Starting Out Simple… Scale, Color, Shading & Sealing

Making Dollhouse Miniature Food From Polymer Clay
With Crown Jewel Miniatures

Starting Out Simple… Scale, Color, Shading & Sealing

If this is your very first endeavor using polymer clay to make miniature food, my best advice to you is to keep it simple but… keep it realistic.

The first thing I tried to make was a fruit basket. What could be simpler than fruit, right? LOL

It was a disaster but I kept every bit of it as a reminder of what not to do! At the time I considered myself a genius for making grapes, cherries, bananas and halves of cantaloupe melon but looking back I see where I went wrong.

Scale

First… I didn’t pay attention to scale. I had a 1:12th scale dollhouse (1 inch = 1 foot), but my fruit were as big as chickens! I’ve since discovered that the best way for me to make food to scale was to keep my dollhouse doll nearby when making mini food. Looking at her hand, I thought… how big would an orange be in my hand? Armed with that guess, I made an orange that seemed the right size for her hand.

I also made the grapes in one size and naturally that looked all wrong. It looked clunky until I began making the individual grapes in three different sizes and used the larger ones near the stem and the smallest ones at the point.

I also put away my Reutter porcelain (sorry Reutter) and brought out the plastic Chrysnbon dishes and flatware! Chrysnbon pieces are perfect 1:12th scale. If you made a bunch of grapes and they filled the entire dinner plate, you know you made them too big. These self-taught tricks helped me learn and stay true to scale.

Color

My second mistake was making everything from one color. I made the bananas from one color of yellow polymer clay, grapes were made from one color of light green, apples were one color of red, etc. If you want your minis to look real, you must give them depth and depth is a variation in tones that… in this case… gives the illusion of realism.

For grapes, this means you must make two or three shades of pale, light and medium green and then add a very tiny amount of each color to a fair amount of translucent. (The translucent clay is the most important color of clay you will ever need in making miniature food. It makes grapes, lettuce, and jelly opaque, it perfectly simulates fat on meat, it makes perfect ribbons of fat inside of ham… its uses are endless!) Back to color…

Using the Skinner blending method will help you achieve graduating, seamless shades of color for leaves of lettuce, leeks, scallions, watermelon, etc. The very best trick to perfect color shading is to work with a sample of what you are making in front of you. Cut open a cantaloupe, set it in the middle of the table and grab your clay. Try to match your colors, and your shading as best you can.

Shading

I knew nothing about shading and without it minis look like clay instead of the real thing. The most important time to shade with artist, or chalk, pastel is before your minis are baked. Afterward you can use deco sauce, acrylic paint, Gallery Glass… the possibilities are endless! Shading brings your minis to life. For example, you just made a wonderful halved cantaloupe! You mixed the inner color with a lot of translucent and you shaded it from melon to pale green to dark green inside… and outside you covered it with a thin layer of light beige clay. Then you rolled the outside (the rind) over a piece of Velcro or sand paper and gave it some texture… now what?

Break out your chalks! Scrape a stick of chalk with the side of a craft knife over a blank sheet of waxed paper, creating a tiny pile of powder. Using a dry paint brush dip your brush into the powedery pile of chalk and using a constant swirling motion, apply a little green, pale yellow and light brown to the bottom of one half… where the melon once rested on the ground. Next, use a toothpick and make a small round indentation in one end where the stem used to be and using a swirling motion, brush some medium dark green into the little indentation. Using your toothpick once again, gently score a lacy pattern all over the rind for texture and then dip a paintbrush into ecru acrylic paint. Remove most of the paint from the paintbrush by dragging it over a paper towel or scrap of paper (dry brush technique) and lightly dry brush the color over lacy design on the rind.

See what a difference shading makes?

Sealing

I suggest you always seal your work. Sealing not only give your mini foods the shine or sheen that they need to further the effect of realism, it preserves your work and retards fading. It will also make your work less appealing to small animals, critters and bugs. Sealing is especially important after using artist chalks for shading because even after baking the chalks will still rub off on your hands, clothing and anything else your minis come into contact with.

As mentioned earlier, there is no need to buy sealers with noxious and dangerous fumes. All craft stores carry sealers that require only soap and water cleanup. You can find these sealers in the paint section next to the Delta Ceramcoat, Apple Barrel and Folk Art acrylic paint. Fimo and Sculpey brands have satin and gloss (which do have slight fumes) but I haven’t seen matte finish. You’ll have to look for the matte in the acrylic paint section.

If you’re serious about making mini food you will need matte, satin and gloss sealers. Choose a finish that is appropriate for your subject. Use matte sealer for bread, satin sealer for a joint of beef and gloss for candied apples. If you’re making a layered torte cake, use matte on the cake layers and satin on the frosting layers. Remember… you’re chasing realism. Use the gloss sealer sparingly. I’ve seen some otherwise wonderful mini foods ruined because someone slathered a coating of gloss or satin sealer all over everything and made it look like cheap plastic. If you make a stack of pancakes cover the cakes in matte and save the gloss for the syrup.

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About - IGMA Artisan Robin Brady-Boxwell

Crown Jewel Miniatures by IGMA Artisan Robin Brady-Boxwell. Fine 1:12 scale dollhouse miniatures in ultimate realism! My blog is a compendium of new art, announcements, and advice on creating miniature food for the dollhouse and 1:12th scale shops, stores and scenes.
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