BY Sara Comadina & Mohammad Khan

“The realism of hand sculpting something that really can’t be digitally reproduced, that’s what I bring to it.”

Karl Blindheim has been a miniature sculptor for 54 years.

What started out as a simple shared hobby with his father and an interest for cats and dogs has transformed into a successful, nationally renowned business of miniature animal sculpting.

At Montreal’s latest Miniature Art and Sale Show, organized by the Miniature Enthusiasts of Montreal, one of Blindheim’s admirers asks the price of a perfectly replicated miniature boston terrier dog he’s created with his own two hands.

“People don’t recognize scale automatically. It’s only when you see it in real life, then you can truly appreciate it,” says Blindheim.

Like many of the items produced in miniature art, Blindheim’s miniature cat and dog sculptures are made at 1:12 scale. In other words, a cat or dog that would normally measure at least a few feet next to you now merely represents a few inches in your hand.

Display of miniature clay dogs by Karl Blindheim

Karl Blindheim’s miniature cat and dog sculptures are well known in the Canadian miniature art industry.For 54 years, they’ve been Blindheim’s specialty. Photo by Sara Comadina.

On average, each of his sculptures takes eight hours to make.

“Sure, there are changes that occur to the art with lasers, 3D printing and all, but I like to work in a traditional way. Everything you see comes from my hands,” says Blindheim.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped increase the number of people involved in miniature art.

“People were at home, they had time to do crafts. It slowed things down and gave them a moment to create something letting that artistic side out, “ says Kate Heenan, President of the Miniature Enthusiasts of Montreal. “It’s kind of brought a new resurgence to the art.”

Display of miniature art items

Artists, vendors and admirers of miniature art from all over Canada gather for the Miniature Enthusiasts of Montreal’s annual art and sale show. Photo by Sara Comadina.

This is the case for Vanessa Wan, owner of Vaninis Minis.

Wan’s relationship with miniature art is a bit different from that of Blindheim. Where Blindheim has a half century in the business, Wan only started in 2023.

“I just kind of started talking about it more as a business rather than just as a hobby,” says Wan.

This miniature artist’s practice was a step-by-step process. The first item she made as a gift for her boyfriend turned into gifts for her colleagues, which turned into Wan’s official miniature art business she knows today.

“It was the first thing that I made that really, like, triggered something in me. It flipped a switch. […] Seeing the reaction of the other person once they receive what I made them, that’s what really makes me happy. That’s what drives me,” says Wan.

Before taking her creations more seriously, Wan was already well experienced in the arts, studying in filmmaking and architectural technology.

Wan did experience a burnout, but in 2022, she started paying attention to her mental health and was able to find a balance through her part time job and newly-launched miniature art business.

“[Miniature art] was like a way for me to kind of get away from normal life, and let loose basically,” she says.

Miniature paper flower bouquet

Made by hand, the intricate details of Martha McLean’s miniature paper flower bouquets are like no other. McLean learned her miniature flower skills from flower arranging classes. Photo by Sara Comadina.

“Miniature art is kind of like a step back in history, but in a good way. We’re returning to something that is a bit more classic,” says Nicolas Poblete, Master Student in Art History.

Poblete says AI produced miniature art will never compare to work being done by actual artists.

“It’s really all about art-making as a practice, whereas AI art is so far away from that,” says Poblete. “The materiality of miniature art creates the substance of the work itself. Whether it’s in the texture, whether it’s in the size, whether it’s the knowledge of the person observing it, or whether it’s simply the fact that it was touched by the hands of the artist, it changes your perspective.”

Research made by the World Art Journal shows what draws people to miniature art. Data by the World Art Journal. Infographic by Sara Comadina.

Miniature art has the power of gathering people from all over the world, creating a space for them to come together to share thoughts, best practices, and knowledge on the art. This is the case for Montreal’s Miniature Art & Sale Show, where artists from across the country join for a special 2-day event every year.

“It really is a community. We’re sharing, we’re learning, everyone is very happy to share their skills,” says Heenan.

Poblete agrees. “It’s a new way of doing art that’s a bit more in touch with the immediate community.”

Heenan explains that people assisting the show, both artists and viewers, have the chance to bond over something very special: nostalgia.

Miniature clay food items

In miniature artist Maria Fowler’s hand, these handmade miniature vegetables look surreal. At the miniature art & sale show, this artist offers pretty much any item you can think of—in miniature size, of course. Photo by Sara Comadina.

“People will say ‘Oh, look at that. It’s a little paint canner. Oh, look at that. They have miniature tools or. Oh, my gosh, that’s like the telephone my grandma used to have. And ohh, that’s like the one I just bought. And an old TV from the 50s too. It’s just so cool,’” says Heenan.

But miniature allows for much more than a return to the craft, a sense of community, or nostalgia. For some, it’s a form of therapy. “Miniature art is a return to the craft, yes, but also to a form of art that’s a lot more focused on its community, on its people that might see miniature art as a form of therapy,” says Poblete.

A look into the positive mental health impacts of miniature art. Video by Mohammad Khan.

In the world of regular, life-size art, miniature art stands on its own. A previous study done by the World Art Journal pinned down the reasons why.

Among them, one can find the scaling effects, the illusion of control, and, of course, as previously mentioned, a unique admiration of the craft.

In Wan’s mind though, what truly distinguishes miniature art will always be the intention of the work put into it. As Wan calls it, it’s all about the ‘love’ she puts into her pieces. “When it comes to pieces that take a lot of time and effort, no matter how big or small they are, that’s when I call it art,” says Wan.

MAIN IMAGE BY SARA COMADINA.
PUBLISHED MAY 11, 2024.