Slices of a lightly glazed ham cascade onto a plate, each one a delicate shade of a pink. Juicy pineapple rings encase the meat in a fruity layer, and their glossy sheen catches the light. It looks delicious — except that the entire ham would fit in the palm of your hand. And unfortunately, you can’t eat it. It’s the perfect meal for a dollhouse dinner party.
The faux food may be small, but whipping up these miniature creations can be as challenging as a chef making a seven course meal. It involves patience, practice, and an eye for detail. An active imagination is just the icing on the cake. For these five artists, miniature food is a way to show off their talents, just in bite-size, clay morsels.
Janet Smith, mini food artist and owner of Desert Minis
One weekend, one museum, 6,000 miniature exhibits. That’s all it took for Janet Smith to realize miniatures were her calling. On a business trip to Basel, Switzerland, Smith discovered the Puppenhaus Museum — the largest dollhouse museum in Europe. “I just went in there and went, ‘Oh my word, this is what I want to do,’” Smith says. “So I came home, went on Ebay, and bought a dollhouse kit. I’ve been going ever since.”
Smith’s love affair with miniatures didn’t stop with that first dollhouse. She combined it with her love of cooking and baking. Except this time, instead of ingredients, she’d be mixing sandpaper and fabric swatches. After taking a few classes to learn about making food on twelfth-inch scale — where one inch equals one foot — Smith realized smaller was better. Now, quarter-scale — where one-quarter inch equals one foot — is her specialty. Most of her food items measure in at 5/16 of an inch. After retiring to New Mexico, Smith turned her hobby into a small business. She opened her online shop, Desert Minis, in 2009.
Working in such a small scale requires the use of a microscope. It helps Smith get the details just right. “Underneath the microscope, I’ll add some of the indentations on the top [of an orange],” she says. “I’ll also add a little tiny dab of clay to make that seed thing at the top of an orange where the stem was.”
Sometimes though, Smith’s hands need a break from sculpting foods smaller than a dime. And that’s where 3D printers come in. Over a year ago, Smith purchased three home-use printers. With Google SketchUp, a free 3-D design program, cranking out kitchen furniture to display her mini food on is easy. “I just have to keep doing new things and extending the product line,” Smith says.
“There’s a saying that goes, ‘If the only tool you have in your box is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail,’” Smith says. “You have to avoid that. You have to think outside the box.”
Mo Tipton, mini food artist and owner of The Mouse Market
It started with a dollhouse. Mo Tipton’s favorite storybook squirrel, Miss Suzy, got her own piece of real estate. And Tipton got a lifelong hobby. From the age of 8, miniatures were a staple in Tipton’s playtime routine. She liked setting up the tables with food — but playing with the food wasn’t enough. She had to start making clay food — hot dogs and ice cream sundaes were the fare of choice.
But it wouldn’t be until she discovered Etsy years later that Tipton would make her childhood hobby a full-time job.
Miniature food was everywhere on the popular shopping site. Childhood memories flooded back. “At the time, I was searching for a more fulfilling career path,” Tipton says. “I decided to follow my gut and give this whole tiny food thing a shot. I pulled out my ancient polymer clay and started sculpting again. I was hooked.”
Tipton opened her Etsy shop, The Mouse Market, in 2009. She listed a few items here and there at first. Then, an invitation to be a vendor at a local art fair pushed her business into high gear. “This was a really fortuitous opportunity,” Tipton says. “It forced me to create a lot of inventory in a short period of time, as well as develop my branding and really start to view what I was doing as a legitimate business, not just a hobby.”
After selling two-thirds of her inventory at the show, Tipton was all in. She got custom orders. She got new ideas. She got a full time business. For the last six years, she’s been building her business and expanding her sculpting skills. And now she’s creating an entire scene to display her miniature food.
So far, she’s built a bakery scene. Tiny dirty dishes fill the sink. Decorated cakes top a glass display case. Tipton says, “There’s something wonderful about peering through the miniature door of the bakery and believing, if only for a moment, that if you could shrink yourself down to the right size, you could walk right in and order a freshly baked cookie.”
Katie Baker, mini food artist and owner of Mary’s Remedies
Gooey syrup trails drip down the side of a Belgian waffle. Golden butter tops the breakfast confection. A small, metal earring wire makes the waffles ready-to-wear.
Mini food doesn’t always need to be on plates. At least it doesn’t for Katie Baker, owner of the Etsy shop Mary’s Remedies. The self-taught artist specializes in miniature food earrings made out of polymer clay.
What began as a basic children’s earring project quickly evolved after a friend introduced Baker to the clay material. She played around with the clay and started making cakes, doughnuts, and hot dogs for earrings. “I’ve painted and done art stuff my entire life,” Baker says. “I was like a fish into water. I just loved it.”
Learning to make her food as realistic as possible was high on Baker’s to-do list. Inspiration came from fellow mini food artists Pippaloo and Sugar Charm Shop. But for Baker, direct copies are not an option. “I tweak things too so it’s just not the same as everybody else’s,” Baker says. “I think it’s important to make it your own.”
Baker’s pumpkin pie earrings are proof of that. Other artists opt for plain orange clay as the pie’s base. Not Baker. She mixes cinnamon and pumpkin spice into the clay to give it the look of the real deal. “Everyone will walk past my booth [at a craft show] and all of a sudden they’ll come back,” Baker says. “They’re like, ‘Come here. Look at this.’ And it’s my pumpkin pie.”
Maintaining a sense of fun and whimsy with her creations encourages Baker to constantly make new kinds of food. Anything she sees is fair game. “It’s just, ‘Hey, I could make that and I could make it look like that,’” Baker says. Lately, she’s been working on ice cream cones, a customer request. With their whipped cream and cherry toppings, the cones look good enough to eat — or wear.
Winter Boomershine, mini food artist and owner of Faux Real Food
Winter Boomershine always planned on being a serious artist. She began sculpting at age six. Oatmeal and mashed potatoes were her first mediums. She took numerous sculpting and pottery classes as an adult. And then, many years later, her youngest daughter requested a set of American Girl doll food for Christmas.
Boomershine had never made doll food before. But her sculpting background — and her daughter’s Christmas wish — encouraged her to give it a try. After making cheese slices, fruit, and bread for her daughter, Boomershine made other doll food for friends and family. Within a year, she opened her Etsy shop, Faux Real Food.
People who request custom orders may want anything from their families’ traditional Thanksgiving meals to their daughters’ birthday cakes recreated in miniature form. “It’s kind of funny,” Boomershine says, “because I always thought I’d be a serious artist and now I make doll food. It’s been a shift in my attitude, but it’s actually delightfully fun.”
Before reaching for the clay, Boomershine sculpts an item four or five times in her head. She thinks about everyday objects that are just right for a miniature scale. Tiny Tabasco bottles become doll-size ketchup bottles. Pen caps look like drinking glasses. And communion cups are perfect for tiny ice cream sodas.
But it’s not all about imagination. Boomershine has a collection of cookbooks she uses specifically as inspiration for her next creations. And then there are the American Girl doll books. Boomershine reads all of them, since customers often ask for foods inspired by the books. “There’s a lot of nostalgia involved,” she says, “like, ‘Oh, I had Molly when I was 8 years old, and I’ve kept her all these years. Now I’m giving her to my daughter. I want you to make these foods I remember from Molly’s book.’”
What’s up next for Boomershine depends on where the muses take her. A cupcake on Pinterest or a family meal may spark an idea. “Clay has just always fascinated me,” she says. “The way that you can take a lump of clay and make it look like something else is pretty spectacular.”