Making miniature animals: We talk to Bridget McCarty

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16 March 2023
Bridget McCarty shares her love for creating huggable, furry creatures - in miniature!

Bridget’s huggable animals and familiar figures come straight from the pages of storybooks we’ve all loved since childhood. Lewis Carroll’s zany characters from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’, Beatrix Potter’s delightful cast of furry and feathered creatures, and Walt Disney’s beloved animations have all inspired Bridget’s art. 

Miniature Alice in Wonderland inspired scene

When she first burst upon the miniature scene almost two decades ago, Bridget’s unique style was immediately identifiable. Not content to craft just stand-alone figures, she often creates entire vignettes that instantly tell a story. From our beloved childhood books to the heroes of our favourite animated films, her work speaks to the child in all of us. Miniatures certainly spoke to her as a child growing up in Southern California.

“The first time I saw a miniature, I was in my grandma’s walk-in closet. She had a shelf full of tiny items from around the world and she specifically told me not to touch them. Of course, it piqued my curiosity and I asked my mother for a chair to stand upon and have a closer look. I promised my grandma I could safely touch them and to illustrate that fact I made her some tiny paper craft castles. They were small enough to fit onto a cotton ball and I rolled pink paper as the turrets and cut ridges and doors in the front of each. She loved the castles so much; she added them to her collection. I was so proud.” 

Miniature animals

Later on, Bridget’s older brother, Juan, made her a small half-scale dolls house out of craft sticks. She loved painting and playing with it until one day as she was taking it down from a shelf, it fell. Every stick shattered and so did her heart. 

“My first traumatic experience with miniatures,” Bridget recalls, “led Juan to buy me a Heritage dolls house kit; my first true dolls house. I watched him build it, piece by piece. It slowly began to tilt and by the time its glue had dried, the house was canted sideways. I loved that slanted dolls house so I assume that is where I learned to give my art that whimsical touch.”

A debut in the San Fernando Valley

With a mother who was a wall muralist, Bridget learned how to properly paint. Mum also served as the perfect role model for Bridget; independent and self-employed. Surrounded by Hollywood’s vibrant film industry, Bridget loved cartoons and animation. She studied character design and background layout at the Animation Academy and currently freelances with Disney Company, creating fine art paintings for their theme parks galleries. 

Miniature bookcase

Freelancing allows her to create her miniatures and travel to shows without being tied down in the office nine to five. It's the miniature fairs that really get Bridget’s creative juices flowing. “My first miniature show was at a Tom Bishop venue in the San Fernando Valley. I was so blown away! I needed to figure out how such amazing little creations were made no matter how long it took. Miniatures are definitely something that inspires a “love at first sight” feeling for me.”

When Bridget first began making miniatures, it was for her own personal enjoyment.  She longed to create something on the level of the professional artisans. She never envisioned selling her work until she showed a few friendly dealers what she had made and they expressed belief they were good enough to sell. Her first show proved to be a rousing success and Bridget, like her mother before her, became self-employed. She’s never looked back.

Making miniature animals

Miniature Easter scene

“Creating small, furry characters is what I love best,” Bridget says. “I stick to medium or long-haired pets like cats, Yorkshire terriers, Maltese and Poodles. Bunnies have become a new best seller as have hedgehogs. Small pets are something I find adorable because I am an animal lover. 

Looking for for miniature inspiration? Discover Nichola Battilana’s spectacular miniature homage to the world of Beatrix Potter, with this adorable rabbit house.

I currently live near Pasadena with my two fluffy white cats. They are both a source of company and inspiration, so cats are first on my list. Secondly, small dogs and hamsters. I’m not into creating fish or birds but I do them once in a while if asked. I stay away from animals that feel too complicated or that don’t inspire me.”

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Miniature cats

What does inspire is that burst of creativity she gets after seeing a photo or image that piques her interest. It could be as simple as glimpsing an on-line image or a beautiful Christmas card with animals dozing by the fire. Sometimes a collector will send photos of their pets for Bridget to recreate.

“If I create something I really love, I end up keeping it,” Bridget laughs. “I also collect so it’s almost like Bridget gets first choice at Bridget’s table! I also enjoy seeing collectors’ reactions to my pieces. It lets me know they're going to good homes. I love getting photos of my pieces settled in their new places.”

Miniature Easter rabbit

Beginning with polymer clay, Bridget forms her figures over wire armatures that can be bent and posed for the desired look. “Sometimes you get that extra bit of life-like pose in each animal just by bending the tail or head a little bit.” After the form takes shape, she applies layers of faux fur. Once the glue dries, she carefully snips the excess fur with scissors. 

Paws and heads are formed from Sculpey and she paints the handmade eyes before adding more fur. Bows, ribbons, and accessories are added towards the end. And of course, no storybook character would be complete without the proper costume.

Easter bunny

Her favourite fabrics are soft pastels in cotton or silk that lends itself to proper draping. Many craft store fabrics have patterns too large and colours too bold so it’s best to find these at miniature shows. 

“I love dressing creatures but my challenge is that it’s not my specialty,” Bridget confesses. “I have taken a few classes in it but it definitely takes me twice as long as the professional costuming artist. I can achieve the look I want but I feel like I could expand my knowledge in that area. I’ve learned by making many mistakes.”

Miniature Bunnies

Whilst waiting for the glue dry Bridget creates more than one character at a time, which can take several hours. Meanwhile she’s working on something else. It can be 3-10 characters, depending on what stage they are in. Bridget loves waking up around 10am but ends up staying up well past midnight creating. Her studio is a table in the kitchen. Like many miniature artists, she doesn’t require a huge space to work in, but there are times her work tends to travel from the kitchen table to other parts of the house. 

“When I’m truly inspired, I don’t think about where I’m working until the area becomes a total mess and can’t expand any further. I mostly like sunlight in the workspace and a few very bright spot lights. I don’t use glasses or magnifying lenses, which most people find amazing. My tools are very basic but I use my fingers and small scissors the most.”

Miniature bunny in a basket

For a time, much of Bridget’s work were commissions but she soon appreciated she’s much more productive when making what inspires her most. “My favourite commissions are where the collector lets me do what I like or feel like creating. I currently have four commissions but I get requests consistently.” Bridget really only has one advice for collectors desiring a commission, “I have received various bags of cut animal fur in the mail. It’s not necessary for me to use your own pet’s fur because I only use my own special supplies to make miniatures. You can definitely keep your pet’s fur at home and I’ll love you for it!

Bridget’s work can be found at her show tables at Tom Bishop’s Chicago International, Miniatures West in California, Good Sam Showcase of Miniatures, Dallas Miniature Showcase, Denver Miniatures Museum and the Philadelphia Miniaturia. 

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