The Little World – The Measure Of A Diorama

You all know what a diorama is – a miniature set with scale plastic models. But did you know it was a historical thing too? Apparently one of the original definitions was of a scene  that was meant to be viewed through one peephole and that had lighting effects that changed as you looked.

Well, you could do that today with the plastic models, of course, but it would require a good deal more design skill than most people possess. I include myself in the most people. I can manage pictures of a scale set when I make it for one purpose, but I never restrict the viewer to just one angle . People are free to see the thing from all sides.

This may be a mistake – the older artists may have had the right idea about it all. I believe Vermeer made dioramas to help him with some of his most famous paintings…or maybe the paintings helped with the dioramas.

Most of the works that I see at the model exhibitions are model-centric. The builders do a splendid job of a central figure or a plane, ship or vehicle, and the surrounds are merely to shore up or show up that model. They may be very well done, with superb weathering and accessories, but they are a stage set or enlarged plinth for the model.

The other approach is one that is seen sometimes in museums. If they need to depict a famous scene or battle , there may be anywhere from dozens to thousands of models employed, but they are subservient to the overall impression or story that the diorama tells. It’s rare that you see it from all sides – the only one I remember was a Waterloo set depicted in one of the castles somewhere in England that was on such a scale and in such a large room that you could walk all around the thing. I’d been a re-enactor in one of the Waterloo years and was able to make more sense of it than a casual visitor.

I often recall this, and other Imperial War Museum dioramas, and think that it forms a good basis for judging our own efforts. LIke the railway layouts that are very well done, a good diorama can stand on its own with no models visible – or at least none that dominate the viewer’s attention. Then it really becomes a Little World.

The Little World – The Pile O’ Boxes

I used to laugh with scorn when told of the behaviour of other model builders – particularly those benighted souls who wanted to build plastic kits. It was not the fact that they were not scratch-building, and it was not the use of plastic – I can quite see the good sense of both approaches. It was the fact that they stockpiled kits.

I’d been told of people with rooms full of shelves full of kit boxes full of unbuilt kits. I considered they were full of it. After all, how could a red-blooded modeller not rip the packet open and start gluing and painting as soon as they got in the front door? Which of us did not want to cut Christmas dinner short and make a dash for the building board? Were these creatures of flesh and blood or mere zombies?

Well, time has a way of listening to our scornful laughter and then replaying it to us. I now have a small shelf of unbuilt kits to be ashamed of.

I have fallen into the trap of every other modeller – I have decided that I really need something long before I really need it. And now I am committed to getting the paint pots that are missing from the 45,000 ones that already sit on the shelf. And more brushes. And a different knife/airbrush/bandsaw/entire modelling shed/house and land. Anyone who said plastic modelling was a road to tranquility and content needs to have an Xacto needle file in the backside…

Well, at least I have this stash inside in an air-conditioned room. We are set for hot Christmas weather and I can retreat here and cut and glue while I wait for the cooler weather to come. The evenings should be perfect for spray painting.


The Little World – I Wish I lived There…

It is no secret to say that Little Worlders wish they lived there – in the Little World. They spend a great deal of their time and an undisclosed amount of their money building their place in it – railways, houses, businesses, vehicles and aircraft…they sew clothing for it and make fabulous scale treats. They make the LW a grander, cleaner, safer, more colourful place than they occupy right now. It is only fitting that when they show this to us, we look carefully.

Thus my visit yesterday to the WA Miniature Society exhibition. I had a stake in the show too, as my ” Pearl Of El Paso ” set is displayed at one end of an exhibit table. But for me, the most fun was looking at the other Little Worlds.

Pearl of El Paso being filmed.

M. Vincent’s studio.

The fish van.

The pub.

Just a quiet garden corner.

1:48th bungalow.

Every scale vision is a little different and every one is a new destination for the Little Worlder to go to when life gets tiresome. It may not be cheaper than a Bali holiday but it doesn’t leave a hangover.

The Little World – What’s the Point…?

Every Little Worlder has had it – whether they are miniature builders, doll house enthusiasts, toy collectors, model collectors, collector collectors, scale modellers, airplane flyers, train hobbyists, or r/c boaters – they have all had that sneering question…

” What’s the point ? ”

It is not actually a question – it is a statement. It says two things about the person who utters it:

a. I don’t enjoy little things – because I don’t or can’t have, make, see, or imagine them.

b. I want to make you feel less than me – and the best way is to belittle what you obviously enjoy.

