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I buy Michaels wares and Take A Seat Chairs
And love using bunka's unwindings.
I dismantle phones
And make egg carton stones
And buy rolling carts for my findings.
My adrenaline's pumping when others go dumping
And I love to sift through debris
If they would just ask I'd spare them the task
And take all their garbage for free.


How did I get this way?

Being a miniaturist teaches us to view the world with new eyes. For instance, if we can't find this; don't have that on hand; can't afford what others make; well, we improvise, and train ourselves to look for things to substitute. And therein come the Cheap Thrills which give such pleasure.

Elise in NY wrote me once, "I really want to know how all of you 'find' great things that I'm missing. How do you know something can work in a mini scene if you're not looking for it?"

It is not easy to explain what I call junk-snuffing, but I'll try.

Remember from math, "The whole is equal to the sum of its parts?" This is particularly true for us as crafters. We need to be able to break a real-life object down into its component parts, and then look for their equivalents in miniature. For example, think about a lamp. It consists of a base, some kind of stem or stand, the light/bulb element, and some form of shade or cover. A compote or footed bowl also consists of a base, a stem or stand, a bowl. When I am prowling, I mentally break apart jewelry at Goodwill or the dollar store and analyze what each part might be used for, such as that lamp or compote, etc.

I am also always taking apart artificial flowers.

I see food! Grapes, berries, lettuce, cabbage! (You can see the berries in the Anachronon the Wizard's Cart pages; the lettuces show up in (Grand) Children Projects, Rabbit Gardens, or Lettuce Have Lunch.) I have also been known to use one of those frills on a woman's hat!

Same thing with something made of small pieces of wood, like a picture frame that could become ceiling molding or a doorframe, or an import store placemat whose wood slats or strips could become floor boards or half timbers in a Tudor room, etc.

In making a tent, for example, we need poles, canvas, lacings or fasteners. It is unlikely that most of us could go to any store and say, "I need the parts for making a miniature tent," and find a kit easily. So we have to ask, "What in the real world could be used for those things?" Bamboo skewers or small dowels; a linen handkerchief painted beige or green, etc. However, with a little roughing up one can also use those same skewers or dowels to make tree trunks, and that linen handkerchief could become a bed sheet or a tablecloth or a dress on a doll.

Therefore, most miniaturists I know have stocks of things like skewers and dowels, various weights of fabrics, stores of jewelry findings and beads, wood pieces of all sizes and configurations, paper and cardboard of all types and weights, etc. And, of course, those ubiquitous toothpicks that can become everything from a stair spindle to a toy soldier (as well as a pusher tool and glue or paint applier).

Our eyes become trained to look for things that fit into our various "stocks." In other words, we need the parts in order to be able to make the whole. Then when we want to make something, we go through our stocks and if a part is missing we can go buy it or track it down.

My mother used to tell family stories (I get that trait from her), and I always knew when she was going into storytelling mode. She got that inward-turning, not-quite-focused-on-anything look in her eyes that meant the story was taking over to tell itself. I do that when I'm working on my so-called serious writing. It's almost a trancelike state; the story somehow taking over to write itself. And even though at that particular moment I may not know how that piece of writing may eventually fit into the whole of my story, I trust my instincts that it will.

Well, I have a feeling that those of us who glean for mini possibilities probably shift into some kind of similar state, so that our antennas are always out there waving when we go junk-snuffing. We don't always know exactly how we'll use an item, but we can tell if it is a component part of something.

That's what most of my Cheap Thrills are; a "Maybe I'll use this for this," or "Maybe I'll use it for that" kind of thing.

I think junk-snuffing is a matter of training ourselves to let go any preconceived notions about what real life objects are, then trusting our instincts that we will find what we may not even be consciously looking for, and will be able to use it later when the Aha! moment strikes.

Here's a summary:

1. BREAKING THINGS DOWN INTO SMALLER PARTS, as discussed above. What shape does each part form? Then: Where can I find a similar shape, or how could I make it?

2. TAKING APART SOMETHING THAT ALREADY EXISTS AND SEEING WHAT IT "COULD BE." Disassembling and analyzing each of the elements in a necklace or bracelet or pair of earrings, for example, acquaints us with many basic shapes that can become lots of things in mini. I love looking through old jewelry, junk drawers and button boxes.

