I did a post on inspiration that I published in parts because it became very, very long. I guess I got inspired, haha :D. But it's a bit scattered being inbetween other posts so I thought it might be nice to put the 7 part series under a seperate tab. So it's easy to find as a whole.

I hope it's of use to some of you in whatever way it can be.

To jump to the different parts in the series, you can click on them below:
PART I, an introduction and some of my earliest miniatures
PART II, strengths and confidence
PART III, some actual tips ;)
PART IV, more tips, but less concrete, about firing creativity &such **NOT PUBLISHED YET**
PART V, about making some things a little easier **NOT PUBLISHED YET**
PART VI, very practical, but simple tip, maybe already used by some or many **NOT PUBLISHED YET**
PART VII, about illusions, mistakes and some final words **NOT PUBLISHED YET**

I've been writing a different kind of post, adding to it from time to time and digging up old photo's or made new photo's of stuff I've made in the past to support this looooonng post ;). I realise it totally depends on where you are miniature-/craftwise, what's important or helpful to you, etc, if this post is useful at all. But it's for anyone who might be happy with some advice from yours truly and can benefit from it.

I felt like it because of things I've read in comments or blogposts, about inspiration and creativity and such and I might be able to help with a bit. At least I hope so. Not because I know everything, far from it, but I know a little bit of something that might help some of you sweet readers and followers out there.

So, here it goes.. my view on a few things. It may be different for other miniaturists who were great and/or amazing from the start, but I wasn't born making realistic miniatures like my recent mini-books, mini handcremetubes with handcream being able to squeeze out or mini-alarmclocks. Just so you know ;).

I'd like to show you that I'm not just saying things, some pictures of where I came from. What I did in the beginning and didn't have the best idea about scale, materials etc. Something that I still develop of course, although it has much approved over time. Nothing wrong with what I did, I liked it a lot and was (mostly) very proud of every one of them. They've also been important and even essential for my development. But the point I want to make is that it's a quite different from what I have done later.

my first book. Way too big/out of scale even for the bigger book it was meant to be, pages very thick which was already thicker than normal paper and are also glued together etc.

You can see with the miniaturemagazines and the two recent books how big it is. And in the last image of the 3 below you can see the pages don't even line up (this is as straight I could hold them down), iiieeeee! Was I making this with my eyes closed? hahaha :D

And here's a nice mistake I made with a bookkit around that time by Ann Vanture from, glueing the pages in the cover upside down! But because you glue it to the front and backcover too, there's no way I could remove without tearing the whole thing to shreds, so I had to leave it like that.. I also made the same mistake with Animal Farm, only not upside down (because I was paying very close attention to that because of that previous stupidity), but the outside of the pages to the spine! Don't ask me how that happened! But luckily that book doesn't have flyleafs, so removing it was possible, although I still had to get all the glue from the pages.. :D

The second time I had an idea for a book was much later a couple of years ago and it was so much better! It is printed on both sides and even glued the right side up ;). This is large too, but as it should be being a big book for witchcraft, it's to scale this time ;). I still like this a lot!

And of course the books that I made earlier this year, so you can see (or anyone who had not seen the bookpost of these yet) what a contrast to that first one!

The second attempt to make a catcarrier as the first doesn't even resemble one haha (see that one in the photo below this one). Although it's a fine carrier and will carry minicats as it should, it's not too realistic I'm afraid, but I did enjoy it and was so proud of it! And still am.

The 3rd one I didn't finish because - from what I remember, it's been a couple of years that I made it - there was no way I could proceed with the weaving. Because of the - at that point - very inflexible metal wire (too thick as I just realised when seeing it again for this post). This falls in the category of seeing layers and they can have blind spots, as I will explain in later 'editions' of this series, it's one of the tips.

Different use for 'failed' items
Seeing the first cat carrier some time later it reminded me it looks like some kind of planter! Not sure if it's right for that proportionally, but for this post I finally tested that by putting some greens (it's fresh mint that bloomed!) in it and put it on a wall. Not too bad huh? :) It's still not the most realistic object/scale maybe and I would like to treat it sometime to make it more realistic, like a dark wash that will get in the crevices and/or maybe some dry white (or white-ish) paint to give it a more modern look. But at least it won't be useless, yay!

