Nature’s miniature tapestry: Creating miniature birds

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16 March 2023
Discover the inspiration behind Laura Brownhill's stunning nature-inspired miniatures.

The first snowdrops will soon poke their brave little heads through the ground, but for now, as the icy grip of the bleak midwinter takes hold, ensuring our garden birds are well fed is an important step in reaching the promise of spring. As an artist whose talent thrives on recreating the natural world in small scale, Laura Brownhill captures the essence of winter in the garden with her tiny bird tables, featuring small flocks of long-tailed tits as they peck amongst the apples and seed. Titled ‘Winter Feast’, her snow-covered wooden garden table and chairs also finds itself put to seasonal use, becoming the restaurant of choice for robins, blue tits, goldfinches and squirrels.

Miniature bird table and birds

Laura’s surname will be a familiar one to miniaturists going back several decades. As the granddaughter of Jan and the late Paul Brownhill of Country Treasures, Laura has firm foundations in miniature art. “My grandparents have always been supportive and encouraged me in everything I do. Even from a young age me and my sister would be making food for our dolls house with Nan or painting the little paper plates my grandad made. I wouldn’t be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for them.

My nan taught me the tricks of the trade and my grandad always has a critical eye for scale and detail which guided me and helped me improve my work.” Flying the nest to study geology and geography at university, Laura let exam stress ebb away by creating what would become her very first professional miniatures. These little butterflies and illustrated miniature books went on to sell well at the dolls house shows they were exhibited at on Laura’s behalf by her grandparents.

Miniature butterfly books

It was through time spent as a volunteer at the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust that began to see Laura’s future take a more formal artistic direction. It was also an experience she says was initially responsible for her discovering what would become an abiding interest in ornithology. “This was around the same time I decided to have a go at making and selling my first ever miniature birds. The first bird I chose to make was a little red robin. I think this was the moment when I found that I could really combine my interest in nature with my creative work.

Following on from the Wildlife Trust I got a job as a trainee environmental consultant and spent my days working on sites around the UK but dreaming about what little bird I was going to make next when I got home, as well as preparing for the next dolls house show. I soon realised that I wanted to pursue a more creative role and I finally decided to make the jump and go full time with my miniatures in 2014.”

Miniature robin on wellies

Today, Laura is the driving force behind the fantastic Country Treasures Etsy store, but you can also discover her work for yourself at an exciting new venture in Thornbury, near Bristol. Recent pieces on display and on sale at The Art Barn have included a robin stood on a pair of green wellies, a wintry bird table and for those who can’t wait for spring, blue tits perched on nest boxes. “The Art Barn was established in 2020 by one of my friend’s parents who invited me to have my work there from the start,” says Laura. “It’s been a really lovely experience and also a great way to meet other local artists. I am the only miniaturist there, so I always get a lot of comments on how small the scale is and the detail!”

This blog originally featured in the January 2022 issue of Dolls House & Miniature Scene. Enjoy miniature inspiration, projects, and more every month with a subscription! View our fantastic range of offers.

Miniature bird box with blue tits

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For those searching for something even more seasonal than the bird tables, Laura’s stunning selection of wintry baubles are a must. These clear globes each feature a complete snowy scene. Robins, blackbirds, blue tits and even a foraging squirrel, can be found perched on branches thick with fresh snow, surrounded by bright red berries. An inspired way of bringing miniatures to a wider audience! “I began making baubles in 2017 as a way to share my work with people who may not have a dolls house but would like to collect a piece. I create each little snowy setting on a round wooden base and then fix it into the bauble. I just think it’s a lovely way for collectors to share their hobby with others.”

Miniature baubles with birds

A number of Laura’s birds, such as her exquisite female bullfinches, capture that split-second moment in time of a beat on the wing. But just how complex is it to create a bird in flight or with other finely crafted details such as the long-tailed tit? “It’s a process which requires a lot of patience and a steady hand,” admits Laura. “I sculpt every little bird by hand from clay and then paint them with very fine brushes. It’s taken me a few years to get to the stage I am and I hope that they will only improve with time! The birds in flight are particularly hard to make as the wings are so thin and delicate, I have to be so careful when sculpting them by hand.” 

Miniature bullfinches

When it comes to inspiration for Laura’s designs, immersing herself in the natural world proves key and something which afforded her the opportunity to see one of Britain’s most magnificent birds. “In August I was walking down the riverside and saw the bright blue flash of a kingfisher, which is so exciting to see. I also saw a little wren eating a caterpillar on a dry-stone wall which I now need to recreate in miniature.

I try to get outside as much as possible and find the beautiful autumnal colours and frosty winter months the most motivating for my work. Also exploring large old houses or antiques fairs and seeing all the curiosities under domes or in cases is hugely inspirational. I also have a love for books and have old illustrated bird books I like to look through when I can’t decide what to do next.”

Miniature long tailed tits

Laura shares hopes of bringing her work to an even wider audience in the future through attending international shows, something sure to thrill fans of her work. For now, though, she has some excellent advice. “Time flies by so quickly, bird pun intended, so just take a moment to stop and look out the window or to watch the birds in the street as it’s really wonderful to see how nature can be found wherever you are in the world,” she says. “But also, that with our hobby we have the joy of being able to bring all this beauty indoors and recreate in miniature scenes to look at every day.” Laura is fast making a name for herself in the world of miniature art and undoubtedly has a great future ahead of her. One for her late grandfather, Paul to be extremely proud of.

See more from Laura on her Instagram page.

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