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Career

Queen of tiny: Why I love recreating everything I see in miniature

Karen Joyce is a miniaturist, crafting elaborately detailed replicas of real-life scenes.

By Julie Jacobson
"I used to own a hairdressing salon. One of my clients, a lovely lady, came in one day talking about how she made miniatures. I'd never heard of miniature making, but she said, 'Oh, we've got an open day over at Ellerslie. Why don't you come along and have a look?'
I talked my husband Bernard into it, over we drove and there were people making these absolutely delightful little buildings and things. I thought, 'Wow, this is neat, I can do this.' That was about 14 years ago.
I had dolls as a child, but I wouldn't say I was passionate about them. Miniature work is more about the craft for me − the actual making and building, rather than the dolls, whereas some people absolutely love the doll-making part of that.
And it's not dollhouses as such, it's more what I would call miniature scenes or replicas of real life.
I belong to the Waitakere Miniature Makers Club in Auckland. It's an extraordinary little club, hidden away − though not on purpose − in
the beautiful Tui Glen Reserve in the heart of Henderson. The park is used by families for picnics and that sort of thing, and right in the middle is a little Scout den and that's where the 17 members meet once a month to work on our projects.
The devil is in the detail! Karen's miniature house has all the trimmings, from a spinning wheel to food.
I work in 1:12 scale (some-times called a one-inch scale), which is the most common and gained popularity after being used in Queen Mary's 1924 dollhouse, but there's a lot of people doing 1:48 scale these days, and there's one in our group who does 1:6 scale which is the 'fashion doll' or Barbie doll scale.
I have an area at home – it used to be a lounge – that's become my craft room. It has a couple of big worktables in it that are used by a group of ladies who come here on Wednesdays to make things.
We all have lovely tool boxes full of what I imagine gentlemen would have in their tool boxes, they're just ladies' ones. There are craft knives, scissors, pliers, double-sided tape, clamps, glues, sandpaper, paints and brushes. Plus, I have a skill saw and a bench saw, but they're out in the garage.
The first thing I ever made was a little letterbox house with an upstairs and a downstairs. I've also made a gypsy wagon, but it's sitting in a box at the moment, which is a shame.
In 2011, I was lucky enough to join a group of fellow miniaturists at a week-long workshop, held by American artist Rik Pierce, where we each built the wooden framework for a medieval market hall. It took me a year to finish the clay exterior to make the stone walls and paint it, and then another year to make all the furniture. There was quite a bit of research that went into that piece. It's probably what I'm most proud of.
Since then, I've put together a Victorian-era house and I've made a shop scene − there's a hair salon at the top and under that is a tea shop. Its hairbrushes are made from the little brushes you use to clean between your teeth, and the food and crockery is made from painted Fimo (modelling clay).
I'm not so keen on making food, it leaves me cold really, but some people just love it. I much prefer making little chairs and other bits of furniture. I do sets of wicker furniture, made from wood, cake wire and wax linen thread. We use tweezers to pick up and place tiny bits and bobs and beads, and yes, at times I do use a magnifying glass, especially when I have to paint tiny detail on something.
As a prize for our club open day raffle, I've offered a little retro-style caravan I made. It has a kitchen scene inside – there's jandals and gingham cushion covers, and things such as milk cartons and cracker biscuits.
I'm currently doing an antique shop, using whatever bits and bobs I've got. It has a china cabinet, which I'm slowly putting the china into, and there's a little cane pram that I made, a rocking horse and some pieces of furniture.
"It takes a lot of time and patience" to make minis such as this retro pram, says Karen.
You can spend as much or as little as you like, really. You can buy a lot of pieces online and there's some fabulous kits around too, but I much prefer making what I can by hand.
The family can't help but be involved. Bernard became quite hooked once I started making things and he's ended up making a beautiful replica of the Endeavour, though that was from a kit. And my mum Margaret has made the most beautiful lace bedspreads for some of my miniatures, using tiny little needles.I have a lovely painting that my dad Charlie did of me making miniatures. It's hanging in my craft room and it shows just how intense I get. If anybody has ever captured me as I am, he has.
There's a national miniature makers association that holds a convention every two years, where we show our work. The shows aren't competitive because there's a huge variety of work and what one person might think is fabulous someone else won't.
There are some amazingly clever people involved in miniatures. I can't say I'm particularly good at it because I've been taught how to make these lovely things by lots of very talented people.
Nothing matches the exhilaration of helping conceive and create something that has no purpose other than to give people pleasure. That's how I see my little hobby."

Quick-fire:

If you could go back in time, what period would you like to visit?
The 16th century to visit the court of Henry VIII to hear the musicians play, to have a wander around the palace and maybe attend a ceremony to see the best of fashions at the time.
What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
Dad told me once you must have the right glue for the right job. Miniaturists have many varying types of glue. Whatever you are doing, it has got to stick!
The first thing you would save in a fire?
Without a doubt the first thing I would grab would be Hadlee, my little Yorkshire terrier friend.

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