Eddie Putera, the diorama artist making Malaysia a smaller place

Formerly a professional photographer, Eddie Putera is now an avid diorama maker.

HULU LANGAT: Visit any property showroom and what will catch your attention quickly are the displays of miniature houses and townships.

These models are meant to give potential buyers an idea of what the upcoming property will look like; but really, they are a work of art by themselves.

And art, by its nature, tells a lot of stories.

While he does not work on dioramas for property showrooms, Eddie Putera, 51, does instead pour his time and effort into creating scenes of life that invoke feelings of nostalgia for days of yesteryear.

His works have been on display in public museums and private collections, and they all have a story to tell and require much research to come into being.

Meeting with FMT at his home cum workplace in a quiet part of Hulu Langat, the man has quite the story to tell about his work.

Born in Kedah but raised and educated in Kuala Lumpur, Eddie is a man of many talents, being a talented sketch artist, photographer and drummer.

Eddie prepares to place a miniature scooter on the diorama of a traditional Chinese shophouse.

Interestingly enough, he never pursued a formal education in the arts but rather, is an avid hobbyist.

And recently, he has taken on the hobby of visual storytelling, which he accomplishes through the dioramas that he makes.

After retiring from his photography career, Eddie decided to retreat to a rustic life far away from the city.

To pass the time, he worked with toy assembly kits as well as started collecting toy cars.

He eventually decided to add further value to his collections. “What if I added some value to it, I thought. What if I placed a car in front of a house with people around? That’s how my interest in dioramas started.”

Learning the basics from YouTube tutorials and other online materials, Eddie immersed himself wholly in this niche hobby.

Though you might think that his dioramas are focused solely on recreating buildings of a bygone era, Eddie says otherwise. “My work is about memories actually. I capture memories, the historical value of buildings and places.”

He derives satisfaction from seeing people’s eyes light up when they see a diorama that takes them back to their younger days and makes them remember simpler times.

It is not easy to build a diorama, as you might expect.

A model train designed to look like the long-retired trains of Keretapi Tanah Melayu runs on Eddie’s railway tracks.

To decide on a building model, Eddie has to first study the architecture of the building his miniature is based on.

He has to learn when it was built, how it was built and what materials were used in its construction.

“Different materials are affected differently over time by elements like rain and the weather. So these materials wear off, metal rusts over time. I must know how, for example, that brickwork is affected by rain.”

He visits the places he wants to make miniatures of, and once he gets the full picture of what he wants to do, he fills up his notebooks with writings and sketches of his planned works.

And that is just the first part of diorama making! He does add that this is the stage that he finds most exciting and enlightening.

He then visits stationary shops, hardware stores and even Daiso outlets to find the materials he needs. Among the materials that he works with are plaster, cardboard, sponge, balsawood and steel.

Only then can he get to the construction of his diorama sets, which require a lot of time and even more patience.

The façade is worked on first, followed by windows, roofs, drainage systems, roads and trees.

Then and only then the painting begins.

A Volkswagen Type 2 model vehicle gets a paintjob by Eddie, who has a fondness for a rusty look to his work.

He accurately reproduces buildings in their miniature form, and takes extra care to ensure that the scene and the atmosphere is as he remembers it.

This attention to detail that Eddie displays in his work is to be truly admired, like how he places little pieces of shredded leaves on top of miniature rooftops to make them look more realistic.

It takes quite a long while for him to complete his work, as inspiration strikes him in bursts; conversely, he can end up staring at a work-in-progress without having any idea of what to work on next.

The length of time required for a single diorama can thus vary from a fortnight to an entire year.

He makes his dioramas as gifts for friends; and sometimes presents them to museums for display purposes.

Notably, Eddie has a preference for recreating buildings of the past, rather than the present.

“If I build modern things…people see these every day. The KLCC, KL Tower, we see it every day.”

“But especially for city folks, kids today can’t even imagine a wooden house. They cannot imagine that people lived in wooden houses because they are born in air-conditioned rooms.”

With paintbrush in hand, Eddie carefully applies a layer of paint on a diorama of a fishing boat at sea.

If you wish to take up this hobby, Eddie advises you to get familiar with colours, because, “If you don’t understand colours…it’s very difficult to get a realistic piece of work.”

It is a matter of lots of practice, he says, as diorama-making is a hobby requiring much perseverance.

“Time,” he replies when asked what investment this art requires. “You need a lot of time…It has