Daily Mini Interview: Fine Art Miniatures by Natasha Beshenkovsky

Natasha Beshenkovsky Miniatures

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IMG_2892Can you describe your background in the arts?

I have been a professional artist all my life. I started my professional training at the age of 11 when I entered an art school in Moscow under the supervision of Academy of Art, where I continued my training for 7 years. After that, I studied film at the Moscow Film Institute. I graduated as a director and focused on short, 3D-animated films. I designed, wrote and directed the films which were shot on flat tables and used props approximately the size of 1:12 dollhouse scale. Through my work in animation, I got great experience painting and sculpting in small scale.

When I came to this country, I was first trying to work in textile design. It wasn’t interesting or satisfying for me. My friend had read a New York Times article about the Guild Show. It was 1980 and there was tremendous interest in miniatures at the time. Museum-quality collections were kept by lots of collectors. I saw that new artists were welcome at the International Guild of Miniature Artisans’ Guild Show so I attended and saw what artisans were creating at the time. I thought, “I could do that,” and the next year, I was a dealer at the Guild Show and my work was featured on the cover of Miniature Collector. I started selling to collectors from the get go. I couldn’t create enough miniatures! I was always working on orders months ahead and my work sold immediately at shows.

IMG_3028Twenty years ago, I came up with decoupage prints, “Natasha Mini Decoupage.” These were sheets of decoupage for people to decorate inexpensive pieces of furniture. When glued onto furniture, it looks handpainted. It’s a way for people to own work they consider mine, though it’s a reproduction. They were very popular and sold all over the world. Today, you can find them available through a few dealers and vendors.

Through miniatures, I’ve met lots and lots of people. I have traveled all over this country and Europe. I’ve represented American miniatures in France where I was a guest of honor. In 2000, the Nassau County Museum of Art held a retrospective of my work. My current show at D.Thomas Fine Miniatures is a “15 years later” exhibition of my miniatures.

She grew and grew...What is your favorite type of miniature to make?

When I started working in miniature, my specialty was painted furniture of all styles, from the Renaissance to Art Nouveau. I made hundreds of elaborate screens, cabinets, French commodes, and so forth

I had an exhibition at Flora Gill Jacobs’ Washington Dolls’ House and Toy Museum where I showed environments with figures in them. I started making figures and became more interested in sculpture about 15 years ago. I would create small, cartoonish characters in different historical styles. I would make three dimensional images out of flat planes of wood. My most important work in this field was the Central Park panorama that included rollerbladers, families, strollers, trees, the landscape of New York, and more. Featured in Miniature Collector, it’s four feet long and belongs now to Holly June Browne, who commissioned this work.

What is the most challenging miniature to make, and why is it so difficult?

185978_1acbd65fc2874f068c0ca80e4fd6746eMy shadow boxes, which are also often called 3-D paintings are different from most shadow and room boxes because they are designed to create a complete optical illusion. Trompe-l’œil or “Fool the Eye” style painting, distortion of proportions and shapes, forced perspective are used to create a magical space behind the frame, an illusion of much greater depth. Also, these shadow boxes are reproducing not the real world, but images in different artistic styles. These are the most challenging works for me.

Can you tell us a bit about Still Life in Miniature, your work currently on display at D.Thomas Fine Miniatures?

IMG_2672A variety of pieces are on display at D.Thomas Fine Miniatures, not only from different genres but also from different periods of art. One interior featured is the Kitchen in Delft, a Dutch-style shadow box in forced or exaggerated perspective; it is essentially a 3D painting.

And there are two still life works, as well as painted furniture, animal sculptures and miniature paintings.

What’s your favorite period of art history?

My favorite is the work of 17th Century Dutch masters.

IMG_4155_opt (1)_opt (1)What advice would you give to new miniaturists?

You cannot do miniatures unless you enjoy the process. If you pursue miniatures exclusively as a career or living, you must enjoy the process as it is insanely time consuming. It has to be play not work for you. Nowadays, people pay me for what I’d be doing anyway. Unless you have this feeling, it’s very hard, repetitive, and time consuming.

My advice is to challenge yourself, change subject matter, and change styles.

What’s your hope for the field of miniatures in the future?

still-life italian 2I honestly hope that there is a new wave coming. When I was starting, miniatures were booming. There was definitely an old generation of collectors who have since disappeared from the scene. There were no new artisans for awhile. I have a feeling it’s coming now: new collectors and new artisans. There’s a growing interest in the United States for handcrafted and artisanal things, and miniatures happy to be one of them,

Miniatures were mostly historical, but it’s challenging and interesting to reflect our own contemporary life in miniature.

What inspires you?

