Tourmaline .

Miniature Diorama Photographer

Color your World: Atomic Tangerine

Welcome back to this weekly Crayola color based blog challenge!

This week, the color is Atomic Tangerine.

  • Between now and next Tuesday share a post inspired by the color on your own blog or social media. A poem, flash fiction, photo, drawing, whatever you’d like!
  • Link back to this post and include your post link in a comment below so that I can share your link next week.
  • Tag your blog post ‘coloryourworld’ so others can find your post in their WordPress Reader.

Check out the CYW home page with links to all weekly challenges as they post.

Here’s my contribution:

Future challenges:

Last week’s contributors:

If I’ve missed your post, please let me know!

Monochrome | Polychrome – An Emotive take on Toy Photography

Tourmaline .

Miniatures serve as iconographic objects. Not real people, places or things, but simplistic versions of such. This allows for abstracted views of reality. The perfect medium for creating visual representations of memories and emotions – abstractions of reality within themselves.

Tourmaline . creates emotive imagery by transforming miniature tableaus through her camera lens. Her images draw influence from her midwestern roots and Florida youth.

Tourmaline . graduated from the University of North Florida in the Spring of 2013 with a Bachelors of Fine Art, concentration in Photography, and minors in Art History and Professional Education. She resides in Jacksonville, FL with her fiancé and cat.


Suspend your assumptions. There can be a life well lived inside your comfort zone. She has carved a den of contentment. Everything tailored directly to her truest

As with the majority of my work, these are self portraits, a found identity, a tailored self.

The setting within Monochrome is 1:12 dollhouse scale where 1 inch is equivalent to 1 foot. Meaning, the figure in these photographs is just over 5 inches tall. The figure is a plastic drawing model. Once I had her in my possession I sourced furniture and accessories to create her world. I painted everything a matching tone of grey to that of her plastic. I had the house built for her prior to her arrival.

The 65 images in this series were taken with 1 to 2 studio lights, aiming for a relatively even, but consistent with home interior lighting, feel. Each was photographed horizontally and at a singular aperture. All this to say, balance in focus, lighting, color tone and composition was created intentionally.

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Balance here is removed – with contrast, varying apertures, multiple colors and lighting color casts. Balance is also removed when you mold your life to that of others.

That is not to say that joy cannot be found in new situations, but here, our main character is struggling to find comfort. This is a world without acceptance of one’s self.

The setting of Polychrome is a roughly 1:12 scale, but often off scale, child’s doll house and furniture. I’ve also added other elements from colorful play things. The cats and robot are ever present, the figure’s life is not her own.

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Behind the Scenes

From building the grey house, priming, painting, laying the flooring and wainscoting, to sourcing and painting all the furniture and accessories.

There are also 4 more images on top of the 80 above that will be printed in the book! And truly, the book format allows the story to be told and shown as intended.

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The colorful house, was much less involved, but still required building and the addition of some accessories here and there.

After over a year in the making (longer if you consider the start of the house building) this series is finally complete! And the above forms the basis for a coffee table book currently in the making. Keep an eye on this space as I’ll be announcing when it’s available! And I guarantee the release date will be in the next month, if not in the next weeks. The printed proof copies are on their way to me.

In the mean time, if you’re in the Jacksonville Beach area, go get some breakfast or lunch at the Ugly Cupcake Muffinry & Cafe and check out 5 of my Monochrome pieces on display while there.

Where Toy Photography Got it’s Wings: David Levinthal at SAAM

“There is less in my photographs than meets the eye. I look at my work as a narrative that taps into each individuals own memory.”

David Levinthal just turned 70, which makes it 40 years since his first NY gallery show and 53 years since he began his exploration of photography.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. now owns 545 of David Levinthal’s photographs, 8- of which are currently on view in ‘American Myth & Memory.’ Pieces from his journals can also be found in the Archives of American Art (papers can be seen by appointment only).

Levinthal creates composed worlds. His images both perpetuate and explore American stereotypes. He tells stories through small details, rather than through expansive, detailed spaces. This allows the viewer to bring their own visual memory to the photograph before them.

His work can be compared to film stills. The images are the moment in between an imagined before and after.

“Toys are so much a product of the time and culture that they came from.”

Levinthal exclusively works with toys and miniature models.

Like most of us, he loved toys as a child. He however, never lost the will to imagine worlds for those toys. His interest in photography came a bit later. He started at Stanford in 1966 with the goal of becoming a constitutional lawyer. Shortly after, he discovered photography through the nearby Free University. With no photography program at Stanford, he sought out his own education.

