For Sarah Santosa, nothing in Langley says “cutesy” or “whimsical” more than a small-scale recreation of the town’s beloved storefronts.
The South Whidbey artist, who specializes in making miniature models, has been busy making the tiny shops for the big shops. So far, she has completed two, with a third on its way.
Ever since her childhood, Santosa has been fascinated by all things little. Growing up in Minneapolis, she enrolled in a class for “junior miniaturists” and started building little scenes out of various materials.
“I was always reinventing things, like a tissue box,” Santosa said.
In her adulthood she has returned to creating minis, which she refers to her as her “closet hobby.”
“There’s still a good chunk of my friends that don’t know,” Santosa said.
Thanks to a casting director inviting her to audition for a Christmas-themed TV reality show that features miniature-building, Santosa’s hobby is about to become more public.
The competition, titled “Biggest Little Christmas Showdown,” will be premiering on HGTV on Nov. 27, Black Friday.
Back in July, Santosa, her husband and their 2-year-old daughter, Gwendolyn, flew to Manhattan for the show’s filming. All competition members quarantined for two weeks and then went on set for three days of filming.
Santosa chose her husband as her partner in the competition. The competitors were required to make all of their mini items themselves, either from scratch or by using repurposed materials.
Each new episode, she explained, has its own twist.
“There’s elves, there’s non-stop puns,” Santosa said with a laugh.
After being on the show, Santosa looked for a way to give back to the community. She reached out to Langley officials, and a partnership was formed between the miniaturist and Langley Creates, the town’s creative district.
Mary Ann Mansfield, who is a member of the creative district’s executive committee, helped Santosa connect with local businesses that commissioned her to make the tiny storefronts.
“I see them as being the kind of thing that will attract local tourists,” Mansfield said, adding that she envisions there someday being a walking tour for people to look at the models.
Santosa agreed that walking around the picturesque little town in search of the minis could be a “COVID-safe” activity for families, especially children.
For the business Music for the Eyes, Santosa built a terricotta-colored stucco storefront, complete with little plants and a Langley rabbit.
For Moonraker Books, she scaled down images of real book covers, framed by a magenta bookshop window. A minuscule Michelle Obama beams from the front cover of the former first lady’s memoir, among other tiny books that are on display.
And now Santosa is in the process of building a model for Sweet Mona’s Chocolates, complete with several impossibly small artisan chocolates.
“I think it’s fun,” said Mona Newbauer, the shop’s owner. “I’m excited to see what she comes up with.”
The Langley project is her first set of commissions.
“To hear people refer to me as an artist is a shock to the system, for sure,” Santosa said.
Her models are built to 1/12th scale, meaning one foot in the real world equals one inch in the tiny world.
She uses several materials, including any scraps she can find at hardware, craft or thrift stores. Wood and foam core are used to make the structure of the buildings, and she uses clay to mold tiny food. Occasionally, she purchases items instead of making them, such as windows.
“I don’t have a rule in my art that I have to make everything,” she said. “It’s like a collage.”
Fabrics are difficult, she explained, because they can be a huge tell that something is or isn’t miniature. The way fabric hangs or folds is really easy to pick up on if it’s not in scale.
Santosa hopes to make even more miniature storefronts for Langley. She said she would love to make a bakery next.
“This is a love letter to Whidbey,” Santosa said. “ I just hope it makes people smile.”