IMG_3937Art and thousands of years of miniature history inspire me. I enjoy visiting the The Cloisters branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and often spend time looking at the reliquaries there; I find these religious objects to be inspiring.

Why miniatures? What appeals to you most about what you do?

I started doing art when I was a child, so it’s a life function for me: sleeping, eating, and making art. I try to keep challenging myself.

What are you working on these days?

audreyRecently, I started creating assemblages, which include full-size paintings on canvas, very realistic, almost photographic, combined with shadow boxes containing 3D miniatures of the same subjects. I showed some of these at Good Sam this past October. My largest work was sold to a prominent collector; people loved it even though part of the work was a little larger and not in 1:12 scale.

What’s to come from Natasha Beshenkovsky?

I’m showing work in a local art show by the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance taking place in February and March. This organization gave me a grant to create miniatures, specifically the Central Park panorama. I believe I’m the first miniaturist to receive a grant from an arts organization to create miniatures.

My next major show will be at the Good Sam Showcase in October.

What do you want miniature fans to know about you?

IMG_2939I think miniaturists know quite a lot about me, because I’ve been in this field for quite a long time, over 35 years, in fact. I’ve participated in all the major shows and my work is in the Kansas City National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, as well as other miniature museums.

I have this saying which has become a motto of miniature clubs: miniatures are not beautiful because they are small. Miniatures require that we concentrate our attention in this contemporary world where people rush and rush. They cause people to stop and think about how beautiful the world is, and how much time was put into the work. That’s the joy of miniatures. The intention and joy of the artist demands attention by the viewer.

Master artist Natasha Beshenkovsky creates a wide array of miniature art including shadow boxes, paintings, sculptures, decorated period furniture in 1:12 scale. Her miniatures are included in many museum collections in the U.S. and abroad. For more on her process and works of art for sale, visit the Natasha Miniatures website.

mama cat

Daily Mini Interview: Wildlife Miniatures by Beth Freeman-Kane

Beth Freeman-Kane’s Wildlife Miniatures

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How did you first get into miniatures?

I think I was born to make miniatures. I started when I was 5 and 6 years old. I would create tiny little things out of Play-Doh and plasticine.

11180321_884679638263691_341634020975730590_nIn first grade, I made a little elephant and my teacher was blown away. The teacher insisted I show the elephant to her colleagues.

Throughout my teenage years, I focused  my miniatures on a lot of cartoons, including Disney, Asterix, and Giles cartoons. At that time, I was using Fimo clay. When I was about 15 years old, I discovered polymer clay. A few years later, in my 20s, I began mold making and reproducing works in resin.

When I was in my late twenties or so, I realized how easily Fimo pieces could break, especially if I was working in exceptionally small detail, such as with a little beak or a tail extremity.

Were you formally trained in the arts?

I attended art school at university for 3 years, never completing my degree. The instructors at the time were quite hard on me and wanted to change my style. They tried and failed to get me to stop making such little things. After that, I began giving my miniature creations to family and friends. I remember quite a few Fimo ducks! Soon enough, a miniature shop in South Africa wanted to sell my work, and they successfully sold everything within the first week.

11144912_875026969228958_5375229331120946803_oWere you always fascinated with wildlife?

Yes, I’ve always focused on wildlife. From a very young age, I’ve held a passion for any living creature. Birds particular fascinate me, as there is so much variety within their species. There’s so much character and endless inspiration when it comes to birds.

What miniature animals will you focus on in the future?

I’m working on the idea of peacocks again. And I love my tiny mammals, especially mice, squirrels and chipmunks. I love meerkats as well, they’re perennial worldwide favorites. In the future, I’d love to do a hedgehog. First, I’ve got to work out how to realistically do their spines. And I’d love to do otters underwater!

1525719_662561537142170_895731175_nCan you describe your process when working with miniatures submerged in water?

One of my new techniques is to work with resin. It took me about 12 days to create a framed piece that had ducks in water. I’m really excited about the concept of diving birds. Perhaps puffins chasing fish underwater. And I’d love to create frogs swimming with their legs out.

Describe your process. How long does it take to create a miniature work?

That’s one tough thing about being an artist and a Fellow of the Guild, preserving the highest standard of miniature work. The further I develop as an artist, the tougher I am on myself. It takes me longer to produce a piece and I add more and more detail each time. I aim to achieve realism and perfection and continue to push myself harder. Years ago, I could sit and paint 10 birds in one day. Now I can do about 3. I find myself wanted to blend the colors, to achieve the round sleekness of the bird, all the feather details. So I end up painting layers and layers of color on the piece. When working with resin as water, I want to ensure the animals are whipping with the current, and that they’re slanted and spaced different to appear more realistic.