He attended Ruth Bernhard’s School of Photography, which she ran out of her home, while finishing his degree at Stanford. He then completed a graduate program in photography at Yale. Here he studied under Walker Evans.

It was also at Yale that Levinthal began using toys in his work. He was on winter break and photographed toy soldiers on his bedroom floor. While his peers didn’t immediately understand what he was doing – toys had never been such the sole focus of photography before – a teaching aid however loved his work and encouraged him to keep exploring this path.

” My work is about a West that never was, but always will be.”

Shortly after graduation Levinthal was commissioned to create a historical book with graphic art student Garry Trudeau (who became the first person to win a Pulitzer prize for a comic strip during the time of this book creation). The two created ‘Hitler Moves East,’ published in 1977. This became Levinthal’s first major series of work.

Levinthal exhibited in the show ‘In Plato’s Cave’ at the NY Marlborough Gallery at the age of 30. Among those exhibited were Ellen Brooks and Laurie Simmons (fellow photographers dabbling in toys), along with other emerging artists of the Pictorialist period. Photography had traditionally been black and white, but Levinthal had been experimenting off and on with color ( hand coloring black and white photographs and developing color 8×10 prints in the darkroom), but hadn’t moved fully into this way of working. In this show, Brooks had color photographs of miniature figures on display, after discussing these with her, Levinthal decided to move fully forward into color.

From 35mm black and white film, not into Polaroid. First he would use his Polaroid camera with a clip on macro lens. Then as video cameras with good magnification capabilities were released, he’d point the video camera at his diorama, have it hooked up to the TV, then photograph the TV screen with his Polaroid camera.

After forging a connection with the Polaroid company through a mutual friend, he began to get film shipped to him regularly, got a show at the Polaroid sponsored Cambridge Gallery, and got sponsored studio time with the large format 20″x24″ Polaroid camera. Unfortunately, when Polaroid shut down, so did the studio, so after 30 years with Polaroid, Levinthal went digital.

Levinthal’s first retrospective was at the International Center of Photography in 1999, some 30 odd years after be began working with toy photography. And here we are, another 20 years later. But don’t worry, there have been countless shows and retrospectives in between.

David Levinthal and I after the ‘American Myth & Memory’ opening reception. Photo by my sister Leah Wise,

I began my own toy photography path at 17, about 3 years after I began exploring the medium of photography. At 19, with encouragement from a supportive undergrad professor, there was no turning back, and all my work following has focused on toys. It was this same year that I learned of David Levinthal, and in my years since college I’ve researched him and the other toy photographers emerging in the 1970s and developed a huge respect for their work in the medium. Being able to see Levinthal’s work in person, and briefly meet his after was so wonderful and as I continue forming my thoughts around his words, I hope learning from him can help inform the way I speak about my own work.

‘American Myth & Memory’ is on view at SAAM through October 14.

See more of David Levinthal’s work:

Color your World: Asparagus

Welcome back to this weekly Crayola color based blog challenge!

This week, the color is Asparagus.

  • Between now and next Tuesday share a post inspired by the color on your own blog or social media. A poem, flash fiction, photo, drawing, whatever you’d like!
  • Link back to this post and include your post link in a comment below so that I can share your link next week.
  • Tag your blog post ‘coloryourworld’ so others can find your post in their WordPress Reader.

Check out the CYW home page with links to all weekly challenges as they post.

Here’s my contribution:

Future challenges:



Last week’s contributors:

If I’ve missed your post, please let me know!

Making Miniature Pottery

I never know if it’s simply the miniature spaces I frequent, or a worldwide phenomenon, but I’ve been seeing miniature pottery pop up everywhere. Maybe not as popular as miniature cooking, but a close second. And I might just like watching miniature pottery throwing videos more than mini cooking videos. But that’s just me.

In any case, I never see any info on how you can do this yourself, and I love writing these types of posts, so here I am to fill in that gap.

This post is by no means a full how to, but more of an introduction to get you started on your way to experimentation.

Throwing Wheels

If you ever see these mini throwing videos on Instagram, the most popular throwing wheel is this Mini Makr Wheel. Created to fill the mini wheel void, it runs at $200+, from the price listing I previously saw. None are currently listed for sale, but can be ordered through e-mail. See their website here for more info.

Mini thrown pottery however, started with full size pottery wheels. In modern times, electric wheels, previously kick wheels. In this the potter uses a larger chunk of clay, centers it, then forms the tiny vase on top of that clay, and cuts it off. These wheels run anywhere from $200-2000. If you decide to go this route, I recommend working with a pro or using a professional website to source, as there are some with much weaker motors etc. Start perusing here if you’d like. While I have thrown on wheels quite often, they’ve been ones owned by my high school and college, and not sourced by myself directly, so I can’t necessarily give advice.

