Miniatures and More by Damien James Webb
When I was a kid, I had a huge bin of toys…my favorite was a set of Fisher Price camping gear. It had a little car with a boat roof, a little peg family, and a tent trailer. I used to play with it constantly. Then it was Lego… a lot of Lego… after that it wasn’t until I was in high school that I really started to figure out my passion for all things tiny.
How did the idea for pet rock dioramas come about?
The pet rocks (or Rockafellas as they have come to be known) actually started because I had a co-worker who came into work one day and told me she had tripped over a rock as she was walking from her car. We joked that it must be out to get her and that she should watch her back. The next day, I had made a rock with a fedora and fake nose and glasses holding a newspaper and hid it in the office as if it had been doing recon on her. After that, it kinda spiraled into what the lives of rocks were. What did they do for work? Do they have families? What happens when they grow up?
Can you describe your transition from set design into the field of miniatures?
It’s a very natural transition actually. When designing a set for the stage, one of the usual things you would do is make a maquette of the final design so you can better visualize the space on stage. It’s usually a very minimal, white, paper diorama built to scale on a model of the stage to be used. A sketch is all well and good, but being able to see how things are spaced, how large set pieces are and how they play off of one another, is very helpful for all departments involved. Taking this and turning up the detail level is a fairly straightforward process when you put your mind to it.
The first miniature thing I remember making after school was a little model car. It was about two years after I had graduated and I was working as a locksmith. One day at work, I was cutting holes out of a door to install a new lock and realized the round bit that came out of the door I was about to throw out would make a perfect wheel… I took it home and started to mess around with the idea of building this cool old rat-rod style car with big back wheels and a big V8 engine with pipes coming out the sides… it was going to be a very “Big Daddy” Roth kind of thing. However, I didn’t have the same work ethic as I do now and I ended up only getting about ¼ of the way into it before I either lost interest or ran out of time or something. It ended up sitting in the back room of the apartment I was living in at the time until my wife and I were packing to move across the country. I ended up leaving it there and have regretted it since, but maybe one day I’ll make it all from scratch for a second time.
Do you ever create one-off miniatures or are all your works part of a larger scene?
Actually, when I started making things on a more consistent basis, I was making “one off” things more exclusively. The problem I was having with that was that because I was making things at such a good clip, I was running out of room to store and display them. Plus, I was starting to make really silly, esoteric things like hot plates and hats and the like… so I started making small dioramas, which allowed me to then not only make more things, but also gave me a reason to be making them in the first place.
What happens when pet rocks grow up?
In my mind, I like to think they’re just like us. They have bills to pay, families to raise, and even their own lives to figure out. They get a first job as a fry cook… go on family vacations… and even take up making miniatures as a hobby.
What are some unexpected materials that have made their way into your pieces?
Thanks to my degree in Theatre Production, I see use in a lot of weird junk. Recently, I have made a little diner inside of a coffee pot. It’s probably one of my favorite odd things I’ve included in my work so far. I’ve also started to build inside of old cookie and chocolate tins and cans.
My inspiration doesn’t always come from pop culture, but it’s usually the case. That being said, a lot of my ideas for my Rockafella figures come from caricatures of real people or situations. It’s usually a bit of a mixed bag.
Are all of your rocks found? Are they real rocks?
All of the rocks ARE real. I have been asked this before many times strangely enough… Most of them come from the beach at White Point, NS where I work, but there have been a few that have come from other sources (like some wonderful lava rock from the beaches of Hawaii). A lot of the time, I come up with the idea of a diorama or character first, then find a rock that fits that character. There have been times, however, when I come across a rock with just the right style that is just screaming to be one particular thing (those are usually the best ones).
What is your favorite type of miniature scene to make?
Oddly, this is something that doesn’t happen often, but I enjoy making things that would never exist in the real world. There’s something about seeing a thing with dimension and substance that just couldn’t exist in full scale that’s very satisfying.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work with miniatures?
Learning more about the techniques and uses of materials… there is a large community of model makers and diorama artists, but it’s very difficult to network at times. So, I’ve had to go about a lot of my learning on my own which can be a slow, taxing process.
What advice would you give to new artists and beginner miniaturists?
Always keep making stuff. Seriously, when I was younger and I knew that art was a thing that existed, I always just assumed that it was something that was taught like math or biology. I figured that it was a job just like any other and that people would always be asking of you… this (unfortunately) is NOT always the case. In order to better yourself and gain the attention of people who will offer you that work, you have to be constantly making. Even if it’s only for an hour everyday… sketch an idea, paint something, build a silly little prop that has no use or purpose other than looking cool. Start making art for yourself and soon you’ll be making it for others. Oh, and don’t ever feel that because some people don’t get why you do what you do, it’s dumb… if it makes you happy then keep doing it.
