SPOTLIGHT

In conversation with

Hannah Lemon

January 2024

“Trusting in my creativity
and imagination and knowing
that there is nothing I can’t do;
there is a real possibility
for everything.”

Hannah is a miniaturist and photographer
based in the United Kingdom.

Á: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

HL: I’m from Japan originally and studied art and photography after moving to New Zealand when I was 15. I chose to move to New Zealand because I found that in Japan it was expected that you worked really hard to study non-creative subjects. I didn’t like that. Thankfully, my parents were very supportive of me going to school overseas to learn more about art and photography. So, I decided to move to New Zealand and lived there for 6 years. Then it came to staying there after university and finding a job, which was quite tricky because the industry in New Zealand was quite small and I was an international student. That is when I decided to move to the UK. I wanted to be in an industry where there were more opportunities and lots of competition. To me, it was where the big things were happening. I ended up working in the photography industry in London for 10 years as a freelancer. It was busy but really fun.

Á: How did you first discover your love of miniatures?

HL: Looking back, after working in the photography industry for 10 years, I realise that this was a very difficult, very competitive industry to stand out as a photographer. There were so many talented people there, and you really had to find your own style in photography to be noticed, which I found very difficult to do. I also did a lot of production work for photography shoots, which wasn’t creative enough for me. There was a lot of time organising the shoots and managing the photo studios; but there was something lacking. It wasn’t feeding my creativity. I was just too busy to do anything more creative, which meant I stuck with it even though I was feeling a bit discontent. Then the pandemic happened in 2020. Because I was a freelancer, I was one of the first people to be let go from the projects I was on. Thankfully, I’m pretty good at finding things to do at home. At that time, I was renting a really tiny flat in London with my partner. I was jealous of people who owned a house and were painting and decorating. I couldn’t do that because I was renting. So, I decided to make my dream home in miniature scale. It was a combination of my childhood passion which was arts and crafts, and doing a house renovation. It was making my ideas for a dream home come to life. I was also photographing my miniature work and posting it online. It ended up being a combination of all of the bits I’m into. That sort of started off everything. Instagram was a great platform for me to share my work with people around the world and it brought a lot of jobs in.

Á: What was your experience like as an artist during the pandemic?

HL: There were scary moments as a freelancer, not being protected by anyone and also being far away from family, not knowing when I would be able to fly back and see them. It was such a strange time. The miniatures kept me busy and focused. It really helped my mental health, because I wasn’t always looking at the news but was focused on the tiny world I was creating.  It was a turning point for me and I didn’t expect it to become a full-time job. There were losses at that time, but there were also gains.

Á: Did growing up in Japan and moving to New Zealand shape your artistic viewpoint?

HL: My father is English, and so I’m half Japanese and half English. Where I grew up there weren’t any other mixed-race kids and so I always stood out, often not in a positive way. The great thing is my parents raised me in a way that I wouldn’t feel too alone and I could always find something to do on my own and be satisfied with it. I was very lucky that I was surrounded by nature and a lot of creative materials. When I decided to do more art and photography, I had already realised that this was something quite different from what all of my friends were going to be doing. My parents were supportive and never said no to the opportunities that came for me. I’m very grateful and appreciate it even more now. They taught me that there is nothing you can’t do – there is always a possibility that you can do it or master it. Deciding to move to New Zealand on my own and throwing myself into the school where I didn’t know anyone or speak English – now I think about it it’s crazy. I don’t know if I could do that anymore. I was just hopeful. As long as I am touching the art form there is no language, art is universal. In the art world uniqueness and difference is celebrated. I think my decision to move to New Zealand in itself was led by me being who I am, mixed-race, and how my parents raised me. Trusting in my creativity and imagination and knowing that there is nothing I can’t do; there is a real possibility for everything.

Á: What was the most challenging thing about your move to New Zealand to study?

HL: I went to high school in New Zealand and then did my degree in the same town. Writing essays was challenging because I was writing in a second language. I much preferred the practical things and learning techniques, like in my MA. Though the experience really helped to get me ready for working in London.

Á: Following the move to London, did you find the environment more accepting artistically?

HL: Yes, definitely. I think moving to New Zealand, there were only few international students like me, so there was a sense of not quite fitting in with the crowd. Whereas moving to London, it felt like everyone came from everywhere. You got on the tube and there were so many languages being spoken in the same carriage. I felt like I really fit in. It’s a big competitive city but in terms of fitting in, it was a great place to start working overseas. It was a great move.

