02 May

The Miniature Fairy Garden Project: Playing With Scale

playingwithscale

Before I get to what I promised last time, I want to talk for a moment about scale. Like model railroads, fairy gardens come in many scales. The most common is 1:12 or 1″ scale, which means one inch in your miniatures is the equivalent of one foot in the real world. Other common scales include 1:24 or 1/2″ scale (1/2 inch is the equivalent of a foot) and 1:48 or 1/4″ scale, which means 1/4 inch is the equivalent of a foot.

If you’re not sure what scale your accessories are (or may need to be), there is a very useful chart at minigardener.wordpress.com that helps you estimate. (There are also some great photos to illustrate the scales there.)

An example in the chart is the height of the door in your fairy house. If the door is 6″–7″ tall, it’s probably 1:12 scale. If it’s 3″–4″ tall, think 1:24. And if it is 1 1/4″–1 1/2″ tall, it’s likely 1:48. My garden is pretty small — the average scale is closer to 1:48.

However… as it turns out, there are a lot of accessories out there that aren’t made to one of these scales. Sometimes you find the perfect miniature mansion or tiny teeter-totter or wee wishing well, and it just doesn’t match your planned scale. What do you do then?

You have a couple of possibilities. One is to decide you don’t really care about scale — maybe your fairies come in all different sizes. It won’t look as “perfect, but that may not be what you are interested in for the project anyway. And that’s OK. There is another option as well, one I learned from the Imagineers at Disneyland. (Well, from reading about them, anyway.) Let’s look at the photo from the top of the page again:

Which one is bigger?

Which one is bigger?

How tall do you think these houses are, relevant to each other? Is one bigger? Are they the same size? How far apart are they? What do you think? Try to guess before you scroll down further.

Did you guess right?

Did you guess right?

The house on the left is smaller than the one on the right. In the previous picture, however, the eye tends to see them as being roughly similar sizes. When you see a small house in the background, your brain thinks it’s small because it’s far away, not because it really is smaller. (This illusion would work far better if you could not see the wooden boards the houses are sitting on.) This is called forced perspective.

Forced perspective is used in many places, but at Disney theme parks, you can see it used to change the apparent height of buildings such as the castle, and to change the apparent size of Snow White in Disneyland’s Snow White Wishing Well area. For the castle, the upper sections are made smaller than they should actually be, so when a guest sees them, the brain will be fooled into thinking the castle spires are much further away — taller.

The situation for Snow White is similar. Disney received a set of statues as a gift once: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But… they were all the same size. Snow White was the same height as the dwarfs. And as we all know, she was quite a bit taller in the movie than the dwarfs were. So Disney solved this problem with forced perspective. The Snow White statue is set much further up on the hill than the dwarf statues. The brain is fooled into thinking she only looks too small because of the distance.

(Photo by HarshLight via Creative Commons/Flickr.)

(Photo by HarshLight via Creative Commons/Flickr.)

It’s fascinating; even knowing that Snow White is the same height as the other statues, it’s hard to make yourself see it.

How does this apply to your miniature garden? Two ways. One is that you can make your garden look larger by using forced perspective. Putting small items further away from the viewer will fool the eye into thinking that the space is bigger than it is. And the other way is that you can use it to “mix scales” in your garden. If you have a large house and a very tiny house, use forced perspective so that both of them can fit in the garden without the size looking wrong.

A view from the front of the garden to the back.

A view from the front of the garden to the back.

This photo shows an angled view from the front of the garden to the back. In the front, there is a gazebo. This is the largest-scale item. (It’s actually a tiny bit smaller than it should be for that location. The wishing well that used to be there was larger. The gazebo will probably move a bit at some point for this reason.) Further back, we have a small green house. The scale is a bit smaller than the gazebo — it’s pretty close to 1:48. (The birdhouses are actually too large to be there, except for the smallest one! I should move them.) Still further back, we see two small houses, one of which was the small house in the photo at the top of the page. I’d guess they are about 1:96. And way back there, with the orangish roof and in front of some rocky “hills”, there is a tiny, tiny Tudor-style manor house. I haven’t measured it, but it may be half the scale of the houses in front. And they are right in front of it, but it doesn’t look that way. (That house was a Goodwill find a few days ago. I don’t know if it was for a small scale railroad layout, or a fairy garden, or what, but I was thrilled to find it.)

