01 February 2023
Find out more about the work of Tanja, who excels in miniature creations. The accuracy of these makes is simply incredible whether it be a household item, piece of food or model of a well-known actor!
How long have you been making miniatures and what first got you interested in the hobby?
If you had said to me, when I was a kid, that one day I'd spend the majority of my time making tiny replicas of real-life objects with the focus on food, I probably would have given you a strange look. Not because it doesn't sound like the coolest thing ever (it does), but because I didn't know it was a thing. I had no idea that there was an entire community of dolls house collectors until 2011. The first time I can think of, that I was really introduced to the world of 1/12th scale miniatures, was that year. I came across some pictures of miniature food online. At that time, I’d been making simple charms from polymer clay for a short while, but when I saw the little to-scale portions of food, something just clicked, in that little nugget of mine I call a brain, and I decided to have a go at it myself.
I still keep a little box of my first miniatures from that year – just to be able to look back at where it all started and how my work has progressed. I’m not sure what it is about miniatures that seems to captivate people. There's something satisfying about recreating life in a small scale.
For me, I really enjoyed playing with dolls as a kid. I never had a dolls house but would build an apartment for my dolls by stacking two desks on top of each other or having my bed propped up on bricks in each corner so I’d have more room for their ‘living space’ underneath. My favourite part was the little plastic food you could get! Setting up a dinner table or cooking scene. If it was summer time and my dad was getting the grill ready - my dolls would be grilling too. If it was Friday night and we were having pizza or McDonald's - my dolls would be having pizza or burgers as well. I would cut some of the hair off my "Betty Spaghetti" dolls to make pasta. Seeing the 1/12th scale pieces seemed like a better, more grown-up version than that.
What sort of miniatures do you make and why these in particular?
I’m too scatter brained and too inspired by everything around me to stick with just one thing so I’ve had a go at dolls, furniture, animals, ceramics, accessories and more but my main focus has always been the food. Food has always been inspiring to me – I'm not sure why. I think it might be the emotions and memories you associate with it. Where you were and who you were with in situations where particular dishes were served. Do I still enjoy it as much as I did in the beginning? Have I gotten even remotely tired of recreating the same types of food multiple times throughout the years? No. If anything, I am enjoying it so much more than I did back then. Part of that has to do with the progress I've made, but it most definitely also has to do with the fact that I'm less limited now.
As an example; back in 2011 when I used to buy miniature ceramics off eBay, it didn't take long for me to think ''how cool would it be, if I could make ceramics myself?''. At that time, it seemed like a very unrealistic thought - I didn't have much knowledge when it came to that type of equipment, the only reference I had in my head of a kiln, was the big kilns they had in the 'art rooms' of schools. I was living in a small apartment, which I moved into with my boyfriend in the late summer of 2010, clearly not spacious enough for such a kiln, and I most definitely wouldn't have been able to pay for it either. The area I was sitting at the time, when working on my miniatures, was a desk in the corner of our living room.
Fast forward to now; we still live in an apartment, but slightly larger, I have a craft room/studio to work in and I've since learnt that kilns come in much smaller sizes - which are not only a better option financially, but make a lot of sense for someone who only wants to fire miniatures. I now have the supplies and tools needed to work with wood, metal and other materials, which offer new possibilities. So, if anything, I am loving what I do more than ever before, and I am truly grateful that this is something I get to do.
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Where do you get your inspiration from?
Everywhere! Take food, as an example; It can be something as simple as walking through the aisles of a store when going grocery shopping, or being out at a café or restaurant – you see something and you just have to make it. I’m also a big fan of any food related television show or movie and follow hundreds of food photographers and chefs on social media. We’re constantly surrounded by the things we recreate in miniature scale, the hardest thing is picking and choosing what to make with the, with the way too few, hours in the day.
Tell us how you go about creating your work?
No matter what I create, I always begin by figuring out the size of that object – whether it’d be food, animal or a person. For food, I always try to measure the item in real life. With people, it’s fairly easy to figure out the measurements by searching online or measuring yourself/others around you. And luckily for celebrities, if you want to make e.g. an actor or a character as a doll, you can find the height of most of them, by making a quick Google search. Next is finding references. Sometimes I might have the item in front of me, if we just happened to have it in the kitchen, but most of the time I’ll work from pictures. I’ll find good quality pictures that really show the true colours and textures – and different angles as well.
The material I use for most of my work is polymer clay. I don’t think there’s a more versatile medium out there. And then, depending on what I’m making, I’ll add pastel, different types of paint, varnishes and other additional materials to achieve the look I want. I make my own ceramic tableware to use with my food to be able to get the size, colour etc needed, and for animals and dolls I’ll add different types of fibres for the fur/hair and try to find a decent type of fabric for the clothes.
Where do you make your miniatures? Do you have a dedicated craft room?
Yes! My boyfriend was ever so kind to allow me to have the spare room in our apartment – I think for him, it was just a relief to get my stuff out of the way and out of sight. Previously, my setup had been a desk and a few storage units in the corner of our living room… now, I probably could use a larger room but I’m very happy with my little cave.
Do you have a top tip you would like to share with the readers?
My best tip, for making anything in miniature is; measure and use references. Study things with your eyes and take mental notes when you notice details or see something you particularly like about the subject. I keep all my measurements in a notebook and have TONS of pictures, which means I can usually skip the ‘research’ portion of the work.
What do you do with the miniatures you make?
I think I realised, in 2012, that it didn’t make sense to hold on to all of them and at the time I’d been sharing my work online and had received positive feedback. So together with a friend of mine, who was also making miniatures, we started looking for fairs within the borders of Denmark. I haven’t been to a fair since 2015 though, now I sell all my miniatures through my website.
Do you have a favourite project?
It’s so difficult for me to choose a favourite… mostly because you can’t truly compare the different categories. An apple, even if it looks really good, is not as difficult to create as one of the portrait dolls. And even within the same category, one object, effect or face can be easier to capture than others. But one of the pieces has to be my ‘Dame Maggie Smith as Mrs. Crawley’ miniature doll. I really enjoyed working on her and had fun with a lot of aspects of the process for that one including designing, printing and even dying the fabric for the dress to get a little closer compared to the materials I could find in shops! To view more of Tanja’s work visit her website.
Dame Maggie Smith
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