A small TIP to take away from this: if you have something that is not right for what you made it to be, it might be useful as something else? Like a mug that turned out too big, can maybe be a vase or plantpot. To give an example I can now think of and you might have thought of yourself and done that already, but there are probably countless! And some 'failed' items can be used for attics or trashcans etc.

And how about bad photography in the photo below? the basket* isn't even in focus :D haha. And this is not one of more photo's where this is the bad one, this is the photo I decided to keep! I don't know if I still have this basket somewhere, I'm curious to how it looks!
*from raffia with licorice-sticks as woodblocks

don't worry, I do like the first basket, but it's quite different from my second one that I made the year after. The basket itself is not even bad, it looks just fine.  I do still need to fnish it though with some washes or so to give it some more shades of colour. It's mostly the glued-on rim on the top that makes it quite unrealistic and not my best work, but it's how I started, it's my first regular basket** after all ;). It's in my christmaslantern.
**technically this was the raffia one I had forgotten all about until I stumbled on that photo for this post!

so this is a great example of me not using the right materials for realistic miniatures in my early days. I was over the moon with them at the time, I even ordered a lot more of the same beads and beadcaps to be able to make more! And they are are nice maybe, but not very realistic. I might have an idea what to do with them to be able to use them and benefit from the ornamental detail... I'll have to see if that works and if so I will someday post that as a tip.

So there you have it! My first (baby)steps in this fun hobby.

I got where I am - and still have masses to learn - by learning from mistakes. Obviously, as that's what we all do in life and will be no surprise. Also by seeing more clearly (or at all, haha, if you look at the crooked pages of that first book). And by looking at things differently over time and changing previous aspects to achieve better results in new miniatures. For whatever reason or because I suddenly realise what will work better. It's a natural process. I've also learned from others, using their tips. And developed my own, as well as ideas that I came up with.

With mistakes I also mean all the dumb things from blowing up lights because of next to zero electrical knowledge, supergluing my fingers to a miniature or each other on more occassions than one, glueing pages the wrong way around in a bookcover, working on something only to realise I've overlooked a very important and kind of obvious part etc. Haven't we all? Well maybe not all, but I know I'm certainly not the only one!

Nothing human is strange to me :D and I can assure you: very human this one, haha. 

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So this is where I hope things get a bit inspirational ;). This part is mostly for anyone of you who can feel insecure about your abilities and/or creative side, something I've read numerous times on different blogs. Hopefully my view on a few things can make those of you feel more confident. In following parts I will give tips on how to improve things if that's what you feel you need or would like.

First of all I'd like to say that I think everyone is always more creative than they usually think. Focussing on what they think they should be able to, they don't realise how creative they are in other ways. I've seen that often. Please see your strengths, everyone has them and they're always there, trust me.

'All' you maybe have to do is see what others see, but you somehow overlook. For example by accentuating your negatives, your insecurities or whatever. Try to turn that around if that's what you do. What do you like about your work, your ideas? Where is your strength and what always makes you feel proud and enthousiastic? Or what do others comment on about your work or have complimented you with, whatever it was? Also even a strength totally unrelated can help you with miniatures and creating.

in The Netherlands we have the tradition of Sinterklaas, the saint Santa Claus is derived from. In our family - as in many Dutch families - for his birthday on the 5th of December we always made 'a surprise', for one of the others. A crafted something resembling a part or a situation regarding the person you make it for, accompanied by a poem and (a) present(s).

My mother
was always quite apologetic about her surprises, while I always thought they were clever and fun!

She saw the lack of crafting skill,

I saw the great or fun idea and how smart (creatively) she achieved the result

even more so because she had to do it without the crafting or with little of it. I may have been the crafter in the family, but every single one of my familymembers have always had great ideas and things they were very strong at, making them creative. Being the idea itself, something that made it (un)intentionally very funny and/or a great poem or something else. Each of their work unmistakingly theirs at the same time.

It makes sense too, because despite the most common association,

creativity is of course about so much more than crafting!

And crafting has so many more aspects of creativity than usually thought as well

Also important to take from this I think: don't compare with others, look at (or feel) what makes you YOU. What makes you unique, try to see - and focus on - your strengths. And to be clear: I DON'T mean with this you have to give up something you like to do but aren't very good at (yet). Not at all. Always keep doing what you love to do, no matter what. And in addition to that: I've often focussed on what I was NOT so good at, YET! Not by focussing on THAT or WHY it wasn't good, but by getting better at it using my strengths!