The forced perspective makes the houses look further apart, and the garden space bigger. I still need to enhance the effect somewhat, however. (Tiny “trees” by those houses, for example. Need to find the right plant for that.)

Another forced perspective example.

Another forced perspective example, from “fairy-eye-view.”

Here’s another example. You can see three layers of distance here. The sign in the front is at least half as tall as the Tudor house right behind it. Think about that for a second. That means that if I put that Welcome sign right up against that house, it would appear to be one story tall! And that would look weirdly big. However, it’s up near the front of the garden, and so the size looks perfectly natural. (It helps that we don’t know what size it should be in the first place.)

Then, way in the back, we see one of the smaller peak-roofed houses. We already know from the photos above that that house is smaller than the one in the middle distance. But in this photo? The brain has no trouble seeing it as larger, and believing it’s just far away.

If I switched those two houses, it would look very odd indeed. We’d see a small house in front, and what would appear to be a giant behemoth of a house behind it. If I moved the Welcome sign next to the small house, it would suddenly appear bigger than a billboard!

So that’s forced perspective. You don’t have to use it, and sometimes you really don’t need to, but it can be a lot of fun to play with — plus, it allows you to acquire lots of accessories in different sizes that otherwise wouldn’t work together.

Next post, I’ll get back to what this one was planned to be — some more things to consider when planning your garden, and the “magic tips” to make your garden come to life.

Don’t forget that if you are in the Seattle area, I teach a workshop on creating your own unique fairy garden. You can find out more and sign up at Verlocal.

See the previous post in this series here.

30 Apr

The miniature fairy garden project: getting started

gettingstarted
So, you want to have a fairy garden. Before you get started, there are a few things you should consider. Some of them I remembered to consider myself; others were hard-won wisdom after I’d been working on my miniature garden for a while. No matter what, though, remember that you are doing this to make something you love. In the end, no matter what suggestions I make, the decisions are yours — and if you like what you created, then you made the right ones!

Think about the space you have available and what you might want to fit there. This was one of the earliest stages of my garden: I built some tiny hills and rockeries and planned where some of the houses might go.

Think about the space you have available and what you might want to fit there. This was one of the earliest stages of my garden; I built some tiny hills and rockeries and planned where some of the houses might go.

First: What do you want your garden to be?

  1. Location: There are three basic locations for gardens, in a general sense. Portable indoors gardens are set up in a dish, or a basket, or a flowerpot, or some other container, and kept indoors. Because they are indoors, you don’t have to worry about weatherproofing or things like that. Portable outdoors gardens are the same thing, but they stay outdoors. Sometimes they are in large containers like old wheelbarrows. In-ground gardens are not portable at all. They are right in the ground like any other garden feature.
  2. Size: Once you know your location, you have an idea what size you need. Fairy gardens can be tiny — tiny enough to fit in a teacup! But there are also some that are very large. The space available will help you decide.
  3. When?: The vast majority of fairy gardens people make are spring and summer things. They set them up in the spring, then when fall arrives, they take it down and set everything aside for next year. But there are others that are year-round. (Mine is one of those.) There are also some that are specifically set up for holidays like Christmas. If you are going to do an in-ground year-round garden, as I do, you need to prepare it for winter weather.
  4. Theme: You don’t have to have a specific theme, but it’s common to have a general direction. What will your garden look like? Common themes include Park, Village, Beach, Farm/Garden, Fantasy, or some mixture of these. Mine, for example, is a miniature village. If you chose a theme, it will help you narrow down your choices when you’re deciding what you want to add. But you don’t have to stick to any theme unless you want to.
  5. Style: This ties in to the next topic, “Which type of gardener are you?” Basically this is the sort of garden you want to do — one that is toy-based, so children can play in it; one that is whimsical and fantastic; or one that is so realistic that in a photo, you can’t even tell it’s miniature. A related decision: do you want fairy figures in your garden? Some people do, some people don’t. If you do, that will also relate to the size you choose for your other garden fixtures.

The first three plants went into the garden in September. So tiny!

The first three plants went into the garden in September. So tiny!

Next, what sort of gardener are you?

