Kieran Wright, Founder of Small Scale LA
I was working in marketing for a hotel chain, and then most recently, for an airline for probably the last seven years before I got into making these miniatures. When the pandemic came along, in 2020, everybody in the airline industry lost their jobs, including myself. We were hanging on for a good couple months throughout the start of 2020, but it wasn’t looking good. I’m applying for jobs but, of course, nobody’s hiring and I’ve got eight hours a day to kill. So I decided to pick up a hobby. I’m not really entirely sure what it was, that sparked me into doing this, I just gave it a go making a little miniature house. I never had any formal training, I just YouTubed a lot and read tons of articles and blogs about how to do this. As it turns out, I have a natural talent for it, which is wild.
The first miniature I made was a raised diner, which is a nice small 1960s Diner in Santa Monica. I was eating there with a friend of mine, and as we paid up and stepped outside, I remember looking at the building, thinking that it had a lot of really interesting angles. The architecture was great and I love 1960s architecture. I decided that this may be the building that I use as the subject for my first miniature. I bought all the materials that I researched about and decided that I would give it a go. It took me probably four or five weeks to complete the whole thing. And when I finished it, I shared some pictures on my private Instagram and got a lot really good feedback from my friends.
It started initially with just my friends and family liking it. It got shared a few times and more people started joining and loving what I created, which inspired me to keep going. My art continued to gain traction. I also started getting comments from other administrators complementing my work and asking me, if I ever considered selling them.
At that point, it wasn’t even a thought that had crossed my mind. I just created the miniatures as a hobby in my spare time. And then, before I knew it, people were asking to buy them and I sold the first one. For the longest time I didn´t even know what I should charge for this. I was totally new to the art world and I didn´t know, how much something like this would even be worth. I eventually settled on the price – and in hindsight it was probably way too low for the work that went into it.
It was definitely a big learning curve in terms of the business side, but selling the first one and having someone actually giving me cold hard cash, was really a moment where I realized that I could maybe make money with this. At that point, I also wasn’t even thinking about doing it full time. I saw this more as a side hustle to supplement my unemployment. I started selling more and more of them and then it got to a point where people were requesting from me to build specific things and do commissions. I had to sit down and think seriously about how I could take this from just a hobby to taking commissions and turning it into a viable business and livable income.
I started some research to get an idea what other artist in this field were charging for similar work. I took what they were selling it for and boosted it a little bit, and people were willing to pay the price. Since then, the price has continued to go up, only because I have so much demand.
I sold my first piece for 600$. Now I don’t generally take a commission under 2,500 $. Nowadays, I take 50% commissions from people who want a very specific building, which could be their house or something else that´s not even in California. The other 50% are dedicated to stuff that I want to build, just because I still want to retain the idea of being an artist. I really like the idea of retaining enough of the ability to make what I want and say what I want through my art.
The work that I do requires a lot of patience. Some days I’m sitting at my desk, titling the roof of a building for literally six or eight hours. I put a podcast or something on TV or my laptop and I’m just having a great time. I´m such an introvert, so it really doesn’t bother me. It’s really solitary work, but I enjoy it. My only limitation at this point, is the time that I have available. The question of how much money I can make, basically comes down to how much time I have at my hands, and how much time there is to make these things. Employing somebody else to help me to increase the output would obviously be a good way to scale the business, but I´m really, at this point, just not interested in that. I’m just really happy about how this is going at this point. It kind of goes back to what I said about having a great experience with this and enjoying this whole massive change of lifestyle. I’m just really content with making art every day, and just having this incredible lifestyle that affords me to be able to take time off.
I’m covering all my costs and I’m living comfortably enough. I’m just happy about this lifestyle that I have, which is very different from the lifestyle that I used to have. And I don’t see the need to create more work for myself and make myself more stressed and more than happy, just to make a little bit more money. My little art studio is pretty small, so I don’t have a lot of space to keep too much, but generally everything gets sold, so I don´t really need a showroom. Generally, I send out an email to my subscribers about 24 hours before piece goes on sale and it sells pretty fast. I actually have a pretty long waitlist. It goes up at a certain price and then it’s just whoever puts their credit card in first. And often times, I end up with emails afterwards from people telling me that their bummed to not get it. It’s just really incredible, to be in a position where I don’t have to try and convince people to buy my art. I just send one email, saying, “Hey, this is available”, and then it’s gone.
