Joshua Smith Built the World’s Smallest Mahjong Shop

Joshua Smith is a street artist, but not that kind.

Smith recreates street scenes of buildings that have character and intrigue oozing out of them… you just might need a magnifying glass to see it. With surgeon-like precision and a whole lot of patience, Smith painstakingly builds miniature models of storefronts and urban buildings that’ve seen better days, but are all the better for it. His recent labour of love, Biu Kee Mahjong Shop is based on a real-life mahjong shop in Hong Kong, and took him three months to make. Going solely off reference photos all the way from his home in Adelaide, Smith handmade everything from the worn and cracked tiles, to the minuscule family photos and boxes of supplies in the backroom. How’d he do it? Let’s find out.

How big is the model? 

20cm high X 13 cm wide and 30cm deep. It’s a 1:20 scale miniature of the real-life building.

One of your previous miniatures we featured was also of a storefront in Hong Kong—what draws you to recreating Hong Kong scenes? 

I have always had a love of Hong Kong cinema and love the shops and buildings there. They pack so much into such a tiny space so visually, there is a lot going on. Mix that with a lot of the old signage and how worn away some of the shops are, and that’s what really draws me to them creatively.

What was one of the most challenging parts of the model to recreate? 

Probably the cases and shelves with all of the items. The shelves are so full of items that it took a while to replicate all of the different objects.

The detail is absolutely insane— from the wear and tear on the tiles, to the woodblocks for the glass case, and the Lucky Cats in the storeroom. Did you have reference pictures from visiting this store, or was it online only?  

For most of my projects I work based off reference photos only and rarely travel to the locations. In most cases, I get my followers to take reference photos for me but in this case, it was based entirely on reference images sourced from the internet.

How did you make those teeny tiny cards inside the glass cabinet? 

I experimented with a few things from 3D design and resin printing, to hand cutting styrene and designing and printing paper.

What are some essentials tools or materials you use in the construction that you couldn’t do without? 

Lately my 3D design software and resin printer has become one of my most essential tools, it’s such a time saver for creating certain parts.

What was the first miniature you ever made? 

The first miniature I ever built in my current style was the Black Shadow Trading Company which I built in 2015. It’s a fictional building but loosely based on a building in Haymarket, Sydney.

You’re a self-taught miniaturist, and also were a stencil artist at one point. If you weren’t doing this, what career do you think you’d find yourself in? 

I love cinema and one day the dream would be to own and run an old school cinema with my wife showing cult classic type films. Not sure how profitable it would be, but that is the dream!

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