The World Under the Magnifying Glass, Interviewing Miniature Model Player Yuci Zhong

Author: Guanlin Liu (劉冠麟)

Red square tiles, wooden chairs and table, and kitchen counter and cabinet on the side. Six dishes and a soup on the table, this looks just like an annual reunion dinner. You can almost smell the food, but wait, these things are actually a lot smaller than they should be.

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Honey, I Shrunk the Food and Furniture

These exquisite food models all came from freelance artist Yuci Zhong. (鍾育慈) She said that there is too much she wants to eat, but she can’t, so she “makes” them. The “food” and the “furniture” are mostly made of polymer clay, and once they’re formed into certain shapes, it’s time for coloring and creating texture.

Since humans started making tools, we have been struggling between big and small. TV screens are getting bigger and bigger, buildings are taller and taller. However, we don’t want everything big, wafers and mobile phones should be small. In Japanese animation Doraemon, there are gadgets like shrink ray, Gulliver Tunnel, and the miniature camera. [1] Once things are smaller, not only can you see more, the view is different too. As a freelance artist, Yuci is enthusiastic about miniatures, she turns the food and furniture in our daily lives into small sizes, and makes us feel like we’re in Lilliput. What exactly is so charming about these miniatures, and how are they created, let us turn into giants with Yuci and go down the rabbit hole!

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The Reunion Dinner miniatures.

The models she makes have the ratio of about 1:12, also known as miniatures. However, 1:48 models are extremely popular in Japan and Korea. The most difficult one is rice grain carving, which has the ratio of 1:150. You need a magnifying glass to see it. Besides the love for food, another reason Yuci makes miniatures is because of what she learned in school. She studied interior design in high school, and made a model of an entire building for her graduation, that was when she started making models. She later went to do metalworking and pottery carving, and did some teaching in many schools and student societies. These experiences taught her the skills to make things in small sizes. She owns a studio (筑田手創坊), and has been making miniature art for five years.

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These miniature desserts look so real, you can almost taste them.

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Besides miniature food and furniture, miniature bonsai and flower are popular too.

Tips to make food models well

Instead of just look, you might want to make one for yourself, so what should you do?

First of all, you need to have good utensils and dishes, just like in real life, only then can you make the food. They work as a scale, to help you make the food in the right size. Food can be raw or cooked, and raw food is easier to make; cooked food requires additional coloring, and you have to wait for it to dry so that it looks closer to real food. Sometimes you’ll need special materials, for example epoxy is needed to give chicken soup a nutritious-looking color, but it takes a day or a day and half to dry, so it is better to “make more chicken soup” in one go to save time.

When making “bread,” you’ll need baking soda to make it look fluffy, which is almost the same as making real bread. Yuci said that food is more difficult to make than furniture, because it is already small, and take sakura shrimp for example, it is even smaller when made into miniature, so the process often causes eye strain. Yuci added that she already has pretty bad vision and has to put on her reading glasses. At this point of the interview, we can deeply feel the enthusiasm and love an artist has for her own work. She also added, “When I start working, I have to finish. I don’t go to the toilet, or even drink water.” What a crazy miniature player.

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Miniature model player Yuci Zhong (鍾育慈)

Before making a model, Yuci will go online and search the food she wants to eat. It is usually related to Reunion Dinner, Japanese food or afternoon tea. Before she goes to bed, she would usually browse other people’s works. Some experts not only make great products, they are also willing to share their secrets, so other people can learn from them. There are quite a few people who work with miniature models, like the former curator of Miniatures Museum of Taiwan, Mr. Wangda Cai (蔡旺達), who is currecntly running a miniature workshop in Taichung, and Mr. Shaozhong Qiu (邱紹忠) who runs the Flower Space Workshop. Yuci said, “There is always going to be imitation of other people, to a certain extend, when I’m working on models. It is to compare our differences, especially on the materials, because people tend to use different materials, which country you buy them from also makes a difference.” It seems that being a miniature enthusiast not only requires sharp observation and a pair of steady hands, you’ll also need an open, passionate heart to explore all the possibilities.

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Miniature sashimi looks so tasty you can almost smell it.

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From left to right: cutter, toothbrush, cutting molds (silver) and texture molds (blue and purple), sand paper, ball-shaped stylus, and hand file.

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From left to right: piece of iron, needle stylus, white stylus, fine stylus, small flat scissors, flat tweezers, calligraphy pen, utility knife and PVA glue.

Besides being mentally prepared, you’ll also need the right tools for the job. The tools she uses include the usual like cutter, scissors, PVA glue, tweezers, utility knife, and some other unexpected gadgets. Her pottery skills can be seen on the tools she uses, so she chose a lot of unorthodox tools that still do the same things. For example sandpaper, which she uses to create the texture of fruits, the sculpting stylus for kneading and making patterns, and the fine stylus that can “open fish gills” from a special angle. There are even tools that don’t even look like clay tools, for example a hand file, which can create the textures of chicken and pork skins, and when you turn it over you can file wood with it. The toothbrush can create “bubbles” on cookies and breads, a little roughness makes them look fluffy. Now, what if your work has your fingerprints all over it when you finish? Yuci said that in order to be presentable, many players wear gloves. It also prevents sweaty palms.

Just start making!

“Can you eat this?” is what many people ask when they first see miniature food. When it first showed up in Germany it was indeed just for display, then it was introduced in America and Korea, and people started to put in real food, making these models edible. People in Japan even turn food into small size, then put it into miniature pots and pans to cook. As a result, this has increased the difficulty. The choice of kitchenware became difficult, so did heat control. It is quite different from cooking regular-sized food. 

Yuci thinks that the biggest joy she has in making models is not how she uses them, it’s the effort to perfectly present the food in its original appearance. Besides, she never takes  commercial values into consideration when playing with clay, Yuci only makes what she likes. She is devoted to every piece of her work. Through the satisfaction of many people, she found the long lost childlike innocence, which is what gets her through the loneliness when she works alone. For Yuci, the continuous search for improvements from her works is one of the reasons she keeps going. There is no such thing as a “satisfying work.” As an artist, Yuci expects herself to be a fountain that can spring new ideas, instead of a well that’s about to run dry. As a reader, you might ask,” You must have be very skillful to make these exquisite models, right?” Yuci will definitely smile and answer, “No, all you need are interest and patience, so just start making!”

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Various miniature foods make people drool.

List of model players recommended by Yuci

  • Mr. Shaozhong Qiu (邱紹忠老師)
  • Mininet(蔡旺達老師)                 
  • Melissa’s miniature (林靜宜老師)
  • 悍客鎮の微縮/袖珍/ジオラマ       
  • Mr.Pocket Handmade Dessert Accessories
  • Guangzhen Guo (郭恍甄) Miniature Art Workshop    
  • Taiwan Pan and Paper Clay Art Development Association    
  • Mimine Miniature                                
  • MIYOUNG JIANG           
  • 日本ミニチョアフード協会    
  • Fraise 樹脂粘土のクラフトノート   
  • ちょび子のミニチョアフード   
  • COCO.BOX Miniature Model Design    
  • Sweetaro’s Miniature Art             
  • Mr.BOX Miniature Model Design      
  • I AM FUFU Handicraft        
  • Petitplat                
  • Cakes Met Daan          
  • Gastronómadas MX       
  • Baking Frenzy Cooking Supplies    

Note 1: A common gadget in Japanese animation Doraemon, the shrink ray makes anything it lights on small; passing through the Gulliver Tunnel, your body becomes smaller; miniature model camera turns whatever is in its photos into miniature models.

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