Brisbane artist Alissa Lonergan makes food — but it’s not the kind of food you can eat.
Alissa is a versatile chef. She makes pizza, doughnuts, ramen noodles, sushi, pancakes, cupcakes, hot dogs, tacos, burgers, biscuits, lamingtons — you name it, Alissa makes it.
With polymer clay.
The talented local is at the forefront of the adorable — and insanely detailed — ‘tiny food’ trend that’s slowly taking over your social media feeds.
“I started early 2012 just for something new to do,” she explains.
“I was really inspired by those food sculptures outside Japanese restaurants and started trying to sculpt similar things that were both realistic and as tiny as possible. I’ve always been fascinated by anything in miniature, but there’s something about little meals that bring a certain kind of joy.”
The tools Alissa uses to create her miniature masterpieces are basic, but the skill required to make them is anything but.
“I use a blade, a needle tool and a toothbrush, for the most part,” she says. “Occasionally I’ll bust out the pasta machine if I need to condition a lot of clay on a cold morning, but most of it comes down to patience, good lighting and my glasses to stop me from squinting.
“I start off with making my coloured clay for the piece I’m making. I blend coloured clay to get my desired shades before sculpting, and sculpting a piece can take anywhere from half an hour to three hours depending on the detail of the individual components. All of my sculptures are baked in a tiny toaster before I glaze them if they’re supposed to look shiny.”
Alissa takes inspiration for her pieces from scrolling through Instagram. Her creations are influenced by food trends, but she does have to draw the line somewhere.
“I’m definitely influenced by food trends, but sometimes they’re a little bit out of control,” she says. “For example, the ‘crazy donut’ craze is kind of all over the place — donuts with bacon and massive chunks of cookie dough, or perched atop a milkshake with syringes sticking out of it. It’s just not relatable.
“There’s nothing quite as classic and instantly recognisable as a glazed donut. I try to appeal to those classic ideas of favourite foods.”
Creating pieces with this level of detail seems like it’d be a full-time job, but Alissa assures us that she’s got a life outside her tiny kitchen.
“I don’t have a huge amount of time each week for sculpting,” she says, “but I definitely carve out at least three to eight hours a week. There’s only so much time you can spend hunched over a tiny bowl of ramen or texturing a piece of toast before you need to get up and venture out into the world of regularly-sized things.”
If you’re wondering how you can get your hands on one of Alissa’s creations, we’ve got bad news — you can’t. At least, not right now.
“I used to sell my sculptures on Etsy and do custom orders, but demand far outweighed my capabilities to be a one person sculpting machine,” Alissa explains.
“At the moment I’m looking into workshops to teach people to make their own tiny foods, and I’m looking at rebooting the online store to release limited runs of items when I have a good amount of sculptures.
“I definitely have deliberately set this up as a hobby. I really love to sculpt, but I think if I were to take it on as a job I might not love it as much. It’s something I have to be in the mood to do. I always have a few different projects and passions on the go and trying to keep that balance between a job and a hobby is quite difficult. Tiny food sculpting will always be my little happy escape.”
There’s really only one more question, then — does making tiny food make Alissa hungry?
“Surprisingly it does the opposite,” she laughs. “I get so involved in sculpting I forget to eat!”
Follow @Alissalu on Instagram to keep up with her tiny treasures!
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Watch miniature food being created