Wednesday, January 13, 2010

in the papers today.....

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and in my very terrible translation of it...

Can touch, cannot eat
miniature food mistakenly taken for real

miniature foodmaking isn't a very popular hobby locally, but in the past 2 years it has increasingly attracted new enthusiasts, the mini food circle is rather large and some have even attracted international magazines and attention online. (i probably misunderstood most of it, doesn't make sense in english LOL HELP!)

although the foods are detailed, interest and passion is strong, to compete with the international miniaturists market and become a full-time miniaturist, is not an easy feat. let's listen to 5 food miniaturists share their joys and difficulties, see how they use clay to make these dreamy food shapes. (eh? lol literal translation makes it all wonky)

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donuts, breads, crepes made out of clay, each cute and small, even smaller than a 5 cent coin, can easily fit over 10 items in a palm. no matter from far or near, all of them can be mistaken for real foods, some even more detailed than the real stuff itself. (huh?)

over the past 2 years, these "can see cannot eat" miniature foods have captured quite many locals' hearts, majority of fans are collectors, some try to make these and sell their works. although there are no official figures on the number of miniaturists in singapore, an insider revealed that the number of miniaturists who have achieved a professional standard but number no more than 20.

locally, the most famous miniaturist would be madam ang, from 2004 she has made miniature foods, initially under tutelage from teachers in Thailand and Hongkong, she has added her own initiative and developed her skills, and had many faithful customers from the start. madam ang specializes in mini steamed cakes, and angkukueh, both of which are very popular. many customers purchase them and place them on their altars.

in 2008, she opened a store in Sunshine plaza, at the same time she holds classes there. she has had approximately 50 students since, ages ranging from 8-58.

she says, "there's no lack in people who are keen, however the lessons are not cheap, and one must have plenty of patience. many don't take the first step, or if they do, give up mid-way"

Self-taught Miniaturists

even with a professional teacher it has been found that they give up mid-way, perhaps due to lack of passion or interest. in comparison, some miniaturists are wholly self-taught, this sort of passion and seriousness is precious indeed.

amidst the local food miniaturists, Zheng Yanling (33), Stephanie Koesuma (23) and Zhang AiWei(22)'s works lights up the eyes, like Zheng Yanling's works, which have been featured on CDHM and a Spanish miniaturist magazine (OMG BLUSH). They have over the last 2 years started making miniature foods, Indonesian Stephanie picked up her skills from an Indonesian teacher, Zheng Yanling and Zhang AiWei are wholly self-taught.

Rushing through the night, Getting hungrier and hungrier

after graduating last year from NUS, Zhang AiWei got hooked on miniature foods after viewing Angie Scarr's works, a partially peeled miniature orange.

she says, "although i've seen many miniature foods in the past, they were mostly mass produced goods, and looked rather fake, therefore unable to capture my interest. However Angie Scarr's mini orange looked extremely cute, moreover it was extremely realistic, so i decided to give it a try."

"at that time, i'd already started sculpting with Korean air dry clay, it dries rather quickly so i decided to try out another medium, polymer clay, and there has been no looking back since."

"there are countless tutorials on the web, moreover there are pictures and videos as well, extremely well-suited to autodidacts. however, faced with so many foods, during the sculpting process one often feels ones' mouth itch, especially in the dead of the night, the more i sculpt, the hungrier i get!"

Zheng Yanling started out with Sylvanian Families, and got hooked on miniatures since. she thinks that although sylvanian families toys are rather well made, the foods leave much to be desired. so she started looking for more realistic miniature foods. eventually, she found a picture on flickr that captured her attention. (i mentioned Petitplat but i guess being vague is better for a 'general' article on local miniaturists?)

she says, "it didn't look too difficult to do, and my heart started itching to try, however there was so much to learn. bf bought all the materials for me, however i daren't start immediately. i spent a whole month researching and collecting a treasure trove of information before attempting to make any."

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Hard work and perseverence to produce results

be it self-taught or taking lessons, practice and experience are necessary. recent graduate from La Selle Stephanie, has plenty of experience in the arts, she first picked up her basic skills from a teacher in Indonesia, and through her own experiments and trials, tried different methods in order to produce extremely realistic miniature sculpts.

she says, "there is no strict rule on how to make the models, often it is through experimentation that you get results. the cappucino for example, simply using the clay will not give you a realistic frothy texture, sand must be added to produce it."

overseas, there's quite a number of miniature specialists who turn their hobby into a business, and for a living, one miniature chocolate can sell for a few tens of USD, moreover customers keep coming back for more. howevr local miniaturists say, turning this into a profession is rife with obstacles, and this interest is best left as a hobby rather than as a career.

in both business and experience, madam ang says, "locally there are many thai imports of mini foods, and due to the low material and labour costs, the prices are kept low. in comparison, our works wind up costing more, several potential customers are shocked by the price tag and retreat, thinking we deliberately raise our prices. many customers don't understand, just a small cake, would require several hours in order to complete it, inclusive of work hours, can you consider 10+ dollars for a cake expensive?" (sorry, really don't know how to translate this properly)

Prices offered by local customers are scary

the troubling issue faced by local miniaturists is, local customers love to haggle over prices, and the prices offered are terrible. some customers think, a small cake should cost no more than 3-4 dollars, for them to consider purchasing it. when selling online, buyers are often collectors or international customers, hence price slashing situations are seldom encountered.