Á: Your plants are very hyperrealistic, what was the driving force for creating with this level of detail?

HL: It wasn’t planned. I probably had about 60 houseplants in total in my flat in London. I realised it was so dark and grey in London, plus it rained a lot! It wasn’t always great to be outside, so I decided to bring some living things into my space. When I was building my miniature dream home during lockdown, I wanted to make a miniature bathroom first. The plan was for that bathroom to have quite a retro and vintage feel. I wanted it to have lots of plants, like a jungle. In order to create those miniature plants, I needed to study the ones that I had in the flat already. When I was doing this, I realised that none of them were perfect. They had some brown leaves, yellowing, and imperfect shapes. I decided I was not going to ignore that. From there I found that I really enjoy making house plants, particularly making them look as real as possible. I saw that on Instagram there is a huge community of miniature artists that I didn’t know about. There is also a huge community of collectors for doll houses as well. I knew that there were a few people making houseplants but none of them looked particularly real, they were very perfect. So, I realised there would be a market there because people can relate to the imperfect plants.

Á: Have you always had an interest in interiors?

HL: I’m interested in interiors, but I’ve never really studied it formally. In Japan we have this concept; wabi-sabi (わびさび), which is basically appreciating all things rustic and imperfect and seeing the beauty in those things. When I moved to the UK, I saw that there are a lot of antique stores and antique dealers, which I thought was really wonderful. Then when I started to buy things for my flat, I realised that I really like vintage things. I read old magazines and look on Instagram for inspiration. When I was making my dream home, I was looking for these things.

Á: Can you talk us through your process from ideation to finished piece?

HL: There is a difference between a personal project and commercial job. When I’m doing a personal project, I just make what is in my head. There is a lot of freedom and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t quite go right. If I’m making miniature furniture, I can use things like chopsticks and toothpicks – inexpensive things around the home. If a client approaches me for a piece of work, I will sketch out my ideas, put together a mood board of colours and reference images, send it to them and get some feedback from them. Then I will make adjustments and if they are purchasing the artwork, I ensure I’m making it very solid. It’s not the same as a personal project where I’m just putting it together with tacky glue. For example, there was a time where I was making a room box for a Samsung campaign, and I needed to send it all the way to Singapore. I had to think about how it would survive the journey and the humidity when it arrived. I needed to make sure the clay was hard and the paper wouldn’t curl up. That sort of thing. It was a bit stressful because if something broke, I wouldn’t be there to fix it. But thankfully there were no disasters. Most of the time though, when the job comes from the client, they want the photography and filming of the project and not the physical project itself. So that process is a bit different. As I’m doing this as a business, I want to make sure clients are happy with my ideas and sketches first. It’s very hard to make changes once you have constructed things.

Á: Do you listen to anything while you’re working?

HL: I listen to a lot of true crime stories! Sometimes they’re quite horrible. People always find that funny because they’re not expecting it.

 Á: How long do your projects usually take?

HL: It depends. With plants I use air dry clay, which isn’t instant. So, I have to dry the clay, and then paint them, and then dry the paint, glue them, dry the glue, then put the plant together. When it’s drying, I will start on another item. I would say on average it takes about 1 day to make an item. I could always make something quickly but I want it to be realistic and high quality. It’s difficult to do that in a short amount of time because you want to look at it again with a fresh eye.

The easiest plant will take 1 or 2 days. I’m not making just one at a time though, I will make a few in one go. A popular thing people ask me to make are the Monstera plants. If I’m making them, it will be a week of Monstera so I can really focus on it. I need to be in the mindset of that particular plant. It’s difficult to switch between making one style and another at the same time.

I individually sculpt each leaf by hand. It’s a bit like making pancakes – the first one isn’t that great, then it gets better. I don’t notice straight away until I’m on the third or fourth and I look back at the first one and realise!

Á: Where do you source your materials?

HL: Some materials I source for free and others I spend money on to get the best quality. During lockdown, I was using anything and everything I could find around the home. Sometimes I use those recyclable materials I find. For my plants, I use resin clay which I source from Japan. When I visit, I come back to England with an extra suitcase of clay. As a miniaturist you’re expected to make everything, not just silverware or wooden tables. So, I collect anything and everything, like the leftover fabric samples that would usually be thrown away after choosing furniture. 

Á: Where do you look for visual inspiration?