Credit: Small Scale LA
My marketing strategy consists basically purely on Instagram and my newsletter. But I’ve also been really lucky to get a lot of word of mouth through previous clients that have purchased multiple pieces before. They will put them in their offices or in their homes, and then they have guests over. And then inevitably, I’ll get an email from somebody saying, “Hey, I saw this in such and such´s office, and I really love it, could you do this for me?.” So I’ve been very fortunate to have clients who are wanting to be essentially collectors and purchase a lot of pieces.
And then I have my email list. Whenever anybody goes to my website, or anybody contacts me about my art, I usually don´t have any pieces available, because they sell so quickly. I’m really trying to push people over to joining my email database, so I have direct access to my customers. I don’t want Instagram to one day suddenly delete my account or somebody’s reporting my account or something like that. I don´t want my whole business to be dependent on a social media platform. People who join the email database are obviously clients or people who were halfway down the sales funnel, they showed already interest in my miniatures, so obviously it wouldn´t be very smart to ignore this. I’ve been saying this for so long, but I want to get into making more video content for YouTube and TikTok. There is a pretty big community out there, where it´s all about watching someone while their doing their craft. That’s something I’ve been meaning to get into. But it’s a really slow process of making one of these miniatures.
The list of miniature buildings I would still love to do is incredibly long. And it only gets longer as more people message me and say “Hey, you should do this”! I try and focus on buildings that are old and part of LA’s history. I really like the idea of preservation in my artwork and showing unique, interesting buildings, that we should continue to respect and maintain. They’re part of the character of the city and like little mascots for their neighborhoods. All these old places are at such risk of being demolished, and something else being put up in its wake. Generally, if the building still exists, I’ll go with my measuring tape and laser measure and get as many accurate measurements as I can. But if the building doesn’t exist, I can work with pictures and guesstimate the dimensions. One that I want to do next, is called a hot dog on a stick. It’s this little old shack that was around for the last 75 years, right on Santa Monica beach. It’s this really unassuming little original build, like a chain of hotdog sticks. Just recently, a couple of months ago, just overnight, it got demolished and it was gone. I want to make a miniature of that little building to kind of bring it back to life in a way.
Doing these miniatures is my full-time job today and it has been the most transformational experience of my life. To be working for myself and doing something with my hands creatively, making art and not being part of the 9 to 5 rat race, feels like I’m doing the right thing. It really feels like an experience. I think a lot of people experienced through the pandemic that they had to somehow reclaim their lives. Now I have time on my hands to obviously make this art, but also make lunch or dinner at home, then go to the gym for 90 minutes every morning. Stuff, that I wasn’t able to do before. I love that I was able to turn this into something I could have never thought about before. The pandemic coming along took away the ability for me to be fearful, there was simply no other choice. I lost my job, and I had to make something work.
It was scary, but also a great motivator. If I stop, so does the money, so I have to keep going. This can hinder the creative process, because artists normally don´t feel creative every day. I’ve gone through some periods of having creative blocks. Until then I only heard about it on TV or in movies. Now I know, that this is actually a thing, where there are weeks going by and I´m just staring at this thing knowing that I have to turn it into something beautiful, and I´m struggling to pick up the paintbrush and make it work. And then on top of that, I feel the pressure I´m making myself. If I don’t make this work, then how am I going to pay my rent? It’s just something that doesn’t get any easier. I never regretted my decision to go full-time creating miniatures, but sometimes I think it would be nice to have some sort of stability. Until now, I have been able to make it work – and still sometimes there is that fear of failing. I just have to put faith in it. There’s no reason why it should stop.
Credit: Small Scale LA
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