Zheng Yanling confesses, when selling her items, the biggest obstacle is often pricing. because these are miniatures, each item requires not all that much material-wise, nor are the material costs very high, however there are other considerations, like workmanship and work hours, paints, and utility bills (polymer clay requires use of an oven) that have to be kept in mind. problem is, customers often only think of the clay as the base material, thus coming to the (wrong) conclusion that the items are overpriced.

Zheng Yanling says, "pricing our work low would be debasing our works to rubbish. each item is a labour of love, if i were to let it go for little to nothing, then i'd rather not sell them."

she has taken the advice and suggestions of other miniaturists and researched the market prices on the items, however kept reminding herself not to price too highly. for example, a month ago while selling at a local doll event named "The Doll Affair", she took into consideration the fact that doll owners prefer to spend their money on accessories and clothes, whereas props are mostly used for photoshoots, so if priced too highly, the doll collectors might not be willing to purchase the props.

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Picked as one of "Asia's Top 10 Handmade Gifts"

currently in the IT line, Zhen PeiLi has been making miniatures for over 4 years. other than miniature foods, she also makes accompanying dollhouse accessories such as mini trays and furniture etc. although she has sold her works on Etsy, her work has garnered favourable attention, and was voted as one of CNNGo's "Asia's Top 10 Handmade Gifts". however, she still views miniatres as a hobby rather than a full-time career.

currently, she sells anywhere from 1-10 items a month, customers from Europe, Japan and Australia, but the prices depend on level of difficulty, priced from USD7.90 (SGD11+) up to USD100++.
Zhen Pei Li says, "Miniature making is enjoyed by a small circle of enthusiast, whether it will become popular, will have to depend on how deep an interest is developed. as the difficulty level increases, the time required to make them increases as well, so it would require lots of planning and patience. if one were to convert the hobby into a career, there would be many points to consider. ultimately, the most important thing is passion, to do it because you love it. other than motivation, creativity, imagination, you would require capital as well as business sense."

although requirements are plentiful, as well as difficulties that come up, local miniature food makers still swim against the current, like madam ang, zheng yanling and zhang aiwei all hope wholeheartedly to turn this into a full-time job. on the whole, other than selling their works, they also accept commissions.

affectionately referred to as "Madam Ang", she frankly admits that it is difficult to become rich making miniatures, but also reluctantly admits that sales are 'ok'. other than her store in Sunshine Plaza, she occasionally rents a cart at VivoCity during promotional seasons, to raise awareness as well as promote her works. madam ang does not frequent the internet, therefore does not offer her items for sale online.

The web is an effective platform for sales
to the majority of miniaturists, the web is their main avenue for sales, and the most popular platform would be the handmade webstore, Etsy. however, the number of sellers on Etsy can run into the hundred-thousands, to attract the attention of buyers, why not take zheng yanling's suggestion: join a team that sells and promotes items similar to yours, help out each other, as well as tagging accurately in order to more easily search for your works.

participation in events and exhibits, not only helps raise your name, it also raises your visibility to local communities, as well as raise awareness to your customers. however, school exhibits, although high in traffic, miniature lovers might be few and far between.

in comparison, events such as "the doll affair" focus mainly on doll collectors, and although the traffic is not as high as in a bazaar, the attendees have already a keen interest in miniatures. Zheng Yanling, Stephanie and Zhang Aiwei participated in this year's "the doll affair" (lol shld be last year le!) and indeed consider it a very good opportunity and experience, and gives them room for expansion.

Considering the Customer's Interests
of course, prior to making the items, one has to consider the customer's preferences and likes. according to madam ang's observations, overseas tourists prefer local food dishes such as miniature models of satay; other miniaturists have discovered, locals prefer the sweets and desserts in miniature.

(i'm tired. lunch break first. haven't read this much chinese in years)

other than that, in order to attract doll or dollshouse collectors, scale is extremely important, a little too large or a little too small is unacceptable. to attract new non-collectors, one has to invest alot of time and consideration, and convert the items into jewellery or accessories.

the interviewed miniaturists constantly stress this: no matter what sort of model, items should have their own style, and not blindly copy. madam ang reckons, those who enjoy gourmet foods and are familiar with cooking, helps in cultivating a personal style, and definitely adds to the object's realism; those who understand woodwork or sewing, can incorporate their skills into items such as tablecloths or display shelves.

I would like to try too!
to make such beautiful miniature items, one must definitely put in the effort. from which clay to use, where the materials are available for cheap, which colours and how to mix it to achieve realism, alot of personal experimentation and discovery would give the best rewards.

Zheng Yanling says, (omg this part makes me sound so arrogant =_="") "alot of ppl say they can't make miniatures, because they do not have talent towards it like i do. the problem is, you have to try it out to find out. even the best miniaturists, their early works are a mess, in the beginning i had no idea if i could make a decent-looking piece. the beginner has to be prepared to persevere for at least a few months, before they can see the true results." (i don't recall saying much of this LOL i think it probably sounded different in my head, since the interview was conducted in English)

View these outstanding local works online
you can check out the links below to see more beautiful works made of clay.

Hong Xiu Lian (?? donno how to read the last char sorry! will edit when i get berated :P ):
Zheng Yan Ling:
Stephanie Koesuma:
Zhang Ai Wei:
Zhen Pei Li:

(ok i feel stupid now just found out is available, i guess you could run it through googletranslate or similar....ARGH) i'll edit the post again later....zzzzz.....back to work on more macarons :O

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