AT 46, JESS Chen is making headway on her miniature clay art. After more than 20 years of making miniature art, she currently focuses on selling wearable art rings ranging from S$8 to S$16 with the marketing help of her brother Casey Chen. These 28mm rings feature local food from Peng Kueh and Ang Ku Kueh to bowls of Wanton Mee and Seafood Soup.
Among her miniature food rings, her favourite is the traditional Chinese wedding cakes and biscuits. She managed to replicate the signature flaky skins of these cakes stamped with red Chinese characters.
Her miniatures are not merely displays of technical prowess. It embodies characteristics of her hardiness and frugality.
"We can tell you how our miniature food rings are made but we will have to kill you," Casey chimed in. Casey's experience in commercial design is a pressure for Jess to be as accurate as possible. The secret of these mini sculptures lies not in the materials or techniques, but the colouring. Most of the colours are not readily available on the shelves, so Jess had to experiment with various proportion to get the colouring right.
Every part of the food is made even if it is not visible to the wearer. For the mushrooms, she went to the extent of creating gills on the underside of the cap, and charring the dome to achieve the desired texture.
In her mini bowl of wanton mee, the wanton was made similarly to how a chef makes a real-life wanton - a glob of filling wrapped with a piece of skin.
"I don't like to waste food. I have always been independent since young. I chose to live with my aunt instead of my family," she said. "I think we can be such a wasteful society with our excessiveness." During the Bangkok tsunami in 2004, she churned out 50 pairs of mini beaded shoes to raise funds for the locals, and all were sold as a wedding dinner gift.
Her first foray into miniatures started from a pair of miniature crochet kittens, which did not come easy for her. Crochet is a process where fabric is created from yarn, thread, or other material strands using a crochet hook, and her teachers were adamant on using the right hand even though she is a left hander. She finally figured out the technique for left handers after two grueling nights.
The next miniature that Jess wants to conquer is a mini microwave that functions like the real microwave. Inspired by a fellow miniature artist who has created his own mini microwave oven, she has figured out the technology needed to power the turntable and lamp.