Behind the scenes of Nic Joly's miniature artworks. Each of his tiny figures is hand-finished in his Hampshire studio.
While we may be used to marvelling at tiny nail illustrations, minute film sets and miniscule pancakes, burgers and hot dogs on Instagram, miniature art has been a part of our world for hundreds of years. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Gothic boxwood miniatures – small Christian wooden sculptures – were all the rage, while in the 19th century, American portrait miniatures were painted in watercolours on ivory. In 1822, the French inventor Louis Daguerre unveiled one of the earliest examples of virtual reality when he presented the diorama: a multimedia, theatrical experience that brought vast landscapes to audiences on a much smaller scale.
Famous miniaturists – artists who paint in great detail on a small scale – include the Renaissance painter and goldsmith Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), who is best-known for his tiny portraits of Elizabeth I and members of the Royal Court. The Egyptian-born artist Hagop Sandaldjian (1931-1990) scaled things down even further, carving the Turkish volcano Mount Ararat into a grain of rice, and Disney characters including Snow White inside the eye of a needle. Today, the world's smallest painting is 'Mini Lisa', a replica of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece that is a third of the width of a human hair.
In contrast to the large-scale street art and public installations that dominated the art world during the 2021 COVID-19 pandemic, the tiny art being shared across social media platforms like Pinterest and TikTok is personal and intimate, reflecting our desire to reconnect with people and the things we enjoy. Bringing together different generations – from Gen Z to Millenials and Gen X – miniature designs have also crossed over into fashion. Mini skirts are one of the biggest trends of 2022, while Hermès has reimagined its iconic Kelly bag as a jewellery collection, replicating this timeless design in miniature form.
Even artists like Banksy are jumping on the trend. with the street artist leaving a tiny model stable at the Merrivale Model Village in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, in August 2021. Part of his Great British Spraycation series, the miniature thatched barn fetched the struggling owners £1 million at auction when it was sold by Anderson & Garland Auctioneers in January 2022.
Made popular in the 19th century, dioramas allow artists to use their ingenuity to tell stories on a smaller scale.
Many of us are now adapting to working from home, creating the need for multifunctional spaces that allow us to compartmentalise our working and personal lives while reflecting our hobbies, interests and personality. These mini offices or mindful spaces can be transformed with small-scale art that can fit in awkward spaces or be collated for a statement gallery wall. Often more affordable than large-scale art, miniature artworks are fantastic for starting your art collection and won't disrupt your existing aesthetic, instead working with your existing furnishings and home décor.
Miniature art could also benefit your brain: an article by the University of Arizona notes that viewing and analysing objects stimulates us, with our brains 'discerning familiarity and meaning from patterns, abstract forms and incomplete information'. This is supported by the theory of embodied cognition, which suggests that we place ourselves within an artwork, turning actions and movements within the painting or sculpture into emotions and sensations we can feel, such as the heat of the sun or grass beneath our feet.
Former furniture designer Nic Joly is renowned for his incredible craftmanship, which sees him construct miniature figures, buildings, foliage and more using materials from across the globe. Inspired by the fiendishly intricate creations of the Early Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch and the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel, Nic constructs a rich narrative by incorporating lots of tiny components. In recent years, he has experimented with LED technology and 3D printing.
His latest collection explores the different paths that love can take; be it friendship, family or romance. Following on from previous releases inspired by World War One, mental health and the NHS, the heartwarming studio editions feature unique details, including a bespoke Ace of Spades playing card, a sustainably-sourced freshwater pearl, and a scene influenced by the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet.
"Small figures are always fun, no matter what genre," says Nigel Humphries, whose portfolio of miniature characters includes Marvel and DC superheroes, music stars and the cast of the Star Wars saga. To create his action-packed scenes, Nigel creates a theatre stage with crumpled paper for the backdrop and the star of the show lit up in the centre, evoking countless hours of childhood play.
His new Episode II collection depicts some of Star Wars' best-loved characters, including Yoda, Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Grogu, Darth Vader and the Mandalorian. This collectible curation – available individually or as a set of five – is offered in two sizes and presentations to suit your own mothership. The fine details of Nigel's original oil paintings, from the sand of Tatooine to the shine of Darth Vader's armour, have been replicated in exquisite detail by our specialist atelier team in the UK.
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