Shay Aaron’s strict diet regimen includes Italian hoagies, lemon pound cake doused in icing, and dozens of cannolis oozing with chocolate. After four years, he has lost 175 pounds.
The catch: all the treats are about one-twelfth their actual size, and made from polymer clay.
Four years ago, at 308 pounds, Israeli artist Shay Aaron was overweight and depressed. He began creating miniaturized food sculptures at 1:12 scale that look almost completely edible, and used the hobby to curb his appetite. “I feel like I’m replacing my passion for greasy food with fake baked goods,” he says.
No need to worry about his creations being too beautiful to eat. You couldn’t if you tried. They fit on the edge of a fingertip, often no larger than a penny or a matchstick. His work, most of which is created using a pasta machine in his small living room studio, includes crops of fruits and veggies, mouthwatering dessert spreads, and loaves of Challah.
In the business for: 5 years
Describe what you do in one sentence. I create collectible miniatures on a 1:12 scale, and also make wearable pieces.
How does one break into the miniature food art business? From a very young age, I had a weight problem, and I started creating fake food to help get over it. Four years ago, I weighed 308 pounds, and I was miserable. I was working with polymer clay, making millefiori and home décor pieces. One day, a customer asked me to create a miniature replica of a traditional Jewish dish. That was when I found what I wanted to do for the next five years. Now, I’m trying to replace my passion for real food with these little miniatures, and sometimes it works.
Where do your best ideas come from? On Friday mornings, I work with my mom in her little kitchen. We host the whole family every Friday evening, and my mom is charge of the cooking. I help her come up with special desserts that complement her dishes, so that’s where a lot of the ideas for my work come from. I also [draw inspiration from] Martha Stewart.
Does your work make you hungry? I can’t imagine sculpting something not related to work. That said, my work makes me hungry, for sure. The problem is that I work during the wee hours of the morning, and there’s nothing worse than eating at night.
What tools do you use for sculpting? You don’t need special tools and materials to get perfect results. The main material must be polymer clay, but I also combine wood, glass and aluminum, resin, metal, wood and ceramic. I use lots of unconventional tools in my work, from pasta machines to food processors. I also use rocks and boards that create interesting textures, as well as rolling pins and toothbrushes. All my little tools are placed in a little chest of drawers made of clear plastic.
Work you’re proudest of: My Mediterranean cuisine collection is really a part of me. Here in Israel, we usually purchase Mediterranean foods in the supermarket. But before I make miniature versions of any food – in this case, hummus and falafel – I feel like I need to make them for real. That way, I learn more about the process.
How do you price pieces that are barely the size of a penny? It’s hard. I would prefer that someone else priced my pieces, but nobody else can evaluate how much work I put into each piece. The only elements that count are time and effort – not materials used.
Your work is so small and intricate. Are you a perfectionist? No, I don’t define myself as one. I just know how important the details are. That’s where the secret is – in the details.
How did you choose a 1:12 scale? 1:6 is too big, and 1:24 is too small. A one-inch scale is also a traditional ratio for models and miniatures.
Click through to view some of Shay’s work:
Strangest request from a customer: I was asked to create a wedding ring that looked like a fortune cookie, with a tiny fortune that read, “Will you marry me?” Another guy, from Canada, asked me to create a ring for his wife that featured a replica of their wedding cake.
Best part of your job: That I don’t have a big boss. [Laughs.] The best part of what I do is the compliments and feedback from people around the world. I once received a video from a guy in America who proposed to his girlfriend using my hummus ring. It was one of the most wonderful moments I’ve ever had.
Most challenging part of your job: Creating miniature versions of very specific dishes. I always ask my customers to find images of the items they want me to create.
Do you display miniature art in your home? I keep a few items for myself, but most of my creations are made for sale.
What’s your work schedule like? I try my best to work every day, kind of like a nine-to-five job. It’s hard, because sometimes I don’t feel inspired enough to work on new pieces – and when I force myself to work, I’m not happy with the results.
Speciality dessert: Pies and tarts, and especially all lemon desserts. I love to blend sweet and sour flavors together. I also like all kinds of chocolate in any variation, shape, and state.
Dream job as a kid: I always thought I’d be an actor.
LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
Always accept a challenge, and never give up on a task. But don’t force yourself to do things that you’re not comfortable with.
All photos courtesy of Shay Aaron.