  1. Purist: Everything looks like the fairies made it out of stuff they found. Think “The Borrowers.” Houses and accessories might be made of twigs, pencils, buttons, paper clips, ribbons, bottle caps, etc. It’s not about realism, but instead making it look like the fairies have created a space in the human world.
  2. Miniaturist: Small is what matters. You might have miniature animals, etc. You’re non-purist about what is included as long as it is small.
  3. Playgrounder: The garden is to be played in, and that is the priority. You design it so kids can move around in or around it, and play with the figures and accessories.
  4. Cutista: Cute is your priority. Realism, accuracy, and coherent style are not as important. It just needs to be adorable. People squee when they see your garden, and rightfully so.
  5. Gardener: You’re doing this for the plants. Your fairy garden will be very, very green.
  6. Combination: Any or all of these! This is probably most common.

Or, you can just wing it. That’s OK, too!

I’ll stop right here for now. The next post will address a few more things to consider when creating or buying, as well as some “magic tips” to help make your garden come to life.

Don’t forget that if you are in the Seattle area, I teach a workshop on creating your own unique fairy garden. You can find out more and sign up at Verlocal.

See the previous post in this series here.

See the next post in this series here.

29 Apr

The miniature fairy garden project

topimgwtext
Late last summer, I had an empty space in my yard. Under the living room window, behind the rose bushes, there used to be a ton of marigolds, which sounds nice, but they grew like weeds in that space and looked horrible after they finished blooming. So my housemate dug ’em all out, and there was an empty patch of dirt where they had been. That was in late August.

I had an inspiration to turn the space into a permanent outdoor miniature garden, or “fairy garden.” Eight months later, this is what it looks like now, in April 2016:

Small house with a greenhouse. A mossy front yard, and a thyme "shrub."

Small house with a greenhouse. A mossy front yard, and a thyme “shrub.”

Looking through the village to the more distant houses.

Looking through the village to the more distant houses.

A gazebo on the hill.

A gazebo on the hill.

Thyme and Scotch Moss grow in the village.

Thyme and Scotch Moss grow in the village.

The front step of a new fairy house.

The front step of a new fairy house.

There is an Airstream trailer in the village. Like the other homes, it lights up at night when someone is home.

There is an Airstream trailer in the village. Like the other homes, it lights up at night when someone is home.

Another look through the village. There is a house made of twigs in the background.

Another look through the village. There is a house made of twigs in the background.

The front yard of the "Green House."

The front yard of the “Green House.”

The village lights up at night.

The village lights up at night.

A gazing globe outside the conservatory.

A gazing globe outside the conservatory.

Inside the garden conservatory.

Inside the garden conservatory.

It’s still a work in progress, and there are lots of things planned for it. But I’m pretty happy with it so far. It contains a garden conservatory, a gazebo, several houses, a miniature “Airstream” travel trailer, a small “creek”, lots of plants and moss that are slowly filling in the empty spots, a cemetery, and a tiny, tiny greenhouse containing tiny, tiny seed packets, tools, and potted plants.

The best thing about it is that it is solar-powered! At night, the houses light up, one by one as the “fairies” arrive home. There are also some “street lights” (actually solar path lights).

The second best thing about it is that doing this was cheap! If you go to a garden center (or even Jo-Ann’s) and buy a lot of fairy garden stuff, it will cost you an arm and a leg. But most of what is in my garden I either found at Goodwill, or made myself. There are a few things that don’t fit in that category, but most of those I customized in some way as well.

The conservatory building? Goodwill. The gazebo? Goodwill. The miniature wicker-style rocking chair in the conservatory? Etsy. The greenhouse? Well, I bought the tiny glass building on Amazon, but I made the furniture and accessories to go inside the greenhouse. The little green-painted house in the center? I made that out of polymer clay. The Airstream trailer? Goodwill, and it was once a birdhouse. The stone cave house? Goodwill, and it was made for an aquarium. The great thing is that you can do this too, and have a fairy garden that doesn’t look like anyone else’s.

I’m going to do some posts that talk about the various ways I put this together. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the pictures. And if you are in the Seattle area, I teach a workshop on creating your own unique fairy garden. You can find out more and sign up at Verlocal.

See the next post in this series here!

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