Born in 1959 in Sheffield, I spent the latter part of my childhood living in the historic village of Selborne in Hampshire, a time and place that has had a profound effect throughout my life. It is a place of literary heritage due to the author of the Natural History of Selborne, Gilbert White, whose former home is a fascinating museum that is also the Captain Oats Memorial Museum. As local children, we were allowed to visit without charge at any time and it greatly fuelled my imagination.

I studied painting and sculpture at The West Surrey College of Art & Design where my fascination with portraying the human form truly began. I also enjoyed my first art history lessons and access to a wonderful art and craft history library, that have continued to provide a wellspring of interest and inspiration.

I worked as a freelance illustrator and designer in publishing, advertising and design, also writing and illustrating two books for children which were published in 1989 by Campbell Blackie. In 1984, I taught life drawing at Portsmouth Polytechnic, before moving to the Midlands where I had my first child. I started experimenting again with paper maché when my children were young, and through play with them, reignited my interest in the medium. Using pulp, laminated and household waste paper and cardboard, I made a 7 foot giraffe and conducted a workshop in my son’s school which involved all the pupils in making a 14 foot Diplodocus from heavy duty cardboard tubes, corrugated card and newspaper.

Because of my work in book illustration, I had developed an interest in industrial and vernacular architecture. Britain has an amazingly varied architectural heritage, stemming from the diversity of its geology and therefore building materials. I started making buildings using card and paper pulp which is so able to impersonate materials from wood to stone, and because it can be carved when dry I realised it can be used also to sculpt human and animal forms in great detail. Due to my discovering the world of miniatures, I found these techniques had endless potential for sculpture in miniature.

In 1996 I attended the London Dollshouse Festival for the first time and have continued to exhibit there every year since. I have also exhibited with Miniatura at the NEC and Glasgow, The British Toymakers Guild annual show: The Art of Play, Tom Bishop's fairs in the UK and Chicago, with IGMA in the USA, The Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers at the Mall Galleries in London, and also Philadelphia Miniaturia. In 2010, one of my sculptures of William Shakespeare was included in an exhibition of miniature designer bindings, from the collection of Neale M Albert at The Headley-Whitney Museum in Kentucky, entitled Brush Up Your Shakespeare.

As a member of The British Toymakers Guild, I was winner of The Doll House Award in 1997 and 1999, the BTG Cup, the Bryntor Award in 1998 and Miniaturist of the Year in 1999. More recently, I received the Kensington Dollshouse Festival Cup in 2006.

I also collaborated in the mid 2000’s with the celebrated Illusionist, Simon Drake, to make  an automated diorama for his venue in South London, The House of Magic. This subsequently led to my happy collaboration with Laurence St.Leger in the making of automata.

I have always admired the Dutch school of painting, especially the work of Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch and Nicolaes Maes. Their ability to capture a fleeting moment in the daily lives of ordinary people fascinates me. Often the scenes look into and through an interior, possessing a movement and expression of light that encapsulates the essence of it’s atmosphere. While I have studied these masterpieces for many years in books, visiting Amsterdam confirmed that seeing the original can not be substituted.

I have enjoyed teaching the techniques, that I have learned and developed, in workshops and schools in the UK, USA and Netherlands. Teaching and exhibiting enables me to pursue the work that is a vital part of my life, the art that I am driven to create, and to meet the wonderful people and artists that populate the world of miniatures.

ABOUT PENNY THOMSON