Nova Scotia

Artist takes her tiny world to a big platform with huge pressures

Three years after discovering the art of miniatures, Susan Mattinson of Truro, N.S., is competing in an international competition and is part of the new television show Best in Miniature.

Susan Mattinson of Truro, N.S., competing in international miniatures competition

Susan Mattinson of Truro, N.S., is taking part in the CBC television show Best in Miniature, a challenge where each contestant has just hours to build a home by hand, in 1:12th scale. (CBC Gem)

When Susan Mattinson discovered the art of miniatures, her world got a lot smaller. 

In 2018, the Truro, N.S., native stumbled upon some miniature items for sale at a craft store. They piqued her interest and after doing some research, she discovered a whole subculture of miniature enthusiasts and artisans across the world.

She dove in headfirst, and now makes everything from tiny Christmas sweaters to little bookshops and small-scale dumpsters full of garbage.

"It was really great to finally find an art form that takes all of those skills that I've sort of dabbled in and brings them all together," Mattinson said in an interview Wednesday. 

Now, three years after discovering the art form, Mattinson is competing in an international miniatures competition. She was chosen to compete in the new CBC television show Best in Miniature, a challenge where each contestant has mere hours to build a home by hand, in 1:12th scale.

Among Mattinson's creations is this a tiny office. (Submitted by Susan Mattinson)

Out of 11 artists from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, she is the only one from the Atlantic provinces.

"I do feel like making it onto the show has legitimized what I do a little bit," Mattinson said. "It's not just me, you know, messing around with bits of wood."

The series has 10 episodes, each with a different theme, from cakes and dining to paintings and office work. After each challenge, the contestants are judged, and some are eliminated. The show's top competitor will win a prize valued at $15,000. 

The show premiers on CBC Gem on Feb. 11. 

Mattinson said she learned so much from the technically skilled artists on the show, but the competition was a steep learning curve. 

"I have never been in a competition like that before. I hadn't even built a dollhouse before," Mattinson said. "I trained for it when I realized I was going to be on because I'm so new to miniatures."

Mattinson specializes in textiles, like this miniature Christmas sweater. (Submitted by Susan Mattinson)

She specializes in miniature textiles, like tiny knitting and crochet. 

"Those are small, kind of bespoke pieces, but also very time-consuming," she said. "They can take days and weeks, sometimes, to slowly chip away at a project that small."

So when she had to build a whole home in 10 hours on the first episode of the show, the stress set in. 

"It will take some people years to put a doll house together."

Mattinson learned the techniques involved in miniatures from workshops and tutorials put on by artists across North America. 

Now, she wants to teach others the skills involved in her craft. 

She has been building an online presence under her page Nasus Miniatures, and makes YouTube videos to give people the resources they need to get into the hobby.

"I would like people to know that for the most part, making miniatures is not as hard as it looks," she said. "Just try it out. Just find something easy or get a little bit of clay and just see how small you can make something."

Mattinson wants to teach others her craft. (CBC Gem)

She said her piece of work that has become the most popular on social media is a miniature scene from The Chronicles of Narnia. 

"I think it was that connection to their childhood, to stories that they loved growing up and stories that they may still love and that magic … that really drew people."

Mattinson said she loves using her work to elicit emotion. She currently has a shop through the online marketplace Etsy where she sells her miniatures, and she hopes to start doing personal commissions. 

"I would love to recreate scenes from photographs that have meaning for people … and be able to recreate … grandma's living room."

Mattinson said Best in Miniature helped her learn about herself and become a better artist.

"I realized that story is really important to me, and making things with meaning are really important to me," she said. "For me, it's about more than making something that's pretty, or it looks like it should be in a home decor magazine.

"I realized that I'm a storyteller at heart."