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Interview - Clea Cregan of Miniscapes

Creative People

16th September, 2011
Lucy Feagins
Friday 16th September 2011

Clea Cregan of Miniscapes at her Brunswick studio.

A Miniscapes terrarium!

Terrariums in waiting

It's so weird how the world works in cycles.  When I was a wide-eyed kid straight out of uni, trying my hardest to get a job in the film industry, I ended up doing a kind of extended stint of work experience at Melbourne film production company Exit Films.  It was all a bit daunting because Exit did amazing work for pretty big clients, and you know, work experience is kinda scary and you always feel like you're asking too many questions.  But, if you're lucky, there's usually one really nice person who you buddy up with, and it's that person you feel you can ask when you have no idea how to work the photocopier or coffee machine?  Well, in 2002, Clea Cregan was that person for me!

Clea hadn't been at Exit Films very long when I bumbled in... and she was so patient and kind and gave me jobs to do and made me feel like I was being helpful!   Who would have thought nearly 10 years later, I'd be writing a blog post about her burgeoning little business making bespoke terrariums?  :)

Miniscapes started as a hobby for Clea about five years ago whilst she was still working fulltime in the film industry.  She was instantly hooked by the tactile nature of the craft - working with her hands and making something beautiful, organic and sustainable.   After she'd basically filled her whole house with her creations (and any glass vessel she could get her hands on!), Clea started taking orders. It wasn't long before she was fielding requests from workplaces, events companies and local restaurants.  All this tied in well with the birth of her son Harlan (now 2) - she took a little time off work, and before long Miniscapes began to fill the void!

Clea's work is full of such beautiful details - of course each terrarium is filled with layers of rich soil, moss and lush leaves, but there are also tiny little characters hiding amongst the foliage!   I especially love her work for the Australian Open VIP lounge - complete with miniature tennis players battling it out on that distinctive blue tennis court!

This week Clea has just installed some of her gorgeous work in a window display at Monk House Design in Brunswick - it'll be up for the next 2 weeks, and she's also got a few pieces for sale in there too!  Do pop in and check them out!  Miniscapes also has a super cute blog where you can keep up with Clea's latest creations and inspiration.

Huge thanks to Clea for her time with this interview, and for being so nice to me in 2002.  :)

Tell us a little about your background - what path led you to making terrariums, and how did this become a little business!?

I studied Multimedia and Design at Swinburne back in 2002. When I finished I landed a job at Exit Films designing their new ‘cutting edge’ DVD showreel. This was back in the days when VHS was the hot format and DVD was just on the horizon. Exit films produces commercials, films, music videos and documentaries. It was a huge project that took over six months to complete. With the first DVD software there was a lot of writing code, programming and being very nerdy! I then started working as a directors assistant to Garth Davis (one of Exit's directors). This job involved referencing, research, shoots, overseas travel, long hours, deadlines and lots of late nights! It was an amazing job but when I became pregnant I knew I would have to morph into something a little more family friendly…

I’ve always had a creative streak. As a kid I was always making stuff.. matchstick houses, barbie clothes, fimo animals, bonsai, dolls house furniture hmm.. maybe that’s where my miniature obsession started? I grew up in Canberra and did visit Cockington Green, (a miniature village) quite often!

Miniscapes started as a hobby about five years ago.. I’d picked up a terrarium book published in the 70’s from an op shop and I was hooked. (Terrariums were very popular in the 70’s).  As I was spending lots of time in front of the computer at work, it was nice to be creating something with my hands. I knew nothing about plants so there was a lot of experimenting in those first few years. They started taking over our house so a few of my terrariums made it out into the world.. My partner Jack has a film editing company The Butchery and so we put some of them in the edit suites. Another friend had a few in her hairdressing studio. Terrariums make a more interesting (and sustainable) alternative to cut flowers. People loved them and I started getting orders. Talented photographer Virginia Cummins saw them and photographed them for the Melbourne Magazine. This issue came out around the time our son Harlan was born.  Amazing timing, morph complete!

Since then Miniscapes has grown quite organically (pardon the pun!) We now lease terrariums to companies, do special commissions and we sell a few too.

Clea in her Brunswick studio, and a few titles from her collection of 70’s terrarium books!

Where might we have spotted Miniscapes around Melbourne?

At the moment places include EXIT Films, Level 2 Music, Electric Dreams, Mamasita, Wide Open Road, El Mirage, The Butchery, The Department of Sustainability, and Cubby House Canteen.

Miniscapes are featured in the window and instore at Monk House Design for the next 2 weeks.  (102 Lygon Street Brunswick East, Victoria).

Miniscapes also guest starred at Obus for a few months last year.

Clea's miniscapes currently at Monk House Design in Brunswick! (These hexagons are just  $89.00 each!).

What has been a favourite commission / client and why?

I’ve been commissioned for the past two years by CHARD to design terrariums for the Australian Open VIP lounge. This project is always a lot of fun as I have creative freedom. This year I created miniature tennis courts with players and spectators inside the terrariums. I love the detail that you only see when you get up close to the terrarium.

Another favourite commision was for 3 Deep Design. They wanted all black plants to go with their new studio. We called this one the ‘bowl of death’. The clever people at 3 Deep Design also designed the Miniscapes logo and website.

Miniscapes in the Australian Open VIP lounge

Miniscapes in the Australian Open VIP lounge

It must have been a massive change to go from working fulltime in the film industry to running Miniscapes! What are the main challenges have you faced since setting up your business?

Yes, it was quite a big change. Getting my head around the business side of things is always a challenge and is so time consuming!  Sourcing all the elements in the terrarium also takes lots of time. Plants are grown seasonally so you can't always get the ones you want. Time is very precious especially when you have a small child. It's always hard striking the balance between work and family. I end up doing most of my accounting work at night because I’d rather be creating when I’m in the studio.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Start the day with coffee at Milkwood (great coffee and the girls are lovely!) then into the studio. Every day is different but usually I’ll organise deliveries/pickups of leased terrariums, start planning and planting new terrariums, source supplies on the internet, update the blog, emails, orders. I also have a wonderful assistant Natalie that helps me out.

Which other designers, artists or creative people do you admire?

Paula Hayes, Tim Moore, Slinkachu, Patrick Blanc, Miranda July, Su Blackwell, Anna Garforth.

Where do you draw creative inspiration?

In my terrariums I try and emulate real landscapes in miniature. So most of my inspiration comes from nature.  Not just the wild but urban environments as well - I love overgrown junk yards... forgotten spaces, moss and tiny plants growing along train lines. I did a terrarium called ‘Urban Decay’ for the Brunswick Show last year, with a burnt out matchbox car, old tires and junk all overgrown with foliage.

I spent some time in the mountains in Bali recently, it was so amazing to see all the plants I use growing wild in their natural environments. Little fern seedlings growing out of rock crevices, and sprouting from trees. It’s so humid and fertile; like a terrarium on a huge scale.

I like trawling ebay, op shops, markets, garage sales for old toys and other interesting miniature objects to put inside the terrariums... some times they will inspire an environment I create around them.

I’ve now got a huge collection of 70’s terrarium books.. I love the fonts and graphic design in these old books.

What would be your dream creative project?

I would love to design a huge walk-in atrium terrarium... maybe some snakes?

What are you looking forward to ?

Summer, camping, warm nights at the Taco Truck, sleeping in, chocolate milkshakes, snorkelling, Brunswick pool reopening, having a bigger garden, travelling, our wedding!

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

I love Brunswick because that’s where I live and work. It’s cultural, communal, quirky, gritty and rapidly changing. Great food, cheap bananas, Savers, Mediterranean Wholesaler, A1 Bakery, amazing coffee, and its close to the zoo.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools / materials of your trade?

Ebay, op shops, markets, wholesale plant nurseries, Bunnings, glass suppliers, online.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

La Paloma is our favourite local. Empanadas, tortilla, home style chicken with rice, sourdough, salad and a peach juice. Yummo!

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Either at Ceres or Small Block (brekky out with a toddler can be tricky!) or at the park pushing Harlan on the swing.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Coburg Trash and Treasure, its gold!

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email