Meet the Miniaturist
We all have our stories about the people who inspire us in our miniature-making journeys. These are the people whose creativity, passion, and ability to connect with us wherever we are in our journey make them truly inspirational. Truly special.
For me, Ara Bentley is one of these inspirational miniaturists. If you make miniatures, you have likely seen one or two (or ten) of her YouTube videos, posted on her Bentley House Minis channel. Her background in architectural design helps her to bring a great level of realistic detail to her projects; her background in education helps her deliver tutorials that are easy for us to follow and understand.
I'm so pleased to introduce you to Ara Bentley this month, in our second Meet the Miniaturist profile!
Visit Ara on the web at www.bentleyhouseminis.com, or on her social media channels:
Addams Family Mansion by Ara Bentley
When did you start creating miniatures? What inspired you?
Technically I started making miniatures in college. I studied Architectural design and we had to make a model for almost every project. I found that I really enjoyed building them and would always volunteer as the "model person" if we were in a group. After graduating, I missed creating models so I built a few miniature sets for a theater set designer in Dallas. And then finally I purchased a dollhouse in 2008 and started make minis for myself!
What is the first mini that you built?
The first mini I ever built was a chandelier made from paper clips and it was AWFUL! The first project I started was the Addams Family Mansion.
You have an architectural background that helps you with your mini designs. Can you talk a little bit about that? What skills were you able to carry over?
The skill that I think has helped me the most has been being able to think in 3D. Many of my designs begin as 2D drawings, but I draw them from every angle and create cross sections through the middle until I completely understand how it will work in 3D. This is a skill I was taught in school and is something I used as I worked in the Architecture field for 4 years. It was also very helpful with understanding scale and the math that can come with sizing things.
How else has your career outside of minis inspired your miniaturist career?
I also taught art for 4 years and that helped me tremendously when it comes to creating miniature tutorials. Every day I had to explain an art concept or technique to a room full of children and their success widely depended on how clear and concise my directions were. I feel the same kind of responsibility when I upload a tutorial to YouTube... I want people to be able to follow it and feel successful.
I think there is a special connection between humans and the spaces we inhabit. An environment can create emotion and bring back memories like nothing else.
In general, what is your process for designing and creating your minis? What inspires you, and what does your journey typically look like from inspiration to video production?
Many times my miniature scenes start from a story or even sometimes a 'feeling' that I want to convey. Just like many other types of art, I want my miniatures to not only be interesting to look at, but also have some kind of meaning. To use the Abandoned Coffee Shop as an example, I was mostly interested at the beginning to study how nature can take over buildings that humans have abandoned. There is a renewal of life that can be beautiful among the perceived destruction. I began creating the Coffee Shop with that idea in mind, and then shortly it became an entire story that I eventually told through a video. I enjoyed that process so much that I don't think there will ever be another project that feels completed without a story.
...I was mostly interested at the beginning to study how nature can take over buildings that humans have abandoned. There is a renewal of life that can be beautiful among the perceived destruction.
You have a successful YouTube channel, filled with subscribers who love your great instructional style. What made you want to share your minis with others?
When I began creating miniatures I felt like I was all alone. I didn't know anyone in my area that made miniatures and I felt like friends that came over didn't really understand. I am blessed now to know several people and actually be part of a local miniatures group but at that time I started my Youtube channel to connect with other miniaturists and share my work with others. I have been so happy to have grown such a positive community that loves minis as much as I do!
You are wonderful when it comes to personally connecting to your followers. Why is that important to you?
I have always said that my channel is more about people than it is about miniatures. I started the channel to connect with others that also love this art form. Without the beautiful people that comment and interact with my projects they would not be near as fun for me to create. I love that we have "channel projects" as I call them. Currently it is the Captains Quarters. During these projects many of the ideas come from the comment section and I couldn't be more thankful for that. What's better than 1 creative mind coming up with ideas?.... 100's of creative minds!
Your Addams Family series on YouTube is so fun - what inspired you to create that design? How long did the entire project take?
I have always loved the Addams Family. I remember watching them as a kid and always wanting to be Wednesday (of course I was a bit too smiley). A theme that runs through every single Addams Family show or movie is 'It's ok to be yourself even if everyone else thinks your weird." I think a lot of people resonate with that. The project has been going on for 10 years now. However within that time frame I have had 3 different jobs and 2 children, so it wasn't the only thing that I had going on. I have only been a full time miniaturist for about 6 months now.
What is your favorite video or project that you created for Bentley House Minis? Why?
I really love the Abandoned Coffee Shop still. I think I love it because it was when the BHM community really start to grow and get people excited about miniature art.
What do you enjoy most about designing and making minis?
I enjoy the challenge of translating life size objects into miniature. It's more than just scaling things down. You have to consider types of materials, how those materials bend, finishes, details like nail heads etc. There is always things you can add to make things more realistic but the fun part is figuring out how to do it. For example... I can't use a real nail to create a nail head effect on a piece... it would be out of scale and difficult to control even if I found the smallest nails possible. So the challenge is to find a way to 'fake' the nail heads to create the illusion of realism.
What do you find to be most challenging?
Fabric. Fabric does not like to scale down at all! I also find creating realistic food very challenging. I prefer to buy mini food from artists who already have that skill down.
What advice do you have for beginning miniaturists who aspire to do what you do one day?
Create what you enjoy. If you are working on something you love, then you will keep working on it. Even when things get tough or you get frustrated, if you love it then you will most likely come back to it. I would also suggest starting with something smaller like a room box. I started with a mansion... and I still haven't finished it! I think it would have been a lot more encouraging to have a few smaller finished projects under my belt before starting something that would take me years to finish.
Lastly, a question that we are asking everyone - why do you love minis? What connects you to the world of miniature? Why is it important?
I think there is a special connection between humans and the spaces we inhabit. An environment can create emotion and bring back memories like nothing else. Think about the way you feel stepping back into a beloved family members home after a long time away. Creating miniatures is a way to hold and own a bit of that environment. And maybe its not even an environment you have ever been in... maybe its a fantasy world. And while its impossible to create a life size world that defies gravity or fulfills the creative stories only you see in your mind... you can do it in miniature. And you can hold on to it and peer in to it whenever you like. It's kind of magical I think.
Besides your web and social media channels, where can people find you?
I am a member of the Society of American Miniaturists which is based here in Texas so I am at many of their events. I am almost always at the Dallas Miniature Showcase. If you want to interact with me online the best place would be on my Facebook business page which I try to check daily.
Anything else you'd like to share?
I just want to add that my family is very supportive of my work as a miniaturist. While I can imagine there are a lot of people that might see what I do as "playing with toys" my family understands that it is an art form and they support my passion for it. They ask constantly what I am working on and are some of my biggest cheer leaders. I am so thankful for that!