HL: I like looking at things from the past and recreating them; like an old camera or suitcase. Those things that are difficult to get hold of and not always practical to have. Things that don’t exist anymore. Things people used to have, which hold a lot of meaning. Things that they loved. I like to turn them into miniatures because bringing them back to life is really rewarding. For example, I found an old picture of my dad’s student room in his school album. I made it into a room box and gave it to him for his birthday. It’s something that can be kept on a shelf and doesn’t take up too much space.

Á: Can you tell us about your experience sharing your work on social media?

HL: It has been a great experience sharing my work with other people in the community. We all speak a universal language – asking what kind of glue or paint you’re using! I didn’t really have a community like this when I was a photographer. I feel like I’ve found where I belong. Being able to connect with people around the world is great and I’ve found that a lot of people also began during the pandemic. People travel around the world for trade shows, so you can meet people there in person.

Á: What has it been like sharing your work with people who are unfamiliar with the world of miniatures?

HL: It’s quite nice to introduce people to this world. At the same time there have been a lot of shows recently like CBC’s Best in Miniature (I was on season 2!) and Channel 4’s The Great Big Tiny Design Challenge. There are also books etc. which have made it trendier. It’s nice that people don’t just see it as making things for dollhouses but as an artform of its own.

Á: What projects are you most proud of from the past year?

HL: I love the variety of things I made. In 2023, I did campaigns for Comic Relief and Vue Cinema. I’m really proud of them because I was able to use both my miniature and photography skills. I did every aspect myself, physically making and creative directing them. Seeing myself credited as an artist was special.

Á: What are you hoping to achieve creatively in the future?

HL: There are so many things I want to create. I need to find the balance of working on both commercial projects and personal projects. I love the sense of achievement I get from commercial projects but I also want to push myself more in my personal projects. I would like to teach, write, and share my knowledge as well. I wish I had more hours in the day! It would also be nice to have an exhibition – that would be a dream.

Á: What advice would you give to someone looking to turn their craft into a career?

HL: Don’t let other people stop you from pursuing your craft if you’re passionate about it and believe in yourself. When I started doing miniature art it was to kill time, but it got to a point where I just couldn’t imagine stopping. I have such a desire to keep improving and life is too short, so I kept going. I would also say don’t be stuck with the rules and systems made by people in the past, because it’s all changing. The world is changing.

 

You can find more of Hannah’s work here and here.

Interview by Mary Ojidu

In conversation with

Hannah Lemon

January 2024

“Trusting in my creativity
and imagination and
knowing that there
is nothing I can’t do;
there is a real
possibility for
everything.”

Hannah is a miniaturist and photographer based in the United Kingdom.

Á: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

HL: I’m from Japan originally and studied art and photography after moving to New Zealand when I was 15. I chose to move to New Zealand because I found that in Japan it was expected that you worked really hard to study non-creative subjects. I didn’t like that. Thankfully, my parents were very supportive of me going to school overseas to learn more about art and photography. So, I decided to move to New Zealand and lived there for 6 years. Then it came to staying there after university and finding a job, which was quite tricky because the industry in New Zealand was quite small and I was an international student. That is when I decided to move to the UK. I wanted to be in an industry where there were more opportunities and lots of competition. To me, it was where the big things were happening. I ended up working in the photography industry in London for 10 years as a freelancer. It was busy but really fun.

Á: How did you first discover your love of miniatures

HL: Looking back, after working in the photography industry for 10 years, I realise that this was a very difficult, very competitive industry to stand out as a photographer. There were so many talented people there, and you really had to find your own style in photography to be noticed, which I found very difficult to do. I also did a lot of production work for photography shoots, which wasn’t creative enough for me. There was a lot of time organising the shoots and managing the photo studios; but there was something lacking. It wasn’t feeding my creativity. I was just too busy to do anything more creative, which meant I stuck with it even though I was feeling a bit discontent. Then the pandemic happened in 2020. Because I was a freelancer, I was one of the first people to be let go from the projects I was on. Thankfully, I’m pretty good at finding things to do at home. At that time, I was renting a really tiny flat in London with my partner. I was jealous of people who owned a house and were painting and decorating. I couldn’t do that because I was renting. So, I decided to make my dream home in miniature scale. It was a combination of my childhood passion which was arts and crafts, and doing a house renovation. It was making my ideas for a dream home come to life. I was also photographing my miniature work and posting it online. It ended up being a combination of all of the bits I’m into. That sort of started off everything. Instagram was a great platform for me to share my work with people around the world and it brought a lot of jobs in.

Á: What was your experience like as an artist during the pandemic?