Answering a question is one thing – but none of us is required to answer a statement. We don’t have to become incensed or feel bad about it, or to notice it in any way. But if we do want to reply, may I suggest one of the following…

a. ” There is no point. There never has been nor will there ever be. Only fools seek a point. ”

b. ” I do it as therapy. Let me tell you about my illness. Have you an hour? Come close and I will stimulate you. ”

c. ” You can’t see a point? Oh, dear. Not had much to do with art, then, eh? ”

d. ” You’d like to buy my  models/toys/figurines/diorama? Well why didn’t you say so? Don’t be shy. For you –  a special price –  $ 1500. Now don’t be a piker…no-one likes a cheap-arse. Let’s see the colour of your money…”

Most bullies never expect the victim fight back. If you are ready with a faster, funnier, firmer response than they can deal with, you have them on the run. When you see them sheer off and try to run for it, pursue them. You have the entire support of the Little World behind you.





The Little World Week – Part Four – This Wood Doesn’t Grow On Trees, Ya Know

Okay, I admit that was an exaggeration for comedic purpose – I’ve never actually heard a hobby shop owner say that. I have seen them sit huddled over the obechi stripwood muttering ” My Precious…” but that is another tale entirely…

I do not think that the Western Australian Forestry Commission should spend any more of its time trying to save tuart and jarrah forests from disease. And they should raise no more pine tree plantations – plough ’em under. What they really should concentrate on is obechi and balsa. From the price of the finished milled wood in the hobby shops it is evident that it could supplant gold, iron ore, or wheat as the state’s chief money earner.

The transport costs would be less too – they could replace the Peterbilt and Mack trucks and their the big trailers with fleets of Hi-Ace vans….

Of course, our state may not be suitable for balsa – it is apparently a tropical thing. At the prices they charge for it, however, the state government could afford to roof over the entire state and change the climate. The vast stretches of the Nullarbor plain may one day ring to the Exacto knives of the balsa loggers…

Obeche is African, and harder than balsa, but even more useful in strip form. It can be sawn finer and charged for higher. Unfortunately the Wikipedia entry says that the harvest in natural areas is unsustainable. All the more reason to bring it here, raze the Bell Tower and Elizabeth Quay and start the plantation.

In the meantime I can report that dear old IKEA is a good source of odd timber. I bought a set of their wooden venetian blinds for the studio some years ago in beech finish and had to shorten them to fit the windows. The extra slats have been providing 3mm stripwood ever since – the new Picador Pup saw makes easy work of dividing them.


The Tyranny Of ( No ) Distance


Overseas readers must forgive the title – it is a play on a standard phrase used by Australians to complain about living in Australia. We are mostly far away from where it’s all happening , and when we get closer to it, it moves away. In reality this is a blessing – most of what is happening is troublesome. But on to more important matters: scale models.

Our recent scale model exhibition was in the Cannington show hall and was well attended. Well, I attended,…and had a very good time. I spent money and met new people and looked at some wonderful models. But I was troubled with the way that the work of the modellers was set out – I don’t think that the standard way of exhibiting them does them justice.

Let me also add that I think this can be the case for some of the other miniature hobbies, though not to the same extent. Let me explain.


Scale models come in all sorts of scales – anywhere from 1:400 to 1:4. They are dictated by moulding machine sizes and markets as much as they are by artistry. Enthusiasts for any particular sort of model from any particular period are very lucky if the manufacturers of the kits have agreed upon a common scale – 1:72 or 1:35 say. The chance to work for years in one scale and add models from different nations must be a wonderful thing – particularly wonderful if the models are of contemporary devices. A person can then develop an accurate overview of the subject.


But at a general exhibition there will be models that people are proud of in many different sizes, and of as many different subjects as can be found on the hobby store shelf. They are well-made and painted beautifully, and then necessarily placed side by side and front to back on the display tables. I love ’em individually, but hate ’em en masse. The effect is a jumble that detracts from the individual work.



