For a taste of art that's sugary sweet, look no further than "miniature sugar." The art form is all about decorating plain old sugar cubes with icing or other decorations, usually also made of sugar.
Yoko Abe, president of the Japan Miniature Sugar Association in Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture, started making miniature sugar art about 10 years ago when she was teaching sugarcraft at a confectionery school. She was inspired by a small piece of work a student had made.
"Sugarcraft is generally decorative, but elaborate and large, so I thought more people could have fun making miniature sugar art," she said.
Being small, these works of art can be easily stored. They also last a long time as sugar cubes and sugar-based items used to make the decorations do not readily spoil and make for distinctive gifts. If they are made only from edible materials, they can be served with tea or coffee.
Seemingly, all there is to making miniature sugar art is placing a small object a few centimeters high atop a usual sugar cube that is 1.5 centimeters square.
Making the objects topping the sugar cubes, though, requires some artistic inspiration.
Miniature objects can include animals such as rabbits and bears, as well as food such as puddings and parfaits, even intricate items such as gingerbread houses.
Some are themed on seasonal events, such as the dolls used for the Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival) and the samurai helmet used for Children's Day. Others represent the world of fairy tales, such as "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Snow White."
The miniatures are made using icing or sugar paste mixed with sugar and egg whites with food coloring added.
"The smaller the size, the more difficult it is to make," Abe said. "It is best to start with a slightly larger size."
Her association provides some guidance online.
Generally speaking, to make animals, use icing to make the face and body parts separately and let them dry. Then use the icing like glue to connect the parts.
When decorating the objects, avoid direct sunlight and high humidity. If resin is used to cover the surface, the colors will not fade.
Placing finished miniature sugar art in small jars, in frames or on bookshelves can add a sweet charm to interiors.
"I hope people can enjoy this little world made of sugar that will bring smiles," Abe said.
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