The cheapest option is to get a wheel meant for children’s crafting or those marketed in big box stores to beginners. These of course are much lesser quality, but it all depends on your end goal. Cra-Z Art has one for $16.32, Faber-Castell $46.49, and Mindware $84.85. All three of these come with tools and air dry clay.

Make by Hand

Miniaturists have been making tiny plates and pots by hand for a long time. This may not be as instagrammable, but it definitely involves less prep and money. This is typically done with polymer clay, but could easity be done with air dry clay as well, or if you prefer, with clay that needs to be fired in a kiln. More info on that below.


For the beginner, or someone without traditional pottery supplies, I recommend air dry clay for throwing, and either air dry or polymer clay for making by hand (polymer clay cannot be properly thrown on a potter’s wheel). These items are readily available in craft stores, and even many big box stores. Do note though, that while Daiso and Crayola Model Magic are popular air dry clays, they’re too light and puffy and will not work for this process. Instead try standard Crayola Air Dry Clay which is made from natural earth clay and can be used with traditional modeling techniques, like smoothing with water.

As for polymer clay, Sculpey or Fimo are just fine. That said, the professional lines in these brands will be better for mini pottery as they’re less sticky and thus form more precisely and with less fingerprints. These lines include Super Sculpey, Premo Sculpey and Fimo Professional.

Alternatively you can use traditional, professional clay. This requires firing in a kiln. If you already have a kiln, great, you probably know all the info in the post already. If not, know that traditional kilns are large and expensive, and I don’t recommend constructing your own outside, unless you are well versed on the subject. More info on kilns below.


If you plan to go the kiln route, there are more compact kilns for home use that would be plenty big enough for mini pottery firing. Peruse those here.

You can fire traditional clay in a kitchen oven, or with a kitchen torch as you may have seen in some videos. However, the items fired this way will not have been fired at a high enough temperature and therefore will be more brittle than if they had been fired in a kiln. If you choose to use a kitchen oven, here’s a how to process.

Polymer clay requires a kitchen oven or toaster oven. While the toaster oven takes less energy and is more compact, it can more easily burn your pieces as the temperature gauge isn’t always precise. Test bake some pieces to learn your oven before putting your best work in.


If you created a polymer clay piece, after baking you can paint with acrylic paint (or tempura, but it won’t show up as well) or coat in chalk pastel or mica powder. After either of these techniques, coat with a gloss or varnish to protect the finish. Metallic paints and powders can be used creatively in combination with other acrylic colors to create glaze-like effects.

If you made your piece with air dry clay, once dry, you can paint the piece with acrylic or tempura paint (you can also mix these with the clay before you create something with it), or coat in chalk pastel or mica powder. As with polymer clay, after either of these techniques, coat with a gloss or varnish to protect the finish.

And finally, if you chose to work with standard ceramic stoneware clay or porcelain clay, you can use a variety of ceramic glazes. Apply after the clay is dry, but before you fire in the kiln. Follow the specific instructions on the selected glaze bottle. There are glazes that do not require kiln firing, but do need to be heat set. These are called Oven Bake Pottery Glazes or Glass and Ceramic Paint, and will work for your kitchen oven fired pieces. Follow the instructions on the paint container.

A note, – air dry clay can be baked, but at lower temperatures than oven bake glaze requires. If you figure out a work around, do let me know.

And that’s the end of my spiel. Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts and questions below!

Why Toys R Us is Never Truly Coming Back

Sorry to be a downer…

The Rise and Fall

Toys R Us was the first ever big box toy store. A realized dream of its creator Charles Lazarus. Coming back from war Lazarus noticed a hole in the market, considering all the soldiers were talking about coming back and starting families. While his first store, selling baby furniture was opened in 1948, Children’s Bargain Store was transformed into Toys R Us in 1957.

And business boomed. New toys like Barbie and Mr. Potato Head were being produced. And TV toy ads were telling kids to buy from Toys R Us.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Toys R Us introduced its iconic Toys R Us Kid commercial jingle. And Geoffrey the Giraffe had been promoting the brand for 7 years now.

The company was worth $500 million in 1950, went public in 1978, skyrocketing to a worth of $12 billion in 1990.

Lazarus stepped down as CEO in 1994. Toys R Us returned to being a private company in 2005. And their leveraged buyout failed. In order to compete with stores like Wal-Mart and online presences like Amazon, they cut down on their number of toy offerings, their biggest draw, and instead attempted to cut prices.