I think all kinds of strengths in the end with most of us are even more important than talent! As you've also seen in PART I with my first attempts at miniatures ;). I think it's always about finding a way to use your strengths to do what you like to do, ulizing them to get better at what you like so much! And strengths that are related to miniatures can be anything too, like ideas for miniatures, designs, the use of materials, the use of style, the use of stories, the use of humor, an eye for staging or scenes, imagination, being good with certain materials, like wood, or fimo, or whatever of maybe with certain tools, etc, etc.

In addition I think it's important to realize that when it comes to what we want and like to be able to achieve - in miniatures or otherwise - I know not everything is always possible for any of us. No matter how much we want it to be or how hard we try.

so don't (ever) feel bad about that!

This can be for whatever reason, like (lack of) finances for certain materials or tools, time/RL, fysical limitations, lack of certain innate skills etc. Something we'll have to accept even if we don't like it and focus on what we can do. Or if possible, finding ways to work around them! I will however never say the kind of popular 'anything is possible if you just really want to'.

I think that's a way too simplistic view of life and it actually suggests that everything you can't achieve has to be your fault, even when it truly isn't

Like a man who really really wants to be pregnant and deliver a baby and would do anything for it. Which is a bit of an obvious kind of an example and maybe a silly one (where I can think of countless ones that are more common), but because of it's obviousness, it illustrates my point best I think.

I AM a firm believer however of possibilities

To illustrate how firmly I believe this and more importantly live by it in ways you could not possibly understand without this info: I am and have been bedridden for the bigger part of many years, not being able to take care of myself, not able to go outside, needing help with and for everything big and small, also to the bathroom or even getting in my wheelchair or in bed, dressing, drinks, food, etc, sometimes even needed to be fed. Brushing my teeth is a luxury I rarely have and having a shower has not been a day-to-day thing at all for all those years (not even with help) and I haven't even been able to be showered at all anymore by caretakes for fifteen months now. All that's possible (and not always even that) is a bath once a week with the help of my mother, who also washes my hair etc and once a week being washed in bed by a caretaker.

Almost all of my days are about the absolute bare basics: managing to eat 3 times a day (using clever ways and just heating up (pre-cooked by family)-meals) and being able to get in my electric wheelchair to get to the bathroom all day long and back in my bed. That's it, being a great challenge as it is often enough or not even possible. Going outside is a rarity and at those rare days a few times a year, for just a 'moment', that's it. Having visitors or contact with my family and loved ones is not as rare as going outside, but still very little possible. Because talking requires too much strength (and sometimes I can't even talk at all and the more I talk, the more often and longer that is the case and also makes me very sick) and energy and causes for unbelievable problems on many levels. No matter how much I would love to, like everything else in life.

And the list goes on, it's very hard to believe how I've had to live for so long now and even with this info you cannot imagine what else I have to do without, that is part of the most basic things in life. Especially when looking at this blog, which makes me immensly proud. The very very few (not even most loved ones) that know are quite shocked by it. I needed to describe my livingsituation a little bit for you to understand how it's been the looking at - and believing in - possibilities, where there seem to be none, that I've been able to do anything the past years.

And most weeks/months absolutely nothing at all despite that believe and always looking at ways, as I'm just too sick and just surviving. But even then: every moment I'm not too sick for it, I'm still thinking miniatures and thinking up ideas and work things out in my head!! Where I can tackle quite some problems I don't have to for real when I finally get to make it. And when I can do a little something - as you may understand - it's something that requires clever thinking, clever ways and mostly just very little and sometimes ridiculously small steps at a time. Like just cutting a small part on one day, another part the next day or a few days later, glueing something days or weeks later etc. Or if nothing of that type, then writing on a blogpost. Most often way ahead of something being ready, sometimes even years. But if it's something I can do, than I enjoy it, and every little thing towards something is a step closer to an overal result right?