Favorite miniature you’ve made?
My favorite piece I have from my own work is probably The Cooker figure I made. Wallace and Gromit movies are some of my favorites and A Grand Day Out is among my top five.
What inspires you? What keeps you creating?
Seeing other people enjoy what I do is the biggest push for me to keep making more. I’ve had kids send me pictures of things they have made themselves because they were inspired by my work. It’s very touching that what I do is making them want to pick up a glue stick and some paper and make art.
What is the most memorable miniature you have ever seen?
As you may have guessed, I enjoy anthropomorphic things… so the work being done by Peter Sluszka and his crew is something that is really keeping my interest. There is also the amazing art made by Steve Casino which is really inspiring as to what can be accomplished with odd materials.
What is your hope for the field of miniatures?
I’d like to see more miniature art in the mainstream. We are starting to see a renaissance of model making and practical effects in movies which is a great sign, but I don’t think it will ever be like it was back in the day. What would be great to see is more miniature art in galleries. As for collecting, miniature art isn’t always cheaper… but it is easier to store and display. It also helps support lesser know artists like myself who don’t make a whole lot of money at our craft seeing as it’s not like traditional arts like painting or sculpting. One day, I would love to see a larger community of model makers, miniaturists, and diorama builders come together in some way to celebrate all things tiny. A convention, or a group show… there has been some in the past and I have participated in a few at local galleries, but it has never been presented in a large scale, and that’s what I’d like to see one day.
Any favorite artisans working in miniature that you’d like to cite?
There’s really just so many people who I follow and respect… aside from the two above, there’s Raphael Bortholuzzi, Greg Boettcher and Bryan McIntyre, Ryan Monahan, Simon Kangiser… just to name a few.
Any contemporaries you’d love to collaborate with?
I don’t really have any specific people who I would want to work with… but don’t take that as a “I don’t like to collaborate.” It’s more I don’t really have a bias to any specific art style or level of artist… It would be neat to mash together my style of work with anything really. I’d like to experiment with how art can be presented and received, and give people a different perspective, so to speak, of what art can be. I realize that’s a terrible answer to this question, but I’m more just open to the idea of learning new techniques and ideas from other artists.
I don’t know if anyone has ever done this, but I have always wanted to make some of the sets from Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice or even The Nightmare Before Christmas. I know of some people who have sculpted the characters, but the sets themselves are so details and beautiful in their own right.
So, no to get super deep on the subject… I have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) which means that concentrating on things can be difficult for me. Something to do with the “reward” sensors in my brain. I tend to find traditional learning boring because there’s very little gratification for it and can’t keep my focus for long periods of time, unless it’s something I find enjoyable. For many, this is math because it’s the only thing currently being taught in most schools with a natural “puzzle” style learning method (figuring out the solution using skills you have learned rather than memorizing dates in a book or how to structure a sentence). Visualizing things in 3D space and working with my hands ended up being my thing. Vehicle Mechanics in high school, Prop Making and Set Construction in University, I even worked as a locksmith’s apprentice for a year. I like taking things apart and figuring out how they’re made (how books are bound, how a house is built, etc.). This just naturally turned into making those things for myself in miniature. There’s something about looking down on a world I’ve created… seeing all the details at once that make up a larger story about what’s going on. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction like nothing else.
What’s to come from Damien Webb?
I’m currently working on a miniature of the set from The X-Files (Mulder’s office to be specific). It’ll be for an art show around the end of the year, so I can see that taking up a lot of my time for the next little while. I do have some plans, however, for a large scale window display that I should be starting on fairly soon. Other than that, nothing solid… look forward to seeing some cool new lighthouses though.
Nothing is impossible…. It can be too expensive, too dangerous, or too time consuming… but never impossible.
Favorite quote about miniatures?
“The older I get, the more I’m conscious of the ways small things can make a change in the world. They may be tiny little things, but the world is made up of tiny little things, isn’t it?” –Sandra Cisneros
Other activities you enjoy?
I’m going to sound like a huge nerd here, but my second hobby is video games, and I’m not talking about playing Call of Duty online every other weekend… I consume them like some do with books or movies, one at a time for long periods. Learning about how they’re made, how the industry is evolving, who is making what and for whom. Being enveloped by the worlds that are created allows for an escape that helps my mind calm down. I get to be a different person with different worries. It’s very cathartic…
Anything else you would like to add? What do you want miniature enthusiasts to know about you?
I am a normal person… I work an office job… I have a wife who loves me, four rabbits, and a dog. I am not perfect… always learning… and I’m not the best at what I do… but I feel happy making art, and I’m glad others like it too.
Damien James Webb is based in Charleston, NS, Canada. To see more of this miniaturist’s clever Rockafellas and more, check out Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. For a recent feature on his work, watch this clip on Pre-Shrunk from CTV News.