Artist Q&A: Lori Nix

For artist Lori Nix, the truth of the story lies in the details. In this interview, Nix provides a glimpse of her artistic process, from the phase of conception to the actual production of her imagined worlds.


1)  Where does your inspiration for your miniature interior environments come from? 

Both of us grew up exploring our rural environments. I grew up in Kansas and Kathleen grew up in Illinois. We spent a great deal of time playing and exploring barns, empty houses, and sheds. There was always something to look at, climb up or uncover in these spaces. We try to bring that sense of discovery and excitement to our photographs.  

2)  What draws you to dystopian scenes or the idea of “paradise lost”? Why do you think it is important for people to witness disaster? 

The apocalypse and the end of the world have always fascinated me. I watched all those dystopian movies of the 1960’s -70’s - Planet of the Apes, Earthquake, Soylent Green, Logan’s Run… so I have a soft spot for apocalyptic subject matter. As for witnessing disaster, I think many of us have the same fascination. When there is a car accident, we slow down to look and rubberneck. It’s the same principle. You are curious but also uncomfortable…kind of the visual equivalent of nervous laughter. And by making and presenting our work as model-based, it is a kind of “safe” way to look at these difficult situations.  

3)  What is one of the biggest challenges with working on a small scale with your dioramas? 

The biggest challenge is building the scenes realistic enough. Plants and trees are especially challenging as they have such subtle shifts of texture, shape, and thickness. But the challenge of problem-solving how to building something in a small scale is what keeps us excited by working in small scale.   

4)  Can you describe your creative process of bringing a project to life from start to finish? Is there a lot of research, sketching and prototyping involved? 

I usually come up with the initial idea and try to get Kathleen excited about it. We’ll start off by creating a private Pinterest board and gather images from the Internet for inspiration. Kathleen starts drawing the basic outline of the diorama. When we’re working on interiors, she sketches the room or rooms from the point of view of the camera. We determine the color palette and some of the materials we’ll need to build the diorama. Kathleen will grab her scale ruler and draw the scene to scale with matching measurements. I head to my computer and start purchasing the raw materials we’ll need for the scenes, such as basswood, paint, epoxy, styrene, acrylic sheet etc. We then determine the scale of a human figure within the sketch and print up a corresponding paper man to have on the worktable, so when we sit down to build items such as furniture, they will remain consistent throughout the many months we’ll be working on the diorama. 

We work in a variety of scales, sometimes 1:12, other times 1:8, 1:6 and all the way down to 1:160 and so on. The scenes we build today are mostly scratch built, but every once in awhile, we’ll find an item that sets the scale for the scene. Take “Anatomy Classroom” (The City)” for example. We purchased the skeleton that sits in the far corner. That determined the scale for the rest of the scene. We then divide up the work based on each of our skills. Because we have been working together for 19+ years now, we each have different roles in the creation of the work. I am the architect and Kathleen is the sculptor. I am responsible for hard surfaces such as walls, floors, furniture, buildings etc. Kathleen takes care of the detail items such as paint finishes, small props, and distressing everything. When the building is complete I set up the camera, lights, the background scenery and begin the process of capturing the final image. 

A diorama can take anywhere from three to seven months, but a few have taken as long as fifteen months. We work on two and three at a time.  

5)  What made you decide to present your dioramas in the 2D format of a photograph?

Both Kathleen and I come from 3D backgrounds. I studied ceramics alongside photography, and Kathleen had a degree in glass. Each of these disciplines takes major and expensive studio equipment in order to create work. When you leave the university system, the last thing we had is money to invest in a private studio.

But from the get-go, I’ve always enjoyed photography and the process of processing film and printing. After I left school, I went to work in various color photo labs for the next 20 years. Access to the equipment, surrounding myself with other photographers, created a natural path to turning our 3D tendencies into two dimensions. Also, I like how I can make the camera “lie” for me. I get chuffed when someone assumes our images are of real spaces,

6)  What is the most unusual item you have ever created from scratch? 

That’s a hard question. We really enjoyed making the viewers from the “Monument” scenes. Some of the weirdest might be some of the specimens on the shelves in “Anatomy Classroom”. There is a tiny severed hand, a colon, and a primitive stomach among other things.  

7)  Your work has a cinematic feel to it. Do you have a dream film that you would loved to dream up and create a scene for? 

For me, I think it would be fun to create something science fiction-like, such as a futuristic city. For Kathleen, she would go more towards the humorous Wes Anderson style.


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