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Photo: StreetArtMiniature.

StreetArtMiniature: A feast for the eyes, hidden in plain sight

By Kiefer Uuksulainen on October 1, 2020



What if I told you there are hundreds of tiny hot dogs and hamburgers hidden all over the city? I bet you’ve walked past one and didn’t even notice. The miniature morsels are the work of the Ottawa-based artist known as StreetArtMiniature, whose appetizing art resides in corners, cracks, and crevices all over the city, giving literal meaning to the phrase “street food.”

StreetArtMiniature, a prolific Ottawa-based street artist, hides miniature models of food in plain sight. Photo: StreetArtMinature.

During my recent phone interview with her, StreetArtMiniature (SAM for short) reminisces about the piece of discarded gum that inspired her project, explains her decision to remain anonymous, and laughs about the time she was nearly outed by a miniature cheeseburger.

It all began with a gifted pack of polymer clay. SAM challenged herself to sculpt a few simple miniatures and soon discovered she was a natural. She quickly amassed dozens of food “minis” but found herself unsure what to do with them. While on a street art tour in Shoreditch, England, she found inspiration in the most unlikely place.

“There was this art piece painted on a bit of discarded gum,” says SAM. “It felt very personal, like a private installation for those lucky enough to notice it. I thought to myself, ‘What if I hid my minis in the open too? Someone is bound to notice eventually.’”

Returning to Ottawa with a breath of inspiration, SAM planted her first few minis and shared cryptic clues to their whereabouts on her Instagram. Feverish followers quickly sourced the diminutive dishes and with that, a legion of mini-hunters was born.

Ashley White, a longstanding mini-chaser and SAM fangirl, recounts her first taste of success: “I was so pumped! They are hidden incredibly well, so it’s really rewarding when you find one. It’s like a real-life treasure hunt!”

StreetArtMiniature uses a combination of common sculpting tools to achieve incredible small-scale realism. Photos: StreetArtMinature.

Despite their size, the mini-making process is no small feat. Each mini starts as a clump of polymer clay that is blended to the desired colour and shape. Textures are carefully applied with trusted tools of the trade—toothbrushes, dotting tools, precision knives—and using more unorthodox means, including balled-up tin foil and even the side of a paper waste bin. Shading is applied with chalk pastels and a dry paintbrush. Sauces, like mustard or gravy, are a mixture of liquid clay and pastel powder. After baking and glazing the mini, it’s ready to be “served” to SAM’s hungry followers.

A single mini—hotdogs and lollipops are go-tos—can take “as little as a few minutes, up to four or five hours for a more complex piece, like a food plate or charcuterie board,” SAM says.

Since beginning the project in late 2016, SAM estimates that “nearly 900 minis” have been posted around Ottawa, Kingston, Montreal, Wakefield, and even New Zealand, although she says, “It’s hard to tell exactly how many are still out there, since it’s common for minis to go missing.

To thwart hotdog heists and would-be itty-bitty bagel burglary, SAM purposefully places minis with a strong adhesive and generalizes their locations on her Instagram posts.

John Normandeau and Richard Bourgeau, partners and self-described “#1 Mini-Hunter and #1 Fan” (I’ll let them decide who’s who) have located over 120 minis and love the thrill of the hunt: “Whenever we see a new Instagram post from SAM, we both yell “I know where that is!” It’s never where we think it is, but we’ve found many new neighbourhoods and locations around the city thanks to SAM. It’s funny, we’ve had so much fun interaction with someone we’ve never met, at least we think we’ve never met.” That’s because despite her proliferation, SAM’s identity remains a mystery.

“I always travel with a pocket full of minis, so being unrecognizable allows me to freely place minis without being detected,” says SAM. “I did have one close call when temptation got the better of me,” she says, recollecting the time she was almost caught planting a mini.

“I was at a restaurant that had an exposed brick wall inside. When the server left, I stuck a mini cheeseburger on the wall behind me. The server gasped when she returned to my table, “Is that a little cheeseburger!?” My immediate reaction was to act as surprised as she was and play it off. I’ve become more careful since then,” says SAM with a laugh.

The inspiration for her minis comes from a variety of sources, but SAM particularly loves making local connections: “I love collaborating with local artists and independent businesses who can benefit from the added exposure. It’s always been a positive relationship where I’ll place a mini near a mural or model a particular menu item and they’ll share my post or leave a comment.”

“I was so excited and felt very honoured when SAM created a mini replica of our doughnuts,” says Jacqui Okum, owner of Strawberry Blonde Bakery. “What she’s doing with her art is so important for enriching Ottawa’s art and small business communities.”

Inspired by her own experience hunting for minis, Crystal Therrien, co-owner of the Carp Custom Creamery, commissioned SAM to make minis for a scavenger hunt contest: “Every day for a week we posted clues to the location and it was a huge hit! Parents told us their children were excited for the daily clues so they could hop on their bikes in hopes of being the first to find our minis (and winning an ice cream cake in the process). It was such a fun way to support a local artist and engage our community!”

SAM’s tiny sculptures have rallied a huge community of fans to appreciate the little things. “Miniatures bring out a sense of curiosity and wonder that we don’t often get in our daily lives. At the end of the day, if my art makes someone smile, then my job is done,” says SAM.

She aspires to travel and post more minis in different cities once COVID-19 has subsided: “The ultimate dream would be putting some minis up in Shoreditch, where this idea all began.”

I concluded my conversation with a challenge for SAM: to memorialize a long-forgotten hangout spot in Centretown where a first date urged me to check out SAM’s work. “Challenge accepted and happy anniversary to you and ‘EH’,” says SAM.

StreetArtMiniature is an Ottawa-based street artist. Her work can be found in nooks and crannies all over the city with clues to their whereabouts shared via her Instagram and Facebook page. Businesses interested in a collaboration or commissioned work can reach out to SAM via email at