It's a small world: artist sculpts tiny food

Artist Dylan Stanfield draws from his knowledge as a cheesemaker to create his miniatures. Even though they are made of clay and the size of a quarter, they look edible. 

A tiny cheese sits on a tiny plate in a tiny world. It’s a perfect setup for a small human, a fairy, maybe even a hamster to come and take a nibble. 

But even though these miniature foods look real — as if someone had taken a magical shrinking machine from a sci-fi movie and shrunk a wheel of brie down 10 times — they are made of clay by the steady hands of Dylan Stanfield of Port Townsend. 

“For some reason, humans love miniatures,” Stanfield said. “I think there are books about why we love small things. But for me, I totally stumbled into this miniature world by accident.”

In his home, Stanfield sits by his living room window, molding, cutting, grating and mixing polymer clay to make these lifelike replicas. He posts pictures of his art on Instagram, where some viewers might be fooled to believe they are real. In reality, they are the size of a quarter.

“The unique part of my artistic process is that I make the pieces from the inside out,” Stanfield said, demonstrating how he mixes clay to make the color of brie, camembert or epoisses. “You basically start building up from the center out. In the rind is where it changes; there’s slight little color differences. … I sometimes finish off with paint, or a bit of gloss on the sides. I use flour on the outside to give it that soft, real feel.”

When he slices open the mini wheel of cheese, the inside looks edible. A blue cheese will be holey with blue streaks and spots. A camembert will have a soft inside, ringed with a bright, white rind. 

Then, he bakes the clay in the oven, solidifying the miniature forever. 

This fall, Stanfield’s miniatures were featured in an art show called “Badass Miniatures” in Yonkers, N.Y. It presented different perspectives with works from more than 30 artists from around the world. 

“The whole concept behind this show was pushing the boundaries of what miniatures can be,” said Darren Scala, founder of D. Thomas Miniatures, which curated the show. “There’s no one I know who makes that level of detail in their miniatures. … Dylan creates depth and detail and the illusion — it looks like you could actually eat it.”

In the ordinary-sized world, Stanfield is a real cheesemaker, a baker and a lifelong artist. Originally from Willits, California, he grew up with parents who also are artists, and he’s jumped from medium to medium his whole life, from graffiti and street art in Seattle, to screen printing, illustrating, sculpture and more. 

He worked for years at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese at Pike Place Market in Seattle before he moved to Port Townsend, where he made cheese at Mt. Townsend Creamery. Now he works at Finistère, where he makes pasta, bread and butter. He and his wife, Jessica, own Sweet Lamb Baking Co., which sells pastries and delicacies at the Port Townsend Farmers Market. 

Stanfield stumbled into making miniatures after he received some polymer clay in his stocking for Christmas. 

“My wife made a little cheese with the clay, and it just dawned on me, I thought, ‘Oh, I could make some Cirrus and some Seastack,’ which were the kinds of cheese I was making at Mt. Townsend at the time,” Stanfield said. “It was a way for me to learn about all the cheeses in the world. I know so many cheeses now because I’ve made so many miniatures of them. Spending that couple hours to make it, you kind of spend a lot of time looking at it. And being a cheesemaker, I have the insight of what it actually is supposed to look like, what the textures are, what the rind is like, what the color is.”

The real-life process has its similarities, Stanfield said. 

Part of what he loves about art, whether it’s making bread or pasta for Finistère, or painting detailed drawings of animals, plants or food, is the time he spends focused on his creative outlet.

“It’s almost meditative,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t really need music or anything else. You have to quiet your mind and focus to make a lot of those things right and consistently.

“All of this I do just out of creative necessity,” he added. “I didn’t start making these because I wanted to make money. I just do it in my free time because I like to create stuff.”

Stanfield said another part of the fun is posting pictures on Instagram, @tinycowcreamery. His cheeses were a big hit among cheesemakers around the world, and he enjoyed making special cheeses for different cheesemakers. 

Now, he’s branched out to making other mini foods such as vegetables, mushrooms, meats and more. One Instagram favorite was a video of a miniature avocado, which had a miniature pit inside.

Stanfield wants to show his art in Port Townsend, but first, he is working on finding a studio.

And while his minis are a more recent endeavor, Stanfield said he’s always been fascinated by small things.

“Even from playing Monopoly as a kid, the little pieces are fun,” he said. “It’s a world that seems very imaginative. You have to imagine where this would exist in a world that’s smaller than yours.”

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