17 February 2021
Explore the magical world of fairy houses and beyond… We talk to Gemma Harris of Little Folk about how her interest in nature developed into making mystical miniature creations, what inspires her and how she creates her pieces. Plus, enjoy images of her beautiful work!
How long have you been making miniatures?
I’ve been making to sell since June of 2019. I’d been working in my husband’s businesses for over a decade and whilst we work really well together, I felt it was time I branched out and created my own little niche again. Historically, my work roles have been creative (design, photography, copywriting, etc.) but I always felt there was an itch I hadn’t quite scratched.
What got your first interested in making miniatures?
I think the ingredients that moulded to form the Little Folk pursuit have been building from the get-go. From a young age I was drawn to nature – foraging the wood floor for interesting feathers, cones and flowers and combing along holiday shores for shells and knotted and gnarly driftwood. I was mesmerised watching insects living in their tiny world and my go-to bedtime stories were always those set within fantasy pocket-sized lands – The Borrowers, The Elves and The Shoemakers or The Faraway Tree.
I was also fascinated by all things folk or slightly witchy – worry dolls and dreamcatchers, gemstones and fossils. I did an arts based degree near the coast and the wilds of Exmoor and have always loved crafting with all the natural booty I find – selling landscape photography, making dreamcatchers and Christmas decorations.
As a distracting, relaxing outlet when I was struggling to conceive, I made a few pieces of fairy furniture from twigs and found objects for my youngest niece who was enchanted by all things ‘fairy’ at the time. It was cathartic and magical to create this miniature world for her which I too could get lost in and, by submerging myself in a child’s mind it reignited my own imagination – because kids are the experts in that field!
What sort of miniatures do you make and why these in particular?
I create fairy houses built to look like tree hollows, filled with driftwood four poster beds, or spell shops stocked full of wands, scrolls, potion jars and gemstones. I make a popular wall hung dormer window which is lit with twinkly lights from the rear. These look lovely as décor, but also make great presents – especially to warm up winter walls!
Two storey fairy hollow with reading room and bedroom, watch tower and swing, complete with dormer window and direction board. Pictured by day.
I also make individual pieces like love seats and woodland thrones, as well as wands and staffs topped with crystals, freestanding fairy doors and fairy couture outfits which are either draped on a miniature mannequin or presented in a box frame so they can be hung up. With the exception of the boxed couture fairy outfits, they’re all sized to 1/12th and, selfishly, I’ve come to make those particular creations simply because they’re what the child in me would have been enraptured with.
Woodland glade thrones, fit for any fairy!
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Predominantly from nature – what’s right at the end of our nose if we could just pause and take a closer look. When I walk the dogs, they take advantage of plenty of pauses as I peer into tree hollows, photograph twirling vines wrapped around a sagging branch of berries or watch would-be fairies skimming across the stream and catching the light.
I discovered the beautiful and ethereal work of American couple Mike and Debbie Schramer years ago and it started my love affair with fairy art. But when I started Little Folk I also spent a good 2-3 months experimenting. Without wanting to some of my early pieces just didn’t feel right to me. I think I was unconsciously mirroring other people’s work too closely without wanting to. I almost threw in the towel last spring for that reason but then pulled out all the boxes of materials I’ve collected over the years, put the radio on, made myself a brew, trusted my instincts and stopped over thinking it. The Little Folk style really did fall into its own rhythm from that day on.
Nowadays, the challenge is too many ideas and not enough time. And whilst I’m a bit of a social media sceptic on a personal level, I do think Instagram is a wonderful platform of inspiration for creatives – it’s the largest community of ideas together in one spot and, so far, I’ve found there’s a warming mutual support and respect amongst makers whether they’re professional or hobbyists – I’m happily somewhere in between the two!
Wall hung driftwood and bark dormer window, lit by twinkling fairy lights.
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Tell us how you go about creating your work?
Not very commercially! The magic is in the making for me. So, whilst I do have quite a defined set of pieces I make, the real passion is sparked up when I do one-of-a-kind projects or commissions. Once I’m in a position where I need to make six of something I get artist’s fog and find it a little less motivating. So, I’d say I create organically.
