I think most kids grow up being obsessed with small things. Miniature things. Perhaps it’s an essential human trait, linked to the aspiration to grow and to grow up. Maybe playing with tiny versions of things; vehicles, animals, soldiers and dolls – gives little humans the control, the feeling of being grown up – and having the freedoms and perceived power that brings.
Some oddballs like yours truly don’t let this obsession go and continue to play with miniature toys well into adulthood. I call it art to make me feel better about it… Nah I’m joking, I’m a proud fan of all the small things.
My current obsession is creating tiny structures made out of stone. I’m not sure what to call them; I constantly flip between ‘Cairn’, ‘Chimney’, and ‘Kiln’, but I think that’s just an automatic urge to label them. When I first started making them I had no clear idea what I was building, so it’s tricky trying to categorise them now – as nothing seems quite right. I didn’t set out to make a small chimney, I just started building the things…
More than anything, it’s therapeutic. It’s slow work, the raw materials are thin offcuts of stone – approx 1mm thick by 3-5mm wide, by around 15cm long. I snap these up into little pieces around the same size, set them up in the shape I want, and then glue them. Anything with glue is slow, but when your raking through a box of tiny stones trying to find one that roughly fits the space – that compounds things somewhat. Making teeny tiny stone structures does unfortunately not put food on the table, so of course, actually making the things is something usually spread over the space of a month or two. But I’m in no hurry.
There is something very enjoyable about laying each miniature stone though. Perhaps it is a hark back to childhood (the older I get, the more nostalgic I get). Perhaps it’s the slowness of the process in comparison with the rapid-fire-automaton of my other, digital pursuits. Perhaps I laid dry stone walls in a previous incarnation. I know the reality is that it’s a creative outlet, and I usually have a lot of pent-up creativity ready to spill out of my orifices (let’s not confuse creativity with skill here; I have a lot of one and a lack of the other).
In terms of miniature stonemasonry as an art form, I find it very different to drawing, painting or other sculptural work. Perhaps it’s different for other creative types, but I find my art is generally more calculated. To draw or paint something I have a general idea in mind, which I will refine, restart and reconfigure as I go. With the tiny walls, it’s different; I’ll start with a basic shape for the first layer (i.e. a circle) and the stones themselves dictate the shape and the configuration. I just try and make sure that the stones I place don’t just out too much. It’s very much like building a puzzle, piecing the small stones together in a logical pattern – so the general shape is retained.
The curious thing is the ‘puzzle’ element. It’s not like a jigsaw, where there is a single solution to find – there are probably a crazily high number of possible ways the rocks will fit together. But in the end, the rocks tell their own story and make their own shape. It’s almost organic. I feel quite removed from the whole process; as if I’m not really involved.