I have this habit of looking at food pictures when a sudden wave of cravings hits me. This often happens late at night when I can do nothing to get over the self-induced hunger pangs.
As I scroll through Instagram, I come across a picture of perfectly cooked paper-thin masala dosas, with a side of coconut chutney and sambar, with onions garnished on the top.
Upon further inspection (and after having worn my glasses), I see that the food has been moulded from clay in miniature form! The paint and the textures of each of the components on the miniature plate are so realistic.
These food miniatures are created by Chennai-based mother-daughter duo Sudha and Neha Chandranarayan. They have created over 100+ designs.
Two years ago, when Neha was celebrating her eighteenth birthday, her mum decided to give her a dosa miniature made from clay. Neha was excited and showed off the beautiful artwork to her friends.
Since then, Neha’s friends requested similar designs and Sudha happily made clay miniatures of maggi, pani puri, vada pav, and pav bhaji, either as fridge magnets or key chains. The recipients would be ecstatic on receiving them.
“My mother has been working with clay art for about 15 years and is a self-taught miniaturist. Seeing the response from family and friends, I asked her if we could make our miniatures accessible to others beyond our close circle,” smiles the 20-year-old Computer Science student.
Thus, in February this year, the duo started selling their clay food miniatures under ‘CN Arts Miniatures’ through their website. Depending on the dishes, the sizes are between 3 and 11 cm.
Now, they get close to 150 orders a month from across the country and even abroad to Singapore, Malaysia, and the US!
An artist at heart and homemaker by choice
“Since I was a child, I have loved dabbling in art. I would paint, sculpt, do crafts; it was my source of joy,” says 50-year-old Sudha. She nurtured this talent in Neha as well.
Fifteen years ago, when the family lived in Mumbai, Sudha pursued a short course in clay art.
“I made jewellery, life-sized flowers, bonsai, and succulents using clay and decorated our house with these pieces or gifted them,” says Sudha.
In 2013, after the family moved to Chennai, Sudha set up a small workshop in their house. Whatever artistic skills she had learnt over the years, it was time to share it with others.
Hence, in 2015, she started conducting classes for people between the ages of 18 to 80. This year, on Neha’s insistence, she decided to reinvent herself as an entrepreneur.
Making of the food miniatures
Because of the intricate detail in the miniatures, each component takes a significant amount of time.
“We use air-dry natural clay which is eco-friendly as compared to polymer clay which contains PVC and is manufactured artificially,” states Sudha.
The duo makes each of the components separately and fixes them together with glue. After this, the artwork is painted, coated with a sealant, and left to dry.
“We make every component — from the vegetables to the rice grains and even the mustard seeds — on our own,” emphasises Neha.
And being artists along with foodies, perfection is key for the mother-daughter duo. A masala dosa, for example, takes about a day where the clay needs to be dried and painted. But, recreating thalis from Northern and Southern parts of the country, which contain almost 15 dishes, takes nearly three days, with about six hours of work each day. The final products are accordingly priced between Rs 400 and Rs 1,500.
Combining food and art to deliver happiness
Making realistic food miniatures is more difficult than it appears. Getting the shape, colour, and texture right is the biggest challenge, informs Neha. And, since each of these pieces is handmade, they can only accept limited orders a month.
“Sometimes, people approach us with large orders for custom miniatures and want them to be delivered quickly. It is difficult for us to fulfil these requests but we push ourselves to complete the orders with perfection,” says Neha.
Their hard work and determination landed them some large orders from overseas! “We got an order of 100 miniature dosa fridge magnets from the US. The clients were Indians who were throwing a housewarming party. They were happy with the final products,” says Sudha.
Sudha’s workshops are quite popular. Kamala Venkatesan, a homemaker, is a regular participant, attending six workshops. An avid craftsperson, Kamala uses fabric to make dolls for friends and family.
She first learnt about Sudha on a Facebook group of doll enthusiasts. “Sudha taught me how to mould clay into shapes of fruits, vegetables, snacks, and sweets. She also patiently taught us each step of the process. The workshop was such a gratifying experience and I look forward to attending more of these when the circumstances improve,” says the 49-year-old.
Now, the mother-daughter duo continues to practice and perfect their artwork. They also want to experiment with dishes from different cuisines.
“Crafting is my life. Not a single day goes without creating something. Since food is something that can bring joy, we are giving people pieces that they can cherish. This makes us feel like a part of their celebrations,” says Sudha, signing off.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)