All this makes the choice for what to make very limited as well, and is almost never a real choice, but simply choosing the tiny and certain kind of opportunity there IS as opposed to nothing at all. Because that's more important to me than choice between two or more, simply because I don't have that luxury. Some periods it can be a bit more and a few even more rare periods the past few years from experimental treatments has made things go a bit faster than usual and at those times I've even been able to do a few things that I really wanted to do (like the entrance and the alarmclock for example).

but litterally every tiny step I take in miniatures,
it's by always looking at possibilities, even at times
there's (finally) just an almost negligible one and use it

Furthermore it's determination and the love for LIFE & miniatures, focussing on what makes me happy, that I've done what I've done. You have no idea - and couldn't have, not even with the above (and still very limited) info - how unbelievable that fact is and by using several not obvious ways and decisions to even ever create at all.

Didn't want to add all that, but reluctantly decided to do so, because maybe this adds a little weight to what I'm saying about believing in possibilities. I believe that anyone - yes you too ;) - can do more, and sometimes much more, than they - usually - think or might be obvious. They just often overlook what they're very good at due to focussing on parts they feel they 'fail'. Or don't always know how to or where that ability is tucked away or how to get to it. Which I can hopefully help with a little bit with these series. And too many people are also - unrightfully so and sadly - led to believe by others they can't - or shouldn't - do certain things. Or for whatever reason have convinced themselves. There's NO reason, besides maybe practical ones, anyone shouldn't enjoy a hobby or be creative! Don't ever let anyone tell you can't or shouldn't!

I've told some loved ones in the past otherwise, where they truly believed they couldn't do something. And with some persuasion to try, support and advise, I was proven right and the person in question very proud of themselves. Maybe I can do the same for anyone who can use it by writing all this.

I think it's important to say that I think what you do and 'should' do is - obviously - very much about choices, preferences and what's important to you. Since, as with so many things in life, it's kind of personal ;). What makes one person happy might not mean anything to someone else.

It's not about results persé either, to me it's just as much about the process:

doing what we like to do, gives mental energy,
makes us feel alive and what suits us best

Whatever that is. And as a result being happy and proud of the result! Even if that result isn't always what you hoped for, it's still always a steppingstone to something else. A part of your development leading to better results and growing in your skills.

Creativity, as life, is about learning, evolving, making mistakes and sometimes looking back and frown upon or laugh about the first - or inbetween - wobbly steps we took. Like those when being a toddler and learning to walk, or later when learning how to read, riding a bike etc.

those wobbly first steps and mistakes (and many thereafter) 
were and are an essential part of anyones development.
you can't get anywhere without them

And have you ever seen any small child walk or run with stability for the first time and run a marathon soon after? Ever see someone get on a bike for the first time(s) and ride like they've never done anything else and cycle a Tour de France within weeks or months? I haven't heard of that :D. Not ever.

Sure, we have different startingpoints and develop in a different pace and in different ways, but not even the most talented people in this world go through life without the wobbliness. They too fail and start over, learn and grow and get better at what they do in the process.

I think it's much more about what someone does 
and decide they can, or at least try 

With or without innate talent for what it is they do, just because they want to. A certain result or learning a skill, whatever the reason. And always getting up after falling down. As us 'normal' folks have to do too ;). It makes us who we are.

and I know I tell nothing new here. 
but sometimes it's about remembering what we already know
and to apply it to something we forget it's part of too

And just in case it might help: one of my 'secrets' when it comes to miniatures* is I've never been 'intimidated' (can't find a better word) by great skills or achievements of others. And so they've never made me feel bad - or less - about my own. Something I've read a few times from others and I think is sad, because no one should feel less than someone else, ever. Now you can say there's no reason for me anyway because my results are fine, which may be true to a point, now. But believe me there was quite a long time I could very well have felt that way. Because my results weren't that great.

But I didn't. It wasn't important, I didn't even compare. What I did and do is what I do, what others do, is theirs. To me they had and have nothing to do with each other. I was just proud of what I did. Like the child who is so proud of his or her first unstable steps, even when falling down most of the time. And come to think of it: a child doesn't compare with an adult either, who walks - and even runs - without thought.

I did always admire other peoples work and still enjoy that greatly. And of course I can wish I can do something myself, but I don't think about it further and it certainly doesn't make me feel less about myself or what I do. I do use the level of other peoples skills to improve myself, get myself to a higher level. Of course, but I then just think of how I can do that.

and is it that someone has more possibilities that make that person
think they can do better and therefore they achieve more?
OR is it believing they can, simply trying and therefore creating possibilities that make them able to achieve more?

