told us to go home and do nail art on one of our nails,” Kimberly remembered. “Well, I had no idea what nail art was. So I did a mountain scene with a chairlift and a skier going down the slope. When I got back to class, I see that all the others had done things with dots, stripes. The teacher looked at mine and said, ‘What are you doing here?”
In her cosmetology career, Kimberly developed a reputation as a nail artist. Customers would bring in photos, and she would re-create the image on their nails. One of her customers encouraged her to enter her artwork — on canvas, not nails — in a prestigious local art show, and from there she began to enter more shows.
“Tulsa has a great art center … and they commissioned me to do paintings of the grounds and gardens in 1- by 1½-inch frames that they sold in the gift shop,” Kimberly said. “I spent a lot of time there, just painting. That opened doors for a lot of things, too.”
Eventually Kimberly gave up her cosmetology occupation and moved to Durango, Colo., to concentrate on her art. She knew her small works were novel, but had no idea there was a whole niche of the art world devoted to it.
“I was working in this gallery one day, and the frame salesman came through and looked at my wall and said, ‘Who does these miniature paintings? Do you enter the miniature show in Colorado Springs?’
“‘What? There’s a miniature show?’” Kimberly remembered thinking.
It was an encounter that changed her artistic life.
Once Kimberly was introduced to the world of miniature art, she delved into it with a passion. Now she enters shows all over the country, shipping off her works in easy-to-mail boxes — an advantage of the small size.
Currently, there are six miniature shows going on — Florida, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, North Dakota and two in Montana — and Kimberly has pieces in all of them.
About a year ago, Kimberly moved back to her hometown, settling in a small house with room for a studio on the second floor. She has a daughter who still lives in Tulsa and two grandchildren. For a while, she helped out at her family’s local jewelry store and more recently has been employed at the Buffalo Billfold Co., sewing leather goods.
But most of the time Kimberly can be found in her home studio, working on her petite paintings. Her preferred medium for the tiny creations is colored pencil, although she also dabbles in acrylic, oil and some mixed media.
“I sharpen a lot,” she said with a laugh about the high-quality art pencils she utilizes. “I go through more sharpening than actually using the pencil. I just like the way you can layer the colors to create your own color. You are actually mixing the colors on the paper rather than on a palette. The other thing I like about pencil is it doesn’t dry. You don’t spend all that time mixing up color, and then the phone rings and when you come back, it’s dry.”
Although some shows have abstract categories, the miniature art world is mostly focused on realism, and Kimberly’s subject matter usually comes from nature. She uses photographs for inspiration, combining elements from different ones into original compositions.
“Colored pencil is very time-consuming,” she said. “If I would set up a still life with a flower, I’m not going to get it done before it wilts.
“… I have so many painting ideas — albums of photos,” she elaborated. “I have friends that send me pictures from their vacations that I may want to work into paintings. I don’t copy photos. I take something out of one, something out of another.”
While she was living in Tulsa, Kimberly began doing some paintings on a canvas that was more unusual than human nails — broken pieces of ostrich egg shell.
“I have a friend who has an ostrich ranch, and she got me going on that,” Kimberly explained. “I would do jewelry and ornaments that she would take to shows — she liked it because it set her booth apart. Every year at an art show in Tulsa that was a benefit for the Tulsa Philharmonic, I would sell around 400 a year.”
The shells are remnants left behind after the ostrich chicks hatch and are actually quite thick and durable.
“I don’t know how those little babies get out of there,” Kimberly said.
For the Holiday Exhibit and Sale that opens Sunday at the Nobles County Art Center in Worthington, Kimberly created about 30 ostrich shell ornaments and jewelry. She will also sell some limited edition prints and have several miniature paintings to showcase.
“I did the Area Art Show there last April, and it brought back some memories,” Kimberly noted about the Worthington gallery, located in the lower level of the library building. “The first show I was ever in was down there. I was 16, maybe. I walked in, and I had gotten three awards. I was over the top with excitement. It was so encouraging.”
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth
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