Yet…what is to be done if there are so many to display and so many categories to see? Frankly, I’m stumped, but I would welcome a more ordered approach. The Super Model Car Sunday ranks the models in two or three tiers on long trestles with a white paper backing. I dislike the paper as a confusion for automatic light metering systems in flash cameras, but once you do the adjustments it provides a constant canvas to show the artistry. Note, here again there is too much crowding, but no-one should be denied…


The doll house ladies put their dioramas on trestles with a cloth cover, but each house is a separate entity and they rarely clash.


I think that the competition models got a better stage – but of course there were fewer of them. It was nice to be able to stalk around and see the exhibits from several sides.


I am almost tempted to suggest a combined exhibition of large scale model trains and plastic models where the exhibits are hauled around the hall on a giant railway like a modellers sushi train. New ones come out all the time and old ones are parked in back of a partition. Stranger things have happened.

Note: as a photographer, the best idea I have ever had for display of 120+ images was a laptop and a digital projector on a loop timer. it presented my work and advertisements spectacularly for several hours at a dance show. It’s rare that you can get the facilities to do it, but it might also be a way to present the modeller’s work to a wider audience.


Not All Little Worlds Have To Be Real…


A great deal of artistry and hard work is expended by miniaturists to make their little worlds real. Of course they are always real in the mind of the builder – that goes without saying – but there is a driving urge to make the viewer see the realism as well.


This leads to ever more attention to detail, whether the little world is a motor car workshop or a Victorian parlour. There is always something that can be added. The makers of scale cars, aeroplanes, dollhouse furniture, etc. have long realised this and have taken to supplying food, tools, computers, packages, weapons, spare parts, and decorations for all the different scales. You can get lost in the contemplation of this as you look at the miniature.


Note: the ladies who do dollhouses hold a yearly exhibition that is well worth seeing. They have had the bright idea of putting the delicate and detailed miniatures and dioramas at a little distance behind a barrier to prevent damage from hands  and then supplying small sets of binoculars as viewing aids so that you can go over the displays centimetre by centimetre. Good thinking!

Okay, here is where we leave Kansas, Toto. My Little Studio has always prided itself on the combination of real human figures with car scenes and now is going to start doing the same for historic scenes. If I was a competent model builder and miniaturist I could make detailed dioramas and structures  for backdrops and then pose real people in them – alas my miniature building skills are rudimentary, and my purse not deep enough to afford the ultimate in detail that the real hobbyists do. Things would look fake.

And yet…and yet…there is a division of reality that is fake and everyone knows it…and applauds it. It is …the theatre. The theatre and the photo studio. In both these environments reality is truncated, reduced, suggested, and edited for effect. The solid wall of a house becomes a theatrical flat, and a stage set is comprised of many different elements butted up beside each other and nailed together. Joins can be visible and no-one feels bad. Architecture can be implausible, as long as it allows the actors to move well and produce the action for the audience. The audience is always in the front and frequently a little higher than the stage.

Conveniently, this is also the position that a still camera occupies on a miniature set.

So, I have taken stock of the 1:12 scale furniture that I already have, and purchased some more. I’ve scored big on 1/2 price 1:12 scale window frame and door kits and started painting them in suitable colours. I even have 1:12 scale hurdles and enough stairway to make a fake movable stage stairway. I am going to start cutting stage flats to accomodate these elements out of 6mm foam core board and covering it with the appropriate scale wallpaper or brick paper. I already have a medium sized 1:12 stage upon which these elements can be erected and taped together. Like a real theatre, once one production is finished, the flats, stage furniture, and props all go back into storage until needed for the next one. The joy of using 6mm foamcore board is that a 30 cm x 20 cm basic flat is light, cheap, and rigid, and can be faced on either side with a different finish.

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First Hazel Leaf Theatre stage production will be ” The Duchess Of Dartmoor ” and I will start casting as soon as the sets are done. I think it can be completed in three sets; Milady’s boudoir, Milord’s study, and the garden. It is a romantic melodrama.

Remember that miniature theatrical producers are superstitious about opening nights. It is traditional to wish them ” Break a fingernail…”.

Heading Image: Goldfische Studio’s production set for The Pearl Of El Paso. A 3-d film set and detailed as the motion picture camera is unforgiving.