Chicken or egg right? That's something to think about for ya ;)

That's nice Monique, all those words in another - very, VERY yawn :D - lengthy post, but is there anything we can take from this, as in concrete tips? Well yes my dear readers, and applause for you if you're still with me ;), I think there is. In part III I'll show some things that can hopefully help you in a way. 

* I make the distinction because quite some years way befóre miniatures I was hesitant to start painting, not knowing I'd be any good at it. Still not because of comparing to others, but just felt I might not 'succeed' and had no idea how to start, what to do etc. I did start with it eventually because I thougt it was quite silly to not try it just because I might suck at it :D and not knowing what to do. And if I would suck, then I just have to try until I wouldn't anymore, haha! And I liked painting só much ánd I was good at it too, after having quite some difficulties figuring out what to do and how to get a result I wanted. Wanting to throw one of the first ones I did out of the window numerous times, but never did and just kept trying until I got a result I was incredibly proud of!

Like I had done several years before: I have always been good at drawing, but I 'sucked' at drawing faces. Yes they resembled a face, but not very good or realistic. So I decided to focus on that trying to get it right, and I did!

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in this part I'd like to share with you the first tip that might be of help to some of you. It consists of several tips and hints, but I think comes down to one principal, which is why I call it tip one. It covers basic stuff, but I think quite essential for getting the best results.
if you don't get the results you'd like - and only then - take time to look, really look. This sounds obvious, but I notice often that this can take real effort or is even difficult. To see what I need to see that is. Look again at the object you like to make or improve or at photo's and images of the real thing if you haven't. And if you have already: good! But still think something's off or you would like it to be better? Then look again and look even better or try to with a different eye (figuratively speaking of course ;) ).

how does it look, really look? When you look closer? And I don't mean closer regarding distance (although that can certainly help too), but closer as in looking at what makes the difference in what you would like to achieve to what you are actually achieving. Are there things you didn't notice before? Like certain details, or extra shades of colour, is the scale of details or materials right for example? I give some directions on this further below. 
example: this example has nothing to do with miniatures, but it illustrates my point well I think. It's about what difference looking can make, or maybe I should say: the difference between looking and seeing. My younger brother had homework for his drawingclass when we were in school. He had to draw a roll of toiletpaper in perspective. Yes, you read that right; a roll of toiletpaper :D, how inspired can you get? Haha. He could not draw very well. And he didn't know where to begin, no matter how simple it might sound. And his first efforts didn't go well, I have to admit... So I wanted to help him. Not by drawing for him of course, which would have been the easy way, but by giving advice and letting him learn.

and he did so well that his teacher - who knew his drawingskills - didn't even want
to believe he did it himself! How's that for possibilities?! 
and I didn't do much. I only sat with him and advised him to look, to really look, like I advice you to do in this post. And told him not to start drawing right away. Just look, at first. And I let him tell me what he saw. Duh, a roll of toiletpaper! Yes, but how does that look, what shapes do you see and how do they relate to each other and how about shadows and such?

shapes? Shadows? Aahhhhh... And when it came to drawing I asked him what was the simplest, most obvious part? Because that's always (or at least very often) the best place to start. And can keep you from being overwhelmed or loose oversight.

just start with one thing, the easiest/most obvious thing, then go to the next, etc. So he drew the inner circle. And then I told him to look again to see where other lines should come etc. It's no rocketscience of course, it's very simple, but it's what he couldn't think of himself. But it worked so well and he was só proud. It won't be a suprise he hasn't drawn anything besides schoolassignments, it just isn't a hobby of his ;).

but if he could make such a leap in his drawingresults, it must mean it applies just as well - and even more so - to things we DO like to do, and want to improve!

and more importantly:

this example also shows it's not all or even that much about skill either!
because he really didn't improve his drawingskills so quickly,
it's the looking and some hints and tips that made the big difference

so you don't even have to be skilled at something (yet) (a.k.a. a natural) to get much better at it with some help and get skilled that way. Aha!
also look at what others do that you like, what is it that they do that you ar not doing (YET) or doing differently, that might make a difference in getting the results you'd like?