By 2015, the company had gone through 4 CEOs in 16 years, and continued restructuring attempts. In 2018 Toys R Us once again filed for bankruptcy. They had bounced back from Bankruptcy in 1974, under Lazarus’ guidance, but this time was different. While Lazarus had sold off unprofitable divisions, this time Toys R Us issued a plan to close 182 stores. Later that same year, it instead chose to close all 800+ U.S. stores.

The World Reacts

When the news of Toys R Us’ closing was announced the internet was in an uproar. From regular shoppers, to those feeling the 1980s nostalgia, no one wanted Toys R Us to go. As they worked toward closing down Toys R Us issued sales on much of their toy stock and store fixtures. In the final few days items were up to 80% off. And business seemed to boom once again, only too little too late.

Making a Comeback?

The initial sign that Toys R Us wasn’t truly gone, was its line of Geoffrey’s Toy Box toys it stocked in Kroger’s grocery stores for the 2018 holiday season. A total of 35 toys from 6 brands. While I don’t have the overall sales numbers, people were generally excited about the opportunity to get their hands on a few more TRU items.

Under the new company Tru Kids, TRU has released some of its plans going forward. They won’t make the mistake of ignoring the online market again, and they hope to make their store fronts more interactive. They also plan to open 70 new stores this year in Asia, Europe and India. TRU plans for the U.S. haven’t yet been announced. Their largest push, however seems to be with ecommerce.

What it all means

There’s still a lot to learn about the Tru Kids path forward, but with their focus on online sales, you won’t ever be able to re-experience that Toys R Us nostalgia. The draw of the massive retailer for so many years was the magic of going in and seeing all the toys first hand, making Christmas and Birthday wish lists, grabbing and holding a new toy right from the shelf. And now, that experience falls flat with the options only living in the online realm. Ecommerce is the way of the future, there’s no stopping it. Just don’t get your hopes up about any TRU come back announcements until we can physically feel it’s presence ourselves.


Color your World: Aquamarine

Welcome back to this weekly Crayola color based blog challenge!

This week, the color is Aquamarine.

  • Between now and next Tuesday share a post inspired by the color on your own blog or social media. A poem, flash fiction, photo, drawing, whatever you’d like!
  • Link back to this post and include your post link in a comment below so that I can share your link next week.
  • Tag your blog post ‘coloryourworld’ so others can find your post in their WordPress Reader.

Check out the CYW home page with links to all weekly challenges as they post.

Here’s my contribution:

Polychrome 12

Future challenges:

Last week’s contributors:

If I’ve missed your post, please let me know!

Photo Focus: The Effectiveness of Blur in Toy Photography

I recently picked up ‘Why It Does Not Have to be in Focus: Modern Photography Explained” by Jackie Higgens, on recommendation from a toy photo friend. Within it’s pages, Higgins offers short conclusions on the photographic genres – portraits, document, still life, narrative, landscape and abstract, followed by numerous examples. This allows the book to be read in short chunks, rather than as a whole, if desired.

While, to be clear, in large, the example images in this book are not literally blurry. Instead, they blur the lines of presumed photographic proof. That being said, literal blurred images serve the same means. As Higgins asserts, this figurative or literal blur creates mystery, conceals truth, insists on a different way of engaging with what is before us, and allows for the limits of photography to be challenged.

In my own work this year, I explored the concept of photographic blur more literally than I have previously. For the 4 portraits you see above, I posed 2cm tall HO scale train figures in front of paint sample cards. I focus my camera lens on the figures, and then purposefully pulled back the focus and captured the image. In this way, the rigid plastic of the figure is dissolved and a mystery is created, Perhaps this in an image of a full scale person that the viewer can see themselves within.

Blur in photography, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, can help create a more realistic image.

A digital mock up of an imagined wall display with canvas prints.

My pinky finger with some of the photographed miniature figures.

All that said, I’ve sought to blur the truth in many of my photos for some times now. Really, I’ve been continually doing so for the past 10 years or so. In photographing miniature scenes, I often aim to make the final images appear real, if only for a moment. This is one of the powers that draws me to miniature and toy photography. The small, plastic items, can be transformed through posing and lighting, to become the real thing of which they are an icon of.

To achieve this, I’ve worked with silhouette, fog, and various amounts of blur or shadow. And I have more images to come in which I’ll continue to push my experimentation.

All in all, there’s a magic in intentionally blurry photos. You should try it out for yourself!