HL: There were scary moments as a freelancer, not being protected by anyone and also being far away from family, not knowing when I would be able to fly back and see them. It was such a strange time. The miniatures kept me busy and focused. It really helped my mental health, because I wasn’t always looking at the news but was focused on the tiny world I was creating.  It was a turning point for me and I didn’t expect it to become a full-time job. There were losses at that time, but there were also gains.

Á: Did growing up in Japan and moving to New Zealand shape your artistic viewpoint?

HL: My father is English, and so I’m half Japanese and half English. Where I grew up there weren’t any other mixed-race kids and so I always stood out, often not in a positive way. The great thing is my parents raised me in a way that I wouldn’t feel too alone and I could always find something to do on my own and be satisfied with it. I was very lucky that I was surrounded by nature and a lot of creative materials. When I decided to do more art and photography, I had already realised that this was something quite different from what all of my friends were going to be doing. My parents were supportive and never said no to the opportunities that came for me. I’m very grateful and appreciate it even more now. They taught me that there is nothing you can’t do – there is always a possibility that you can do it or master it. Deciding to move to New Zealand on my own and throwing myself into the school where I didn’t know anyone or speak English – now I think about it it’s crazy. I don’t know if I could do that anymore. I was just hopeful. As long as I am touching the art form there is no language, art is universal. In the art world uniqueness and difference is celebrated. I think my decision to move to New Zealand in itself was led by me being who I am, mixed-race, and how my parents raised me. Trusting in my creativity and imagination and knowing that there is nothing I can’t do; there is a real possibility for everything.

Á: What was the most challenging thing about your move to New Zealand to study?

HL: I went to high school in New Zealand and then did my degree in the same town. Writing essays was challenging because I was writing in a second language. I much preferred the practical things and learning techniques, like in my MA. Though the experience really helped to get me ready for working in London.

Á: Following the move to London, did you find the environment more accepting artistically?

HL: Yes, definitely. I think moving to New Zealand, there were only few international students like me, so there was a sense of not quite fitting in with the crowd. Whereas moving to London, it felt like everyone came from everywhere. You got on the tube and there were so many languages being spoken in the same carriage. I felt like I really fit in. It’s a big competitive city but in terms of fitting in, it was a great place to start working overseas. It was a great move.

Á: Your plants are very hyperrealistic, what was the driving force for creating with this level of detail?

HL: It wasn’t planned. I probably had about 60 houseplants in total in my flat in London. I realised it was so dark and grey in London, plus it rained a lot! It wasn’t always great to be outside, so I decided to bring some living things into my space. When I was building my miniature dream home during lockdown, I wanted to make a miniature bathroom first. The plan was for that bathroom to have quite a retro and vintage feel. I wanted it to have lots of plants, like a jungle. In order to create those miniature plants, I needed to study the ones that I had in the flat already. When I was doing this, I realised that none of them were perfect. They had some brown leaves, yellowing, and imperfect shapes. I decided I was not going to ignore that. From there I found that I really enjoy making house plants, particularly making them look as real as possible. I saw that on Instagram there is a huge community of miniature artists that I didn’t know about. There is also a huge community of collectors for doll houses as well. I knew that there were a few people making houseplants but none of them looked particularly real, they were very perfect. So, I realised there would be a market there because people can relate to the imperfect plants.

Á: Have you always had an interest in interiors?

HL: I’m interested in interiors, but I’ve never really studied it formally. In Japan we have this concept; wabi-sabi (わびさび), which is basically appreciating all things rustic and imperfect and seeing the beauty in those things. When I moved to the UK, I saw that there are a lot of antique stores and antique dealers, which I thought was really wonderful. Then when I started to buy things for my flat, I realised that I really like vintage things. I read old magazines and look on Instagram for inspiration. When I was making my dream home, I was looking for these things.

Á: Can you talk us through your process from ideation to finished piece?

HL: There is a difference between a personal project and commercial job. When I’m doing a personal project, I just make what is in my head. There is a lot of freedom and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t quite go right. If I’m making miniature furniture, I can use things like chopsticks and toothpicks – inexpensive things around the home. If a client approaches me for a piece of work, I will sketch out my ideas, put together a mood board of colours and reference images, send it to them and get some feedback from them. Then I will make adjustments and if they are purchasing the artwork, I ensure I’m making it very solid. It’s not the same as a personal project where I’m just putting it together with tacky glue. For example, there was a time where I was making a room box for a Samsung campaign, and I needed to send it all the way to Singapore. I had to think about how it would survive the journey and the humidity when it arrived. I needed to make sure the clay was hard and the paper wouldn’t curl up. That sort of thing. It was a bit stressful because if something broke, I wouldn’t be there to fix it. But thankfully there were no disasters. Most of the time though, when the job comes from the client, they want the photography and filming of the project and not the physical project itself. So that process is a bit different. As I’m doing this as a business, I want to make sure clients are happy with my ideas and sketches first. It’s very hard to make changes once you have constructed things.

Á: Do you listen to anything while you’re working?

HL: I listen to a lot of true crime stories! Sometimes they’re quite horrible. People always find that funny because they’re not expecting it.

Á: How long do your projects usually take?

HL: It depends. With plants I use air dry clay, which isn’t instant. So, I have to dry the clay, and then paint them, and then dry the paint, glue them, dry the glue, then put the plant together. When it’s drying, I will start on another item. I would say on average it takes about 1 day to make an item. I could always make something quickly but I want it to be realistic and high quality. It’s difficult to do that in a short amount of time because you want to look at it again with a fresh eye.

The easiest plant will take 1 or 2 days. I’m not making just one at a time though, I will make a few in one go. A popular thing people ask me to make are the Monstera plants. If I’m making them, it will be a week of Monstera so I can really focus on it. I need to be in the mindset of that particular plant. It’s difficult to switch between making one style and another at the same time.

I individually sculpt each leaf by hand. It’s a bit like making pancakes – the first one isn’t that great, then it gets better. I don’t notice straight away until I’m on the third or fourth and I look back at the first one and realise!

Á: Where do you source your materials?

HL: Some materials I source for free and others I spend money on to get the best quality. During lockdown, I was using anything and everything I could find around the home. Sometimes I use those recyclable materials I find. For my plants, I use resin clay which I source from Japan. When I visit, I come back to England with an extra suitcase of clay. As a miniaturist you’re expected to make everything, not just silverware or wooden tables. So, I collect anything and everything, like the leftover fabric samples that would usually be thrown away after choosing furniture. 

Á: Where do you look for visual inspiration?

HL: I like looking at things from the past and recreating them; like an old camera or suitcase. Those things that are difficult to get hold of and not always practical to have. Things that don’t exist anymore. Things people used to have, which hold a lot of meaning. Things that they loved. I like to turn them into miniatures because bringing them back to life is really rewarding. For example, I found an old picture of my dad’s student room in his school album. I made it into a room box and gave it to him for his birthday. It’s something that can be kept on a shelf and doesn’t take up too much space.

Á: Can you tell us about your experience sharing your work on social media?

HL: It has been a great experience sharing my work with other people in the community. We all speak a universal language – asking what kind of glue or paint you’re using! I didn’t really have a community like this when I was a photographer. I feel like I’ve found where I belong. Being able to connect with people around the world is great and I’ve found that a lot of people also began during the pandemic. People travel around the world for trade shows, so you can meet people there in person.

Á: What has it been like sharing your work with people who are unfamiliar with the world of miniatures?

HL: It’s quite nice to introduce people to this world. At the same time there have been a lot of shows recently like CBC’s Best in Miniature (I was on season 2!) and Channel 4’s The Great Big Tiny Design Challenge. There are also books etc. which have made it trendier. It’s nice that people don’t just see it as making things for dollhouses but as an artform of its own.

Á: What projects are you most proud of from the past year?

HL: I love the variety of things I made. In 2023, I did campaigns for Comic Relief and Vue Cinema. I’m really proud of them because I was able to use both my miniature and photography skills. I did every aspect myself, physically making and creative directing them. Seeing myself credited as an artist was special.

Á: What are you hoping to achieve creatively in the future?

HL: There are so many things I want to create. I need to find the balance of working on both commercial projects and personal projects. I love the sense of achievement I get from commercial projects but I also want to push myself more in my personal projects. I would like to teach, write, and share my knowledge as well. I wish I had more hours in the day! It would also be nice to have an exhibition – that would be a dream.

Á: What advice would you give to someone looking to turn their craft into a career?

HL: Don’t let other people stop you from pursuing your craft if you’re passionate about it and believe in yourself. When I started doing miniature art it was to kill time, but it got to a point where I just couldn’t imagine stopping. I have such a desire to keep improving and life is too short, so I kept going. I would also say don’t be stuck with the rules and systems made by people in the past, because it’s all changing. The world is changing.

You can find more of Hannah’s work here and here.

Interview by Mary Ojidu

© AJIFA Limited 2022-2024

© AJIFA Limited 2022-2024