10255990_835239756541013_6296380106876031569_nDo you have any favorite miniatures you’ve made?

I’m quite proud of my new water works made out of resin.

Not too long ago, I made a beautiful barn owl flying into a barn, carrying a rat in its beak. That’s a piece that stands out in my mind.

My work is evolving all the time, as is my process. I’m always meeting new situations in the work so I have to innovate on the spot.

Sources or books you cannot live without?

I use the Internet frequently to find images of animals I’m working on in miniature. I collect bird books and have a number of field guides at home. I started out with only South African field guides and then expanded into American and European guides as my market extended to that side of the world. I aim to create pieces that will appeal to those audiences. The house sparrow, for instance, is universal and you’ll come across the same type of bird in every country across the globe. It’s a very uniting muse, and I enjoy the “every man” aspect of the sparrow.

My favorite book—I call it my “bird bible” actually—is the Sasol Birds of South Africa.

Materials you love to use in your work?

I use deer hair to make grass; bees wings to make dragonfly wings; parakeet feathers to make bird feathers; and the skeleton of coral to make the effect of little dead branches in scenes. I use only animal materials that have died of natural causes and donated their bodies to art. I’ve previously used driftwood found high up in the mountains that needed to be treated, baked and soaked in peroxide. I love using the calcified coral as it doesn’t decay and nothing eats it – it’s a rather inert, natural substance.

11174696_878989398832715_8938605717398732655_oAdvice you would share with a new artist?

I was lucky to have a supportive family who always liked what I was doing. They would say, “that’s marvelous! Make another one!” If I hadn’t had the support of my family, I might have lost it. I was very discouraged at times throughout school. And though my first grade teacher so loved my work, after that point, instructors always encouraged me to draw bigger to “fill the page” as if a picture had to be big to be validated.

How has the International Guild of Miniature Artisans played a role in your work?

The Guild has been a major part of my growth as an artist. In my early career, I was on my own. I thought I was the only one in the world crazy enough to make little things. Finding out about such a formal movement with other passionate people was very special for me. And now I’m able to earn a living making miniatures that I love. I never dreamt of being able to do this! I always thought it would be a hobby, just on the side. So, the IGMA Guild has played a very important part in my career and I was accredited with both Artisan status and Fellowship.

What do you want miniature enthusiasts to know about you?

I like to go sit outside in the sun for about 10 minutes during the workday. I enjoy watching the birds and watching the trees. There’s so many birds in the area in which I live so I get to see them every day. And I have a lot of pets at home: 6 dogs, 3 cats, 1 pig and 1 parakeet.

10679672_754939761237680_1542255285249914900_oI have a passion for the environment. I love coming across details in nature that people don’t usually notice. And miniatures are the same, as they grab your attention and show you an aspect into another dimension of beauty in the world. People might have not noticed that before. So, I hope my work gives them that. A second chance to go back and appreciate the little things.

That’s what’s so nice about framed pieces. It’s a cross-over boundary between the miniature world and the non-miniature world. You can simply hang my work on a wall in your home. You don’t need a dollhouse. Because it’s art.

Back home, many of my clients don’t know much about the miniature world. They love my work, and they love birds and little scenes. So, it’s a tricky balance to keep myself stimulated while creating my pieces and still staying connected to the world of miniatures. Thankfully the Guild offers exhibitions and the annual IGMA Guild School as vital opportunities to connect with other miniaturists. I’m given the chance to show my work, not just sit as a solitary art ant in my studio all day. It’s wonderful to give and receive encouragement from other artists. It revitalizes us. We learn new techniques, stories, and more – and we can share them all within such a supportive community.

Wildlife Miniaturist Beth Freeman-Kane is a 6th year instructor at the IGMA Guild School in Castine, Maine. She creates “A World in the Palm Of Her Hand” with her impeccably detailed wildlife miniatures. To view more of her work, visit her website or follow along on Facebook. 


Daily Mini Interview: Miniature Woodcarving by Steve Tomashek

Miniatures by Steve Tomashek

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How did you first get started in woodcarving?

My family always had an affinity towards the arts. As the youngest of seven, I was exposed to a lot of different art forms as a child. Carving was one of them. My father used to carve duck decoys, and I would recreate these in miniature form. As a young boy, I had an interest in war figurines, so I used to carve miniature tanks and airplanes out of wood. Later, I’d make carvings for my Grandma. lemur

With a burgeoning interest in sculpture and painting, I attended Indiana University where I further developed my woodcarving craft. My passion grew and has remained throughout my life. I was a sculptor and a painter, and I was able to unite my passions with a focus in miniature. At that particular time, I worked in miniature because the materials were more affordable in a smaller size. When your art is small-scale, you don’t need a lot of space and you don’t need as many tools or materials. I used a Swiss Army Knife at that time.

