Andy Acres is an artist and model maker waving from Islington, North London

Andy Acres is an artist and model maker from London England, who creates incredibly detailed dioramas. Each scene has its own unique story to tell through hyper-realistic objects combined with impressive mood lighting. 

"Model making involves lots of detailed planning" says Andy, who spends up to 2 weeks meticulously crafting a single box. The imperfections are what make these pieces so realistic and interesting to look at. By adding a torn piece of wallpaper or an area of cracking paint, Andy goes beyond model making and into the world of story telling.

Read on to learn more about his inspiration, creative process and to see some examples of Andy's newest work.

Where are you waving from?

My home studio in Islington, North London.

Now I understand your home is quite unique. How did you end up living and working in such an inspirational space?

We told the estate agent we wanted “something unusual” and she immediately lit up and told us she had “just the place” and she took us to our new home. It is a former Victorian butcher shop that is essentially unaltered since it was built around 1890. Our kitchen (the former shop) has a mosaic floor, art nouveau tiled walls, scrolled meat rails and a Queen Anne Revival style mahogany cashier's booth. Like my work, our home is evocative of a place in time.

Kitchen 1.jpg

What inspired you to get into model making and dedicate yourself to this field?

Disney! Visiting Disney World as a child blew my mind and ignited my passion for building models. I was always looking for the little hidden details which Disney always expertly provides in the attractions and set pieces throughout their parks. I think they set the bar for me.

When I was 12 years old I had a 1/18 scale model car that looked similar to my parent’s car at the time. I built a little set from some cardboard and made some conifer hedges that looked like our own on our driveway, then dusted the little set and the car in salt for a snow effect. I then strategically placed something that resembled human legs under the car and took a few shots on my camera. I made out I was confused by the photos and coyly showed my uncle who was seriously baffled and promptly told me to show my Dad, who was equally baffled. I got such a kick out of making them believe my “little model” was real. When I finally showed them it was just a model, they were amazed that I had fooled them and emphatically encouraged me to make more.

I took a BA in Set Design and then worked in prop making that often involved some form of model making. I enjoyed this for a few years, but I was always wishing those long days were spent creating my own works of art.

I always wanted to make models that would not only be visually stimulating, but also create that special magic of curiosity and wonder. I believe the power of illustration through these methods can be very powerful.

Art deco window

Walk me through your creative process. How do you go from idea to execution?

If the piece is not a commission, usually an idea comes from my imagination. It could be a place I have been, a story I would like to tell, a poem I heard, or a place in a book. Then begin the sketches and it begins to take on a form. I have to really get a feel for the scene before the execution. I have to know who lives behind that window, why the lights are flickering, and why the book on the table is opened to “that” page.

Once I know the exact scene, I then have to work out how exactly I can make it work in a wooden box. Everything has to be strategically placed inside to hide the edges of the box and make it appear that the scene has no end and no beginning.

Shadow box 1 closeup.jpg

Model making also involves lots of detailed planning. I learnt the hard way many times by avoiding the somewhat boring planning stage and just starting to build. Without planning I will find that those pieces I spent hours adding details to don’t fit together correctly or the scales are different. Then I have to bodge things and it never looks right. Detailed planning is key.

The attention to detail in your scenes is incredible. How long does a typical piece take to create?

Thank you, I’m glad you noticed! Usually a box will take me about a week. Larger boxes can take up to two weeks. It all depends on the contents. Like most artists I am seldom completely satisfied with my creations and I am always looking for a small fault or something that could be improved. So quite often if the box has been sitting around for a while and I stare at it too much I will re-do something. As an artist I don’t view this perfectionism as a fault, but it's sometimes very time consuming. I also want my customers to get the best work I can possibly do.

Shadow box 3.jpg

Is your work currently on display anywhere? I'm sure they're even more impressive in person.

Unfortunately my work isn’t on display anywhere yet, mainly because I’m selling the pieces too quickly to accumulate enough for an exhibition. It is, however, something I am trying hard to put together. I’m currently in talks with a gallery in Santa Barbara, California for a December showing. I visit family there regularly for the holidays, and so far most of my sales have been to Americans. I think my works have an english thematic feel to them that is perhaps appealing in the US. I also like the idea of my work setting sail around the world - it’s a wonderful feeling. It is hard to capture the depth and detail in photographs, and buyers have often commented on how much more they found in the pieces upon receiving them. This is one of the reasons I am eager to show them in a gallery.

An old farm house choked by new and old growth woodland, framed by an ageing wooden fence that separates the house from the foggy paddock beyond. Is the house abandoned or a secluded refuge?

This is what the box interior physically depicts. Only by curiosity and study will you fully realise that the solitude, abandonment and the unfathomable has more power here than the physical dimension.

I love the poetic descriptions you give to each scene. Is creative writing a hidden talent of yours?

Thank you. It’s very important to me that the viewers and owners get a visceral experience from my work and I think the stories contribute to this.

I always begin with WHY. Why am I building this? I wouldn’t have the motivation to pick up a pencil and start sketching my latest piece if I didn’t have a story to tell. However, sometimes I have only a guiding light of a story to start building. The context of my work is so illustrative it sort of feeds me new lines to the story as I’m building them. When I start on a piece, I am creating the story I have in my mind. Gradually as the building progresses the scene begins speaking to me and enriches its own story. I find it very exciting when that happens.

When you're not making models, what do you enjoy doing?

Visiting the historic pubs in the city is something I really enjoy. Their rich history and often ornate details inspire me in my work. Gardening is also a big passion of mine. As much as I enjoy living in the city, the pull to the countryside gets stronger every year. I’m looking forward to having a really wild english garden and a bigger studio.

As a London local, is there anywhere unique that you recommend seeing or doing?

Oh so many! The Barbican - there is always something going on there and you could easily spend half a day there visiting the exhibitions and wandering the gardens and conservatory.

My favourite pub in London - Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on the infamous Fleet St. It was built shortly after the great fire in 1666 making it one of the oldest pubs in the city.

You can follow Andy's work on his website and shop his current collection on his Etsy store: ChemicalReveries. All images are copyright © Andy Acres.

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