Show exhibits almost good enough to eat.
When Bel Ayala was a child her mother told her not to play with her food. These days, Bel of Sutton Coldfield plays all day with her food, and her family couldn’t be happier for her.
Just eighteen months ago, Barcelona-born Bel went along to a dolls house show and was enchanted by all the miniatures there. Deciding to have a go at making little creations, she bought some polymer clay and gave it a go.
What she discovered was an amazing talent for sculpting miniature items of food which are so realistic they could almost be real. Her tiny fruits, fish, meats, vegetables, breads, cheeses, dishes and cutlery are all made in 1/12th scale – the perfect dolls house scale. Although she says she doesn’t make the food totally perfect, because real food rarely is. Her skill is re-creating the real thing, with all the imperfections, colour variations, shapes, colours and textures as you’d see in real life. A case of perfection with imperfection.
“I often have the actual piece of food in front of me as I’m working,” says Bel, a former finance director. “And I make the item exactly as it is. For example corn on the cob is made up of hundreds of tiny pieces of corn which are glued into place. It’s the same with pineapples. Lobsters are in seven separate pieces – the head, claws, tail and so on. The bowl of half peeled potatoes still has bits of potato stuck on the knife – just as you’d see in real life.”
As well as working in polymer clay, Bel has also taught herself to make porcelain dishes and bowls, learning through trial and error how to bake and glaze in her mini kiln. She has also turned her hand to working with wood making 1/12th scale rustic kitchen furniture, wooden breadboards, trays and platters.
“I’ve always wanted to do something artistic,” adds Bel. “My sisters are all skilled artists, but I can’t draw at all. But it seems I can work with my hands. Although it astonishes my mum in Spain. When she sees my miniatures, she says – you’ve made these little things with your big hands!”
Bel’s husband, Juan Carlos is on hand for any technical drawing she may need and has ingeniously made her a small potters wheel for her porcelain creations. He says he is massively impressed by how quickly Bel has mastered these skills and how good she has become. “She is amazing! And her food really does look good enough to eat.”
All of Bel’s miniatures are unique. Painstakingly crafted and painted, and because they are so individual, she often gets too attached to let them go. She sells via her website and social media and has gained loyal customers all over the world. Usually, she finds when she puts a new item out for sale, it has gone within the hour.
“But some things I don’t want to sell, like the basket of apples,” she says, placing the tiny basket of fruit in the palm of her hand. “Ten times I put it out to sell, and ten times I bring it back!”
However, Bel will have to part with more of her miniatures soon, as she is attending her very first miniature exhibition in March. She has been accepted by Miniatura, who are well known for the high standards of miniaturists appearing at their events. Bel will be one of around 150 top artisans appearing at the NEC on 25th-26th March as part of the 68th Miniatura Show, and while she is looking forward to exhibiting for the first time, she says she is also a little bit nervous.
Pics: Rob Tysall