Her name is Lim Pui Wan, and she’s been making miniature art for over 14 years. More recently, she was featured in Ryan Doesn’t Know.
You’ve probably heard that Ryan Reynolds has a fairly new series on Snapchat called Ryan Doesn’t Know. The mini-series follows the actor learning new skills in each episode, from throwing an axe to sculpting ice. More recently though, Malaysian miniature artist Lim Pui Wan was featured on the Snapchat series teaching Reynolds how to make a miniature hair dryer for her retro barbershop setup.
For the unfamiliar, Lim has essentially made it her life’s calling to create lifelike miniatures of diorama that depict retro Malaysian lifestyles. She was most known for creating a full kedai runcit (provisions store) that brings back nostalgic memories of being a kid in the 80s and 90s. The fact that you rarely see these provisions stores in the city makes it even more wistful.
But of course, all these are better heard from the artist herself. We got hold of Lim to spare us a few minutes to talk about her work making miniature art, working with the larger-than-life Reynolds, and more.
I started to learn how to make miniatures since I was 14 from books and forums online (I’m 28 now). I also used to read Japanese artists’ blogs as they sometimes shared how they make miniatures, which was how I learned too. When I was able to buy some simple tools and materials from my part-time job’s salary, I began with sculpting miniature food. Eventually, I tried making a dollhouse followed by dioramas, miniature furniture, and daily life items.
I’d say it’s an endless pursuit. I will never see my skill as ‘perfect’ because I know I’d always have room for improvement – I’d wish to learn from other masters in the future to have a chance to improve!
When I first started out making miniature items, I did what others would do like miniature cakes, lollipops, doughnuts, and the like. But those aren’t things I liked or could relate to. Then, I happened to pass an old shophouse and I thought it was beautiful — it reminded me of my childhood days. Nostalgia is what inspires me, and I wanted to inspire other Malaysians through miniature art too, which was why I decided to focus on that.
I’m proud of every work I did at every stage. For now, I’m still in love with my Lorong Panggung artwork, as it was built based on the original scene before it was reconstructed in 2018. I love preserving it in its originality when the 60-year-old Ho Kow kopitiam was still located in the alley. I’m happy to have built the shophouse building structure exactly the same as how I saw it in a historical book.
The one I took longest was probably the provisions shop (kedai runcit) I made in 2014. My skills weren’t perfected then and I spent a lot of time learning with trials and errors while creating that diorama. It took me nine months to complete.
Last November, I received an email from Westbrook media, the production team that worked on this Snapchat series. They mentioned that Ryan Reynolds bookmarked some ideas about the show and I was so very fortunate to be one of them. At that time, I didn’t really believe it was true but I replied the email anyway. Soo after, we had a virtual meeting and that was when I realised that this was actually coming true!
I was extremely nervous speaking to him, but we both knew it wouldn’t be a serious tutorial. Everything went great with so much laughter and jokes! He’s really good at handling everything: the jokes, the process of making the miniatures, and the conversation with me. He really made it a fun and interactive session.
I think he was! As a basic learner with zero skills in making miniatures beforehand, I saw that he was still able to catch up with whatever I was teaching him. Although, I’m sure he purposely made funny mistakes during the show.
No, we started right away when the camera began rolling, which made me even more nervous.
I’m currently working on a small street view. It’s not for any particular project, but I wanted to challenge myself to make something even more realistic. It’s still in its beginning stages, but I like to give myself tasks for practice constantly and see if I can learn something new again with this piece.