She describes herself as a ‘miniaturist’, and no definition can be more appropriate for the artist behind ‘A Touch of Liz’, the artisan boutique that crafts jewellery, ornaments and keepsakes out of polymer clay, specialising in yummy reproductions of cakes, gingerbread people, sweets and biscuits, looking exactly like the real ones, only smaller. Much smaller!
Lizanne Milan has always been a ‘crafty girl’ and clay was one of her favourite materials in school, but she’d never thought to turn it into artistry and profession, until ten years ago, when she was attracted to some modelling clay whilst on holiday. She bought it and fashioned it into a small cupcake. “It is ugly, in hindsight,” Liz says, “But I still treasure it as a memento of what started it all.”
“I still treasure it as a memento of what started it all.”
One can reproduce virtually anything in polymer clay, but Liz opted for focusing on food, especially treats, even more so sweet treats, because they tend to be more colourful. However, she personally has a palate for savoury, so she’s also crafting hamburgers, hotdogs, and funky cinema popcorn – of which, more later.
Liz could have reproduced most of her sweets life-size, but she wanted to go for the Honey I Shrunk the Treats look instead, and started working on miniature versions of chocolate-chip cookies, rainbow lollipops, glazed doughnuts and cake wedges, as stand-alone pieces, or more often as decorations for jewel boxes or costume jewellery and key rings.
Thus, A Touch of Liz was born, and she started marketing her products at local artisans’ fairs: “I have participated in the Covent Christmas Fair for a few years, and I belong to the Artisans’ Association spearheaded by Giorann Henshaw.”
She didn’t do the Christmas market at the Boulevard, because, given the reduced size of her merchandise, she’d have had to work around the clock to fill the windowsill of the standard wooden hut provided; her motto is always quality before quantity, so she likes to take it easy and dedicate each of her pieces all the time and TLC they need.
At the Convent Fair, however, Liz enjoyed a table displaying a selection of her yummy creations, with particular attention to seasonal shapes like gingerbread men and candy canes, and even snowman pendants for the little ones. These were inspired by the congenial character from Disney’s franchise Frozen, whose blonde heroine Liz also reproduced on charms and key rings.
“Give me a cup of tea, Netflix and a magnifying glass and I can model clay for hours!”
“One must always make sure not to infringe copyright laws with cartoons, and it applies to confectionery as well. For example, I have modified slightly my chocolate-and-vanilla round sandwich biscuits so that they don’t copy the patterns of any trademarked product available in supermarkets. On the other hand, I obtained permission to make a miniature replica of a tiered wedding cake from local bakery Piece of Cake and I kept it true to the tiniest detail, including the icing swirls. To achieve this, I made a tiny piping bag from the foil bottom of a tea-light and I filled it with clay to squeeze out as frosting.”
The devil is in the detail, when Liz needs to muster all her ingenuity to solve the challenge that scale crafting poses, for example when she has to make the characteristic patterns on chocolate digestives, or the cracked texture of cookies. For the first, she uses the wrong end of a match to indent rows of squares and portray the waffle-like surface, while for the second she uses crumpled foil as a mould.
Her famous cinema popcorn is painstakingly fashioned and painted one kernel at the time, then arranged in the little container, painted and varnished accordingly. This is a popular item in her catalogue and she is quite fond of it, as well as proud of the way she is able to shape different types of popped kernels, to keep the end result realistic.
“Polymer clay is available in many colours, but I hardly ever find the right colour I had in mind so I started mixing primary colours, black and white, or even better, using white base only and later painting it in acrylics or chalk,” Liz explains. “This is more time-consuming, but allows me to add extra detail.” The result is often so realistic that her creations come with a warning about them not being edible!
Despite ‘plastic’ food remaining her first love, she is exploring other styles and is doing quite well with teddy bears for weddings and anniversaries, little Buddhist monks for wisdom and mindfulness, cute cartoon ponies with curly manes, and the quirky bookworm bookmark, featuring a bespectacled pea-coloured pea-sized worm sitting on a book, eyes wide open in curious wonder. “This was a commission for a gift to someone who loves reading, and I just had this vision of a geeky-cute worm.”
Liz’s activity is organised like a proper business, and she works at home 9 to 5 (or at least 3:30, when her kids get home from school) although sometimes inspiration strikes late at night: “Give me a cup of tea, Netflix series on my tablet playing in the background, and a magnifying glass and I can model clay for hours on end!”
So, is there anything she wouldn’t reproduce in clay? “Well, at the moment I am reluctant to accept hen-night commissions, you know… the naughty bits…”
Check out Liz’s Facebook page ‘A Touch of Liz’ for updates on her seasonal products, including her new Valentine’s and Mothering Sunday suggestions.