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Kim Marsh, maker of imaginative miniature models

Kim Marsh has an extraordinary talent for creating intricate dioramas. With fascinating attention to detail, the master craftsman combines a variety of materials and utilises complex techniques to design and shape his micro models.

His Liliputian landscapes typically feature fine figurines driving diminutive vehicles amidst bantam buildings.

Manly Observer caught up with the Northern Beaches model-maker to learn how he makes his miniature masterpieces.

Kim, who has been assembling small-scale scenes for about three decades, constructs them from scratch. This involves seeking and photographing inspiring subjects, sketching his ideas, gathering raw materials, then cutting, carving, bending and gluing them into shape.

“I pretty much fabricate all my models,” he revealed, “including all the bolts and fitted staircases. My models are about 90 per cent hand-built… I use a scale of 1:35 to 1:32.

“The materials I use are wood, paper, Styron (which is a plastic), brass, sheet metal, and galvanised iron. Lots of wood, actually. I use boxwood mainly, because it’s easy to carve and shape.”

Part of ‘Sandy Hollow’, Kim Marsh’s Australiana-themed miniatures inspired by Queensland housing. Photo: Alec Smart

Traditionally focusing on maritime and industrial objects, Kim revealed he is now more interested in recreating ‘Australiana’. His inspiration is historic home-grown subjects, from crumbling cottages to rusting railways and collapsed old coal mines as well as well-maintained museum-pieces.

“I do lots of travelling around Australia, taking photos as a reference,” he said. “I’m using different elements of Australiana, incorporating traditional Australian themes whilst trying to find an authentic Australian character.

“But instead of doing a purely strict representation of reality, I try to give it more of a lived-in recognition of life in Australia.

“I use my imagination to determine the difference. When I create my pieces, inspired by real objects, I initially design and draw them, then build reproductions without copying the originals exactly.

“I previously made objects that reminded me of my youth growing up around Darling Harbour. My father used to work at the city fruit markets in Haymarket, which was quite an industrial area.

“Before that I was born in Queensland and the architectural style of the tropics, with their houses up on stilts and all the detail that goes into them, inspires the work I do now.”

Model of a Tropical Queensland house and assorted characters. Photo: Kim Marsh

Attention to detail

Despite diverting from replicas into more imaginative ventures, Kim’s finished creations are, nevertheless, very realistic. His tropical houses, for example, include roof vents, outside water tanks, timber balconies, brick chimneys and shuttered windows with hanging blinds.

Yet look closely at his creations and you’ll discover Kim’s real genius at work. For starters, they’re all artificially aged: timber fences are typically missing a few palings; corrugated iron rooves are rusted; old chimneys are missing bricks; pallets have broken planks; concrete is cracked; paint is flaking; and weatherboard houses have a weathered appearance.

But how does he achieve the rusty effect without deliberately exposing the metalwork to damp – which could ruin the longevity of his displays.

“I love painting and effects. I use an airbrush, oil paints, water-based paints pigments, coloured pencils, coloured paper, plasters – whatever, I will try it…Rust in the miniature community is a holy grail and usually the few who do it have their own styles and, done well, it is amazing. There are also specialist paint companies…

“I always had trouble with these techniques so I invented my own. You prime the surface then apply a rust base colour. After it dries you apply a coat of salt sealed with hair spray. When it dries again you spray your top colour, then when it dries fully, the surface is distressed, revealing the rust colour in a random pattern. The secret to rust looking authentic is the random pattern.”

Model of paddlewheel-driven boat with man in dinghy alongside. Photo: Kim Marsh

Movable miniatures

Kim’s complex pieces can also be dismantled into his carefully constructed travel boxes for transportation to exhibitions, including overseas. In March 2023 he is exhibiting in Utrecht in the Netherlands.

“I’ve been invited to the National Railway Museum in the Netherlands,” he confirmed. “I’ll be there for three days…

“In the past I’ve taken other models to Europe that had no connections to Australiana, just general industrial or maritime scenes. But I found that a lot of Europeans knew nothing about Australia at all. Like Germans, Austrians, French, Swiss – they’re often amazed that there’s actually anything at all that’s historic in Australia…

“So, the model I’m creating now, ‘Sandy Hollow’, is inspired by Australiana – in fact it’s very Queensland-based. Now I can show it and talk about the elements, culture and different habits of Australians to Europeans whilst trying to give them a bit more of an idea of what an interesting country this is.”

Kim Marsh on Facebook


Some facts about model making


Kim Marsh’s model of the dilapidated old Acland Coal mine in Queensland. Photo: Alec Smart


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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

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