some things that might help with all of the above:

1) is it about materials?
this is an important part of miniatures of course. It can and will make some kind, and sometimes a huge, difference to the final result. So do that whatever way you can. There're countless tips on this and there's a lot about it online to find, but here's some examples I can provide that might help you to some easy access-material:

  • fabric hankerchiefs, something I already mentioned in my tutorial for working Roman blinds. They often are of very soft and thin fabric, ideal for miniatures! And a lot cheaper than bying a piece of fabric (at least where I once found them), if it's even possible finding some that's so fine and thin. To make curtains, or bedding, or clothes. I've had these for years and came cheap from some discountstore. It's what I used for the lighter of my two mannequins (for the other one I used batiste, which is very fine as well, however the hankerchief had the look of very fine linnen that appealed to me).
  •  the leather of an old wallet, old gloves, old watch, you don't use anymore, because it's usually quite thin leather (sometimes only after you peeled of the thicker layer it's usually glued to) 
  • (thin) wood&stuff; nature provides gorgeous materials for us to use for an authentic look. You can find some yourself, but there's also several shops you can find stuf like thin treebark, driftwood, slices of wood, slices of mushrooms, twigs etc. You can find it in gardencenters and in stores that sell material for flowerarranging, but it might be at hobbyshops as well. 
  • old clothes or bags: I've had some old clothes or bags that weren't wearable anymore (or eligable for a second hand store for a second life which I always like things to go to), but has usable parts, like very thin fabric from a pocket, or non-worn/faded parts of the fabric (or worn/faded to use for an older miniature. But you can also use something exclusively for it, even when the item is still wearable, that is up to you (I've done that.. I'm not a saint you know ;) . I've also cut old bra's for their fabric or batting and everything fabric that is only good for the trashbin gets a good look to see if there's any material usable from it.
  • thin socks can be great material to make miniaturesweaters from: it's very finely 'knitted', like sweaters are This is an example of a 'socksweater' I made a few years ago. It's just a trial thingy to see if it would work, so it's not properly measured, made etc.It was just a quick look to see if it would work at all. But it shows thin socks can be great for mini-sweaters! It's a classic case of 'if you can't make it you fake it', haha ;)
there's so much more examples that I can't even come up with now, maybe I will do a post on non-obvious/cheap/free materials someday, to add to info already about that out there online. But every added tip about that is welcome I guess.

when it comes to not-obvious-but-great-materials or actually a lot when it comes to miniatures, thinking out of the box helps. Only this is hard to force ourselves to. From what I understand it's a very natural thing for us folks to not think outside the box and because of how our brains work and try to make sense of things. Trying to think outside the box is known to make it even harder :D. Motivating right? ;) But at least we won't have to feel bad when we notice this is hard - or even impossible - to do.

while sometimes we stumble on something that makes us think miniatures right away, other times it's because it's out of it's normal context and we can suddenly see it differently, an out-of-the-box-moment. Thinking outside the box can happen more often when seeing out-of-the-box-ideas from others. At least that's my experience. It somehow teaches, or maybe allows, our brain to jump to less obvious conclusions and it makes it easier. Which is always a great place to start of course and we all (or most of us) do that often already, just see what others do and use and develop your brain that way. So browse some more on Pinterest, blogs etc to get some great out of the box ideas that can maybe jumpstart some (more) of your own. 

2) is it about more layers?
with that I mean that when we look at something, you never see (most) details at first, that's normal. You see the outline, the basic colour, shape. I call that the first layer, the global visual of an object. Then looking longer or more closely/focussed you see the second layer, which is more detail, like other shapes within, other basic colours. And when you look even closer you see the third layer, smaller parts of whatever you're looking at, colourvariations etc. And depending on what it is, there can be more layers.

in miniatures we often can't replicate all layers (=details) that a fullsize object has, because of the scale. But it can also be a choice to keep it at just the first and not all layers. Or to add more of them. The more layers, the more realism. Mostly (but not always) meaning more parts. However sometimes it's hard to see the extra layers, there can be blind spots. I've noticed that often with myself and it can take some time to see certain details. As for most of us it takes some effort to see what you just don't see very conciously because you normally don't have to.

