It’s hard to resist the heartfelt request of a five-year-old.
And when that child is your daughter, and you’re an artist, and her request piques your creative interest, well, then, you’re on what Erica Watts calls a mini-adventure into unknown, but delightful, territory.
“My youngest daughter was the inspiration that started me on the path I’m on,” the Spokane, WA, artist, who creates miniature dollhouses and furniture, says.
“We were at a birthday party, and her friend got a custom dollhouse for a gift. My daughter asked if I could make her one and with that request, my love of minis began. I converted a shelving unit into a custom dollhouse for Mia, using found objects and making custom furniture and textiles along the way.”
Well, she couldn’t stop there. A lifelong artist who has completed art courses at Michigan Tech University and the Art Institute of Chicago, Watts found miniature work to be the perfect way to create across a broad spectrum of mediums. She works with textiles, wood, plastic, metal, paint, paper, and more, and beyond that, she integrates sustainability into the mix.
“I noticed that this happened organically,” Watts says. “From the beginning, I started out trying to use everyday things in a different way, then realized I can upcycle and recycle so much more.
“I try to live my everyday life that way, too, so it was only natural it would flow into my creative spaces.”
Caught capturing a cap or two from the garbage can, she has discovered ways to repurpose old toys, parts of plastic packaging, a hair curler, doll parts, egg cartons, and miscellaneous nuts and bolts.
“You really start to look at everyday items differently when you realize a little glass jar can be a plant pot, or an oversized bead can be a lamp base.”
Of course, you also have a tendency to keep just about everything, because you never know when you’ll need it. That’s not a problem when your studio is inside a warehouse, but when it is tucked into an 8 x 9 foot room in the basement of the house, you have to get creative with your organizational skills as well. Watts fits everything into three walls of pegboard and a fourth of shelving.
“When I build, I am messy.
“I don’t like to put anything away until I’m completely done with what I am building. For some reason, it just throws my creative groove when I have to pull things out every time I’m ready to work. Instead, I like it all to be out and visible. With having such a small space, that means I have to do regular deep cleans and organization days.”
One Inch Equals One Foot
Working on a 1:12 scale (one inch equals one foot), Watts creates entire furnished dollhouses, as well as individual mini-pieces — pillows, tables, beds, lamps with those confiscated caps, even surfboards — on a custom and retail basis. It’s become a family affair, with her youngest daughter — the one who inspired her to start on the mini-adventure — suggesting new items and “test playing” with each piece before shipment. Watts’ teenage son, who “kind of laughs” at his mom for playing with doll stuff, nevertheless is drawn to the mechanics and technical skill required to recreate items in miniature. And her oldest daughter offers suggestions on coordinating paint colors and fabrics.
“She loves looking at the end result because EVERYTHING is cuter in miniature form.”
Not only cuter, but also detailed, intricate, and challenging. Watts has learned, and continues to learn, that miniature creation is a craft demanding copious amounts of patience, a virtue she progresses upon finessing.
“There is so much planning and waiting in miniature work. The glue has to dry; the paint has to dry; there’s multiple sandings, painting, sewing, ironing, gluing, sanding again, painting again, only to wait again.”
Reminders of Childhood
But oh, how it’s worth it, especially when she gets feedback from happy clients. Her most poignant sale involved a complete dollhouse shipped clear across the country to a woman who purchased it for her daughter’s birthday. Both girls are named Mia; they share eerily similar middle names, are the same age and have birthdays around the same time.
It was meant to be.
“My goal is to bring joy and wonder in each piece that I make,” Watts says.
“I want people to be reminded of their childhood or think of their grandchildren.
“And I want people to be amazed at how real something looks.”
That’s big. That’s big indeed.
Contact Wenaha Gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.