Kieran Wright’s Miniature Models of LA Buildings Reflect His Big Love for the City

Posted inDesigner Interviews

Over the past year or so, I’ve talked to many artists who found their creative callings in the collective uncertainty of 2020. Paper artist Keerthana Ramesh taught herself how to make pop-up books, Chetan Singh Kunwar launched his own rug-making business, and sisters Hannah and Katie of The Clay Agenda started making labia light switches out of clay. After connecting with Los Angeles-based miniaturist Kieran Wright, I can add another to the list.

“Each of my miniatures is a love letter to LA in 1:24 scale,” Wright states at the top of the website for his ongoing project, Small Scale LA. After moving from New Zealand in 2016, Wright became enamored by the historic architecture that endures in Southern California— so much so, that he endeavored to recreate them by hand with his newfound free time during lockdown.

As a fellow LA resident, I was completely captivated by Wright’s meticulously crafted miniature replicas, and had to learn more. Below, Wright and I discuss his journey and process within the magical world of miniatures.

What’s your art and design background? What brought you to miniatures?

I’m a purely self-taught artist. I didn’t attend art school or do anything in the field of art for the first 27 years of my life! Before I began making miniatures, I worked in marketing for an airline brand. But then in March of 2020, like many, I packed up my office and prepared to work from home for two weeks. In the months of lockdown that ensued, I decided to fill my spare time by attempting to create a miniature building. 

I had always been fascinated with miniatures. I loved seeing behind-the-scenes photos of movies from the 70’s and 80’s that heavily utilized miniatures. Anytime I came across a miniature somewhere, like in a museum, I would spend ten minutes staring at every little detail. 

It’s hard to describe what it is about miniatures that captures our attention so intently— maybe it’s the cuteness factor, maybe it’s nostalgia for a childhood spent playing with dolls or action figures, maybe it’s the feeling of control you get from being able to hold something that’s normally huge in the palm of your hand. Whatever it is, people started following my work on Instagram, and asking me to take commissions. From there, I became a full-time miniaturist, and I’ve never looked back!

What’s your typical process like for creating a miniature model of a given building?

I have a long list of buildings that I would like to create miniatures of. The list is always getting longer, as people make suggestions and introduce me to their favorite places around LA. Generally, I like to choose buildings that have some notoriety in the community, whether it’s because of its iconic architecture, or because the business itself is beloved.

Once I’ve made a decision on the building I’m going to recreate, I’ll gather as much reference material as I possibly can. If the building still exists, I’ll visit and take photos and videos from every angle and of every detail. While on location, I’ll sketch the building and add as many measurements to the drawing as I can. 

Back in my studio, I use a scale calculator to figure out what scale to build in (e.g. 1:24 or 1:32) to produce a final miniature that will sit comfortably on a bookshelf or side table. Once I have created a blueprint of the building in Photoshop, I’m ready to begin physically making the miniature. It starts with using a hot wire machine to cut insulation foam to form the general shape of the building. The foam is then covered with chipboard for durability.

Once I have the general shape of the building, it’s time to paint and texturize. A Stucco effect can be achieved with a textured spray paint, weatherboards can be created with strips of plastic, roofing tiles can be made from sandpaper sheets. Bass wood is used to delicately create windows and doors. Many layers of weathering are added with different colored paints and washes to create a realistic aged look. Finally, I 3D print any signage the building has, and attach it to the exterior. 

How long does it typically take to create a miniature building model?

When I first began making miniatures in 2020, one model would take about a month and a half. Now that I’ve refined my skills and have learned many new techniques, I can produce a miniature building in a little over two weeks— depending on the complexity of the building, of course. 

What are your go-to tools for producing these miniatures? What’s your studio set-up like?

95% of my work is done manually, completely by hand. As such, the most essential tools are things like razor-sharp Exacto knives, various glues, and my hot wire foam cutter. I also go through a mountain of painters tape! Photoshop is another important part of the process, since I use the software to recreate logos and signage that I then render in 3D for 3D printing. 

I’m really thankful to have a large, sun-filled space in my West Hollywood apartment that works perfectly as a studio. It’s usually a little messy, with paints, and knives, and various scraps of material laying around. Recently I’ve introduced a filing system with boxes to try to tame the chaos. 

What is it about LA architecture in particular that excites you so much?

Los Angeles has wonderfully unique architecture that was born out of an early obsession with the automobile. My favorite architectural style is “Googie,” and in LA, we’re fortunate to be a Googie capital of the world! Think of those iconic coffee shops like NORMS, or Swingers, or the brightly colorful car washes, or even the Theme Building at LAX— these are all examples of Googie! Their loud, Space Age aesthetic was designed to be eye-catching enough for passing motorists to stop and patronize the business. These fun, whimsical spaces brighten the cityscape and add so much interest to our neighborhoods. 

What’s your favorite building in LA?

The Tail o’ the Pup hot dog stand! It’s a perfect example of another of my favorite architectural styles: Programmatic. First popular in the 1920’s and 30’s, Programmatic buildings are structures that look like huge objects. For example, a bar inside of a huge beer barrel, a camera store with the facade of a massive Nikon camera, or a cafe inside of a giant teapot. 

After recently being lovingly restored and reopened in West Hollywood, Tail o’ the Pup sells great hot dogs from within an enormous hot dog-shaped building. What’s not to love?