example: the first layer you'll usually see is the basic colour and the general shape of it. And looking better you will find more and more detail. Things you might not even have noticed otherwise. It can differ per person how soon you will 'detect' a certain detail. This can be for any reason, for example because of preference or experience. But the general idea is the same and makes sense I think. To show what I mean I illustrated it with two reallife cupboards. And although seeing things blurry and then sharper is not the same as what happens when looking better, it still illustrates the idea well I think. In any case it's the best way I could think of ;)

3) is it about finishings?
it's often a part of. I've seen wonderful objects, that I didn't realize or see right away, were 'just' very common and simple standard miniatures. And it was the finishing that made all the difference. Choice of colour, using more colours or more shades of a colour, choice for a bit (or much depending on what you like or what you're going for) weathering, adding, removing or exchanging ornaments, or other details. Sometimes the difference is just changing a bit of the 'factoryness'. This may sound obvious, but can also be a blind spot to a certain extent sometimes.

example: what I mean with 'factoryness' (:D) is for instance the bright yellow colour and the sheen of a brass ornament or the shape of plain wood of a furniturepiece. Changing that even a little might seem not that important, but can already make a big difference. I like to fire my ornaments on the stove. It blackens most metals and with brass it sometimes removes the excess of sheen and yellowness and I think gives it a bit of a different - more realistic and natural - shade and finish. But it gives a completely different effect with every piece as you can see. I picked this tip up once in a miniaturemagazine (for blackening regular metal wire), so this one is not my own. And the round ornament in the middle didn't shrink by the way :D, I only had a untouched one in a larger size.

be careful though, sometimes I think it's brass or tin, but it turns out to be something else with a brasscoloured layer (see the oval frame). Or it's even aluminum with or without a layer. Aluminum has two proporties making it very unfit for this option: it doesn't discolour in fire, making it useless to do it and it melts fairly quickly and you end up with a blob of metal ;) Yes, that happened more than once.. :D And always take precautions of course: tweezers and/or fireproof cookingtools (like a meatclamp) to hold it in the fire. NEVER touch it before thouroughly cooling off (dropping it from the fire in a small bowl with some olive-oil helps, not only cools it metal fairly quickly, but it sometimes also adds to a deeper effect of darkening/discolouring, giving it more character). And doing this always at your own risk, blabla.

it might seem strange to mention this here, but this has a direct effect on the finished miniature, so that's why. Wood always benefits from slightly sanding sharp edges. Not even new furniture has the sharp kind of edges that (blank wooden) miniature furniture always has. Even when parts are supposed to be very straight, they will have a very slightly rounded edge. And if you want it to be an older piece, then this will be more of course and you can sand it more before doing anything else with it. And think of where it will be more than in other places (like a chair, always has more worn seat than other places. The ends of the legs mostly more at the back (from dragging them) etc.. You can also choose to change or accentuate features, see my example of a an chair I still need to finish someday (but luckily hadn't, 'cause now I could use it as an example for this post). I think it's from Eurominie's.

and I remembered I had two chairs from a kit that I've done one of years ago and I can show you the difference with the other one. It's just simple what I did then, mostly rounding edges and defining etc, but makes quite the difference. While the instruction of the kit just suggested painting the wood.

what I also think makes an important difference is the choice for the final layer(s): varnish or other. How is it in reallife? Plants don't have a high gloss finish, or just rarely. Sometimes it's more a satin sheen, sometimes matte. Wooden miniature furniture is very often glossy varnished, but I personally don't think it's glossy in reallife, most often. Mostly satin or matte.  

4) is it about colour?
with that I mostly mean almost nothing is just one colour, although it seems that way because we usually don't look closer. And we don't have to, you can perfectly enjoy things without it. But when making miniatures and especially wanting them more realistic it can be important to see that there is. 
example: a golden or butterfly palm is green right? But looking closer you see it's not just one shade or colour. It has darker green, lighter green and different shades between them, some yellow green, and depending on how healthy the plant, some (or a lot :D) yellow and or brown. But most leavy plants have some brown in leaves, like specks or lines. Trees (foliage) or grass are never just one shade of green either, the same goes for dirt/soil, wood etc. This might sound very obvious, but I know isn't that logical, to me it wasn't anyway. It has taken me some time to look closely enough at things to realize how many colours one colour mostly has.

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