'There are no trolls in miniatures' says this Canadian maker who's found community in her craft

When her mother got sick, Briar Nielsen started crafting small objects to keep her hands busy. Later, the community of miniaturists she found became a source of comfort and inspiration.

When her mother got sick, Briar Nielsen started crafting small objects to keep her hands busy.

‘There are no trolls in miniatures’ says this Canadian maker who’s found community in her craft | Best in Miniature

2 months ago
Duration 1:19
When her mother got sick, Briar Nielsen started crafting small objects to keep her hands busy. Later, the community of miniiaturists she found became a source of comfort and inspiration.

Every so often, Briar Nielsen questions her life choices.

"I find a lot of times when I'm making things, it's so tedious and I'm like, 'Why do I even like this?'" the miniatures artist says with a laugh. "I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, this is so annoying.'"

In other words, it's not easy being a miniaturist. Creativity and imagination, new challenges and hard work — any artist can relate. But miniatures require absolute precision, the tiniest details, and even magnifying glasses for some, just to recreate reality at one-twelfth scale.

The show Best in Miniature raises the stakes even higher for this painstaking craft, as the competition places these creators under a clock and the watchful eyes of professional judges. The winnings include a cash prize of $10,000 and a residency with the International Guild of Miniature Artisans in Maine.

Prizes and fame — it's a big win in this little world. As Nielsen says in the show, "I want to be the best. Like, who doesn't want to be the best?"

A childhood hobby turns into a relaxing pastime as an adult

As a child, Nielsen enjoyed playing with dollhouses, but like many childhood hobbies, it faded away over time. Her interest in these small, peaceful worlds resurfaced years later, however, when she needed some comfort in her life.

"[My] mom had been sick for a long time," Nielsen says. "And her treatment moved to palliative care, so I kind of wanted to keep myself busy, have something to do. And I just saw dollhouses once or twice on the internet again, and I was thinking, 'I'm going to get a dollhouse.'"

A hand, while a heart tattoo (and the initial H) works on the corner wall of a dollhouse.
Briar Nielson tattooed a heart with her mother's initial on her hand so that she could think of her while she works. (MarbleMedia)

Living in Toronto at the time, Nielsen visited The Little Dollhouse Company and bought a kit — essentially flat packs, like Ikea furniture — that constructed the shell, and she set out to make all the furniture and accessories inside it.

That was roughly four years ago.

Today, Nielsen runs an Etsy shop called Revive Minis: Contemporary Miniatures. She's made more than 3,000 sales and has collected more than 62,000 followers across both Instagram and TikTok. After an Instagram challenge for creators to represent their country, she showed up for Canada with a tiny Timbits box. And she's made it here, to Best in Miniature, competing with other artists from around the world.

In a way, Nielsen's new hobby also gave her a new family in the form of a welcoming and encouraging group of enthusiasts. Unlike other online communities, there are no trolls in miniatures, she says.

"[Part of] what helped me when I got back into it was finding that connection with people online after my mom passed away, because I shared my craft with her always," Nielsen says. "So I found that comfort in the miniatures community."

The good, the bad, and the ugly of making miniatures

On the show, Nielsen describes her aesthetic as "modern, clean, striving for perfection." But that perfection comes at a cost: occasional bouts of total frustration.

A tiny modern living room.
A miniature living room created by Briar Nielson. (MarbleMedia)

For the record, her favourite items to make are hard-surface furniture such as tables, bookshelves and items in kitchens. But working with fabric is not fun. A full-size bedspread at home will easily fold and drape elegantly over a bed, she explains, but in this tiny world, many ordinary fabrics will stick straight up. 

And the worst? If you see a door or window that swings open, you know a miniaturist has suffered.

"Miniature hinges are a nightmare," Nielsen says. "If you want to cry, try and put hinges on something. Because you'll question, like, everything. It's so difficult." 

Even as she's known for clean, elegant interiors, some of her messier tendencies have been expressing themselves in a more recent interest: 'dirty dioramas.' These are more realistic and "grungy" scenes, she explains, such as urban shops, dive bars or rundown convenience stores.

"They're definitely dirty, they're very messy … [In real life] you might be scared to go into that convenience store," Nielsen says, laughing.

'Anything in your imagination' can be made in miniature form

While she calls herself an "aspiring full-time miniaturist" on the show, Nielsen admits she's now close to her goal. Miniatures are most of her business while she works part-time in her previous career as an interior stager and stylist.

Miniatures saw a popularity boost during the pandemic, Nielsen says, as perception of the craft evolved beyond the childhood hobbies of dollhouses and train sets. Miniatures can be anything — there are always new ideas, trends and challenges in this art form.


And although Nielsen frequently jokes about the tiny frustrations, she says exploring new areas is her big reward.

"The options are endless … anything in real life, you can make miniature," Nielsen says. "Anything in your imagination, you can make in miniature, and I think that's what's so fun about it."

"When you kind of feel confident, or you've explored one area, there's another area to go to — there's always some way to challenge yourself," she adds. "And that's what I really enjoy."


Nina Dragicevic is a freelance writer with bylines in the CBC, Toronto Star, Storeys and The Globe and Mail. She also publishes fiction, with her first two books scheduled for release in 2023 and 2025.

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