3. COLLECTING THINGS FOR POSSIBLE USE LATER. It can take a long time to accumulate everything we need for a specific scene that we might have in mind, but eventually, those bits often come together for some of our purposes.

I saw a beautiful very elaborate brass Russian-type samovar in a real-life sandwich shop once and mentioned to the proprietor that I would love to duplicate it in mini for my own little coffee shop. She found a catalog that showed pictures of various coffee pots/dispensers, including that one, and gave it to me.

I have been accumulating parts for that samovar for years. I forget about it for a while, then come across the plastic drawer with the bits representing the catalog picture, and start looking through my stashes again. One of these days I'll finally get it together - and it will be the star of whatever scene it is in.

4. WILLINGLY PAWING THROUGH JUNK AND LOOKING FOR BARGAINS EVERYWHERE. Gotta get down and dirty sometimes! Who knows what treasures lie in that box, basket or bin?

5. MAKING MULTIPLES. When I finally learned to make silk roses (I have to turn them in the opposite direction from most people I know) I was so happy that I obsessively made silk roses for weeks. I am still using roses from that prolific period (although I admit I've gotten to the odd-colored ones). I also did the same thing when I learned a simple bow-tying technique; made bows and streamers for weeks!

If you make up a lot of plain iced cakes, for example, you have the basis for settings and gifts and swaps in the future. You can always add the trims and/or message later, and if one seems a bit worn, then put a fresh coat of paint on. Right now I have about 40 bundt cakes waiting for finishing touches. I got carried away pressing clay into a little candy mold found at the dollar store and figured, Oh, heck, I'll see how far this clay mixture goes. Now, if I need a little gift or small table favor, I have something for backup if I'm pressed for time.

6. TEACHING NON-MINIATURISTS HOW TO LOOK AT THINGS. My neighbor came over for coffee one day and asked what I'd been doing. "I've been making cookies!" I said, laughing, knowing that she'd laugh too because I've hardly baked a real-life cookie since my children left home! I had just concluded a miniature bakery swap, however, and showed her my prototype and mentioned that I used buttons as the serving platters for my cookies. The next day she brought me a bag full of buttons, but looked a bit doubtful.

"I'm not sure if any of these would work ...." she said, her voice trailing off.

I poured them out on my kitchen table and looked at them, one by one, saying things like:

"Oh, look, this is a platter!
"Picture this one painted: it's a pie with whipped cream on top.
"Wouldn't that make a perfect bundt cake?"
"This clear one can serve as part of a cake stand.
"This silk fabric covered button could become a sofa pilllow,...."

From that double handful of buttons I found all kinds of possibilities, and she was so pleased that she had given me something I could use. Some time later she brought over a bag full of baby shower and wedding corsages she had saved over a long period of time. "Maybe you can do something with these?" she asked hopefully. "I never knew exactly why I saved them."

I emptied the bag's contents onto the table and started examining them.
"This stork will work great in a fairytale scene I am working on. It's just what I need to go with my fairy babies."
"This little baby carriage can be repainted to be used as a planter in a gift shop, or of course it could be a toy in a child's room." (NOTE: You can see one of these made into a planter in the Tutorials pages)
"This large diaper pin could be hung on the wall in a baby's room and used as a quilt rack or for hanging baby items on hangers."
"This rattle could become the base for a lamp, perhaps, with repainting and the addition of a shade."
"These bells from the wedding corsage painted silver or bronze and given an aged look could be used in a church or school house, or they could be abandoned on a vacant lot ...."

She was so excited: "I knew there was a good reason I've been saving these," she cried. I have a feeling from now on she will be looking at lots of things with different eyes.

TO SUM UP, Cheap Thrills come from asking:

What do I want?
What do I have to make it out of?
What could I make it out of?
What's on the clearance table, in the bargain bin, at the dollar store?
Why don't I make several of these?
How can I show my non-miniaturist friends how much fun I have ... so they'll bring me some more Cheap Thrills!

And lastly, Cheap Thrills come from trusting ourselves enough to go into that zenlike junk-snuffer mode that will take us to them.

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