I majored in History, which opened me up to the extensive world of carving and the history of woodcarving across cultures. Many cultures are inspired by the animal form in art and nearly every major artist has also studied animal forms – Franz Marc, for one.

What materials did you use for your first carvings?

As a child, my father and I mostly carved out of basswood. We had two basswood trees in our front yard, but would pick up carving-ready wood (cut and dried) from local lumberyards.

Describe your creative process.foxsketch

I always sketch out my work before I begin to carve a piece of wood. I’m constantly sketching in a drawing book which helps with my creative vision for a piece. Even if I’m designing something from scratch, I also draw up a sketch first.

I frequently receive international orders from different kinds of collectors who still provide me with the artist freedom to put my own spin on a commission. One collector in particular has amassed nearly 100 of my works over 15 years or so, and she may advise a preferred size of a carving, but allows me to determine the color palette or style. I’m working on a set of chicks at the moment to complement a collector’s recently purchased chicken miniature; for this piece, I’ll be able to run with the color and style.chickenlittle

How has your work evolved?

I’ve become more deft at executing miniatures, so the amount of time it takes has been greatly reduced. Whenever I used to miscarve work in my earlier years, I would seamlessly turn the wood into something else. I miss that. Nowadays, I don’t make errors anymore.

For the past 20 years, I’ve been carving wood. Just recently, I have finally begun work on larger-scale sculptures and miniature scenes in boxes. One of my favorites is of a coral reef with fish swimming. My plan is to continue these into the future.reefsquirrel

Tool or technique you can’t live without?

These days, I work with the best knives for wood. When at school in Indianapolis, I attended a woodcarving show and there met a Lyons knife maker there who I still continue to use today.

Carving is relatively easy. There are three different types of woodcarving cuts: pull cut, push cut, and a stop cut. I’d highly recommend reading The Big Book of Whittling and Woodcarving Paperback by E. J. Tangerman. Chances are, you can check out this book at your local library. And, it’s likely the book hasn’t been taken out in the past year!

Non-mini artists, designers, books you look to for inspiration?

cowmilkTwo traditions close to my heart are Zuni fetishes and Oaxacan wood carvings. The Zuni animal fetishes are roughly the same size as my works (ranging in approximately 1-2 inches) and these are made out of semi-precious stones. Some Zuni works are abstracted forms. As for the Oaxacan wood carvings, these are a tabletop size and characterized by a free palette. These artists’ creations range from the more crude to the truly magnificent. I’ve sort of married these two traditions, Zuni and Oaxacan, to create my own style. I’ve allowed myself to use a free palette and range of colors when painting.

Miniaturists that inspire you?

Netsuke, 17th century Japanese miniature sculptures. They took the carving craft to a new, polished level and truly perfected that form.

Are you a collector of miniatures yourself?pins&needles

Artists are the biggest collectors of their own work. I learned this at an early age, when my room was filled with paintings by my brother and father. It’s convenient to collect and keep my own carvings since they do not take up much space at all! Occasionally I will share miniatures with friends as a gift, or will trade with other artisans.

Why woodcarving? What appeals to you most about what you do?

I am a sculptor and painter because there are things I want to say that there aren’t words for. The very act of carving wood is now something that I need. When I don’t carve, I feel that something is lacking from my day to day. Woodcarving is both my meditation and my medication. My mind enters a different zone and I can tune out the rest of the world when I’m working on a piece. I use magnification on my pieces, so the act of carving truly blocks out everything else but the microcosm I’m working on.

1427481440Carving every day provides a rhythm to my life. Previously, I would carve for 12-16 hours at a time and then crash. I have found a better balance today where I can divide my time between other projects. I enjoy writing, working on projects in the garden, and spending time with my wife and animals. I work on blog posts quite often, and have been steadily making progress on a second book. This book will speak to the intersection of art and craft.

Most beloved miniature you’ve created?

I still have a chess set I carved for myself in college. And I particularly love the Peanut Gallery carving I made a few years ago—I keep it here in my studio.


What’s to come from Steve Tomashek?

I’m excited to move into my new woodcarving and art studio! There I’ll begin work on more large- and medium-scale pieces. I’ve worked in so many small studio spaces over the years, that it will be nice to have more room for my craft. Stay tuned for more on chainsaw carving!

Steve Tomashek lives in Germany, but is coming to the U.S. this summer to exhibit his miniature woodcarvings. For more on Steve’s colorful and whimsical menagerie, visit his website, shop the store, check out his blog, enjoy woodcarving videos on YouTube, or follow along on Twitter.

Photos taken in collaboration with Glenn Gordon.