I set out with clear intentions – something always goes wrong or not quite the way I’d like it part way through and somehow each piece surprises me at the end and looks different from the idea I started out with. It’s rather like warming up for a race too. I always have a finite time I can spend in the workshop around caring for our three-year-old, but that urgency doesn’t stop me from messing around and procrastinating for a while.
I was the same when I used to do photography – there’s a definite period of warming up before I get in a rhythm for the job at hand. I’m no good at drawing so I don’t sketch my ideas out, but I have a background in a creative agency and interior design so mostly I make quick mood boards of an idea I have before I head into the workshop to make it a reality (or fantasy – depending on how you look at it!).
Gold dripped birch twig staffs, decorated with beads, gemstones and feathers and topped by a healing chakra point – a must for all the best spells in town!
Do you have a favourite material to work with such as wood, etc?
Well, fairies live in woodland communities, underground kingdoms, in our gardens or near water so to make them feel at home I try to work with mostly natural materials.
“Natural” accounts for a combination of things I’ve found myself – like driftwood, shells, pods and cones, feathers and pressed and dried flowers – and floristry supplies I buy in like bark pieces, moss, lichen and twine.
Boxed fairy couture dress and fascinator – The Blush Dove Debutante Gown & Fascinator, last worn at the Veiled Jewel Ball by Shimmer Spry of Ellyllon.
I’ve had a few creative guises over the years and they all rear their head at some point, so from the interiors days my magpie eye is responsible for amassing leftover fabrics, lace and yarn and I love nothing more than trailing antique stores and incorporating vintage brooches or trinkets into my work too.
Where do you make your miniatures? Do you have a dedicated craft room?
I’m insanely lucky. We converted a disused, Edwardian outhouse – which looks more like a beautiful tiled cottage – into my workshop. The Pump House hides a historic spring which still pumps water to the neighbouring farm and cottages. It’s cool in the summer and pretty chilly in the winter, but I have a log burner, a terrier or two and the frequent hum of the pump motor to keep me company – and plenty of room to house all the boxes and baskets of materials I collect!
Wide view of The Pump House with Gemma's work bench.
A view of The Pump House with wood burner, driftwood seasoning and basket of dried foliage and grasses and feathers.
Do you have a top tip you’d like to share?
I think nourishing your passion or hobby is really important in the current day. We live in a very frenetic, over stimulating, pressured world by and large, so I would say indulge yourself – think of a project but enjoy the exploration to its completion, rather than racing to do so.
This hobbyist job is undoubtedly my version of doing a little yoga each day! Making something to display or sell is always going to be personal – you’re potentially laying yourself open to criticism, so the journey is more valuable than reaching the destination.
What do you do with the miniatures you make?
I sell most of them – through my Instagram page, on Etsy and I also have a small shop space at our rural pub and food market, The Muddy Duck, in Oxfordshire. This means I get the best of both worlds – I have stock to sell and keep me ticking over, but I’m also open to commissions and end up meeting a wonderful patchwork of miniature, fantasy-loving individuals (most of whom are more big kid than little kid!). For those pieces that don’t sell, I’m very at home with the idea of keeping them as heirlooms for our daughter to enjoy.
Discarded fairy couture pieces on mannequins.
Do you have a favourite project?
Any kind of creative practice is really personal, and I’m always surprised that customers are drawn to the pieces I’m least happy with and those I’m very proud of stay on the shelves a little longer than I’d anticipated... So, every job is a surprise and a favourite in that respect. But I love any project when I know the story or intent behind the purchase or commission. My own sister means the world to me and I had one lady who bought a group of products to surprise her fairy loving sister – she was critically ill at the time which made the job and the gesture all the more special.
I have a group of loyal, repeat customers so it’s always fun creating something for them because I know a little more about them and will sometimes include some surprise details by way of a thank you. I’m a busy bee and live by lists and darting around at 100mph, so it’s surprising that my favourite Little Folk projects are sometimes the first of something I create, where time is not of the essence and I can really live up to my head-in-the-clouds star sign and get lost in the fantasy…
Find out more
From fantasy to modern… meet Marloes Oliedam of Ollie’s Dollhouse who shares her contemporary, Scandi-style miniatures!