Sheffield Miniatures: Putting the Steel City under the microscope

Meet Lee Smithson – a local electronics engineer who spends his evenings crafting the most incredible miniatures of Sheffield landmarks.

We were first aware of Sheffield Miniatures a couple of years ago when an incredible model of the Ecclesall Road restaurant Ashoka popped up on our social media feeds. The detail was incredible, and not just the brickwork and exterior. You could actually look through the windows and see the tables, chairs and décor of the real-life Ashoka – and it was done to a tee. A little digging into Sheffield Miniatures and it turns out Lee’s a local from Malin Bridge, who spends his spare time creating amazing models of Sheffield’s iconic pubs and buildings.

Due to the positive reaction he’s had on social media and his displays in the Sheffield Makers shop, Lee’s had a lot of commissions from businesses and people which has turned this hobby into quite the interesting and popular sideline. We tracked Lee down and nipped to his workshop to find out a bit more about his work…

How did you get into making miniatures?
Well, Dad is a builder so that got me into architecture. I have always been fascinated with detailed miniatures like model villages, houses, aircraft, cars and railways. The thing that always fascinated me was miniatures with such tiny details that would easily be missed if you hadn’t looked for them. Like looking through a tiny house window and seeing all the furniture, the books on the shelves, coal on the fire and rugs on the floor. As a child I used to enjoy making the plastic kits of aircraft and cars. I was always trying to incorporate more detail in to the basic kits. Then I started to try and weather the models for that bit of extra realism.

So this is something you do alongside your usual 9-5 as an electronics engineer?
Whenever the wife lets me! I’m not a person who can easily sit still and just watch TV, I prefer to be making something or doing something practical. As an adult I started making all sorts of miniature items in my shed just as a personal challenge to see what I could do with my very limited tools at hand. A lot of my techniques are learned from trial and error more than anything else and by researching the internet or books.

The detail is incredible, especially the texture of the bricks…
I found that I could make very realistic looking brickwork from air drying clay and used this technique when I started making miniature buildings three years ago. The first example was my model of Shepherd Wheel which was much larger than my current examples, but the interest that was created from that model being displayed at Weston Park Museum for a year, inspired me to carry on making miniatures.

Where did the idea to display them in frames come from?
I made a complete model of a row of houses of my mother and father in-law’s house but the problem with these miniatures was that they are quite big and hard to display and keep clean. The solution came from my mum who has always been interested in various crafts, who suggested I should make just the façade of the buildings and place them in a box frame which has proved very popular so far, so I can’t even claim the best idea as my own!

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