We asked artist & book binder extraordinaire our famous 10 questions.
How did you first discover the world of miniatures?
I’d just had one of many knee operations and Neil (my husband) was working long hours so he suggested I take on a new hobby and not long after he bought me my first dolls house kit. I started painting miniatures for my dolls house and thought “wouldn’t it be great to actually sell my paintings to other dolls house collectors”. Then came the books and other bits and pieces. My Dad even got involved by making artist’s easels.
What skills do you think you need to create miniatures & where did you acquire these skills?
You need a lot of patience and practice and good eyesight. Like other trades, it takes a great deal of time and energy. I needed to learn how to bookbind to make my books as real as possible.
What/who/where has inspired your work?
My Dad inspired me to make miniatures. He made me a dolls house from a packing box when I was little. It was beautiful, he made all the furniture, even a fitted kitchen. Dad always encouraged me with my miniatures, giving great advice, both creative and business. He taught me to draw and paint. Sadly, he passed away last year after a long fight with 2 types of cancer. I miss him terribly and I treasure all the knowledge he passed on to me.
What do you feel is the most important thing to capture in a miniature?
To create something that, when photographed, looks like the real thing or as close to that as possible.
What is your ‘no 1’ tool that you rely on to create your miniatures?
I have a full set of finishing tools specially designed for miniature books. These are very precious to me. Each tool is made of brass and has been engraved in various different patterns. You heat up the tools on a hotplate and carefully place them onto the cover of the books to create an embossed impression. I also use my finishing tools to add gold tooling to the covers with gold foil. This is slightly more fiddly as you are working blind as the foil is in between you and the book. My other treasure my Dad left me is a MacBook so I can research book titles to create new tiny books. I can take hours to clean images of each individual page and then put each page onto a grid ready to print off and assemble.
Where do you work?
Mostly, I work in the lounge with different trays for the various stages of making a book. With my mobility and pain issues, I have to find the most comfortable place to work. I need a hot plate to do the finishing on the books so I work in my studio to do this. I’m starting to make normal sized books and am investing in new book tools and equipment. Most people who make miniature books have been bookbinders and they use their knowledge to make the miniatures. I learned bookbinding for miniatures first.
What is the toughest part/challenge of your work?
I’m really strict about quality and if a book doesn’t stand up to close up scrutiny, it gets rejected. It’s really hard to let go of something that you’ve spent hours making. But my brother, who has a severe learning disability, loves getting my rejects – to him they’re perfect.
What do you love about working in miniatures?
I love the challenge of making something so small and as close to perfect as possible. I think it’s best when you see people’s reaction to a real book that can be opened. It’s wonderful that people collect my miniature books – it’s so satisfying.
What has been your biggest challenge so far/what creation are you most proud of?
I suppose my first properly bound book in leather with blind tooling was my biggest challenge. It took a lot of study and practice but the final results took my breath away. That first book was George Stubbs’ Anatomy of the Horse. I saw the original at an exhibition of Stubbs’ horse paintings at the National Gallery. After seeing the original real book I kept thinking, how can I make that in miniature? I tried lots of different materials and settled on sheepskin skivers. I found a bookbinding mentor on the internet who agreed to help me with my miniatures. He sourced most of my materials and found the set of miniature bookbinding finishing tools for me.
What are you working on now?
My latest project is to create 1:24th scale books. As you can imagine, that is really, really fiddly. Each book takes longer to make and there are more rejects. But I love the results. Teeny, tiny, little books. Perhaps I should have a go at 1:48th scale!
See more of Ellie’s work HERE.