Nimra and Manahil Bandukwala are sisters living in Canada who share a unique hobby. Manahil is still in college while Nimra has just recently completed her Bachelors in Psychology. But despite their busy schedules the girls find time to pursue their common love of building terrariums or miniature worlds.
Their love for the whimsical and fantastical gave them inspiration to re-create miniature worlds from stories and literature and they started building terrariums and presenting it to the world through their blog Backyard Worlds.
Both the sisters are artists. Manahil also enjoys live painting and speed painting, and has taken part in speed painting competitions. Nimra has exhibited her work in Montreal and Toronto, and has been published in a few local magazines.
HomeLoveLifestyle recently caught up with these creative siblings
How did you get started on this hobby?
We’ve always liked spending time outdoors, and collecting things with unique forms or textures, including stones, flowers, bark, and leaves. Unfortunately, most of these get hidden away in drawers and basements until an inspiration hits.
During a family hiking trip in March, Nimra suggested creating a terrarium in a teacup with the things we had picked up. We soon realized we could take this further, and create scenes, stories, and characters. On the five hour drive back, we brainstormed ideas and within the next few days, Backyard Worlds was born.
What is the most challenging part of making these miniatures?
One of the biggest challenges is finding things in nature that match the vision in our head. We don’t buy any of our materials (except hot glue), and often work backwards based on what is there. Trees are especially difficult to make. We found out the hard way that our pine “trees” would crumble once fully dry. We had to get creative with finding alternatives. For one tree, Manahil found a cluster of berries that made a fun red coniferous tree. For another one, Nimra glued flowers to the end of twigs.
In a way, it’s a blessing in disguise that our materials are fragile and small, as it forces us to slow down, work mindfully, and sink into the process
You are drawn to themes from fantasy literature. Do both of you like to read? Is this where your inspiration comes from?
The library was our second home growing up. Manahil even managed to read all the books in the children’s library at Karachi Gymkhana. Eventually, the librarian in the adult library let her in because he had seen her looking in wistfully enough times.
We’ve been drawn to art and have been encouraged creatively by our family from a young age. We spent hours creating imaginary worlds, such as pretend houses in our backyard, or a shop in our guestroom. This project feels like a natural continuation of that childhood impulse to imagine and do something with the hands without overthinking it
Do you work smoothly together or do you have differences?
We definitely have a trust and admiration of each other’s creative process, and recognize that the other has a skill that one of us might not have. For example, one of us (Manahil) is excellent at sculpting minute details, while the other (Nimra) has a sharp eye for colour and mood.
Describe the works you have done so far.
Our first world, of a welcoming house on a hill was an experiment to see how we could approach creating these worlds.
For “People Watcher,” we wanted a simple concept. This world is a park with a bench and some flowerbeds. A creature with a clock for a face sits on the bench, looking out at the world. The clock was a lost earring from our teen years. A person “watching” from his perch on the bench fit naturally with a clock.
We are both huge Harry Potter fans, so we knew we wanted to create something inspired by Rowling’s universe. Hagrid’s hut, perched on the edge of the forbidden forest, fit perfectly with our vision. The hut is made from twigs and birch bark, and is perched on top of rocks. In the garden, there’s a paddock with pumpkins inside, and a cabbage patch on the edge of the world. The hut’s door even opens!
Our biggest world so far is the Shire. It lives in a book that Manahil found and hollowed out. The base is made up of scrunched up newspapers covered by moss. One side of the world has birch bark holes while the other has a foil river. Luckily spring was around the corner, so we collected flowers and berries to fill the world with colour. We couldn’t have a Shire without a Hobbit, so we sculpted one out of clay, complete with hairy feet. A clay Gandalf, sits by the entrance to the Shire, smoking a pipe.
How much of your time do you spend on this?
Since we don’t live in the same city, and Manahil only visits Mississauga every few months, it’s exciting to brew up ideas of what we want to create. While she is here, we can focus fully on the world, and also plan for future worlds.
It’s hard to gauge exactly how long it takes, because we’re always looking out for materials. Gathering makes the process more enjoyable, and each tiny part ends up having a story about what it is and where it came from. As for the worlds themselves, once we’ve collected, and dried the materials, it takes anywhere between 3-8 hrs per world.
What are you future projects?
After taking inspiration from Western magical worlds, we want to move towards interpreting Pakistani folklore, stories and song in miniature. We are also looking into combining poetry with miniature worlds, and publishing the collection.
Keep an eye on the Backyard Worlds blog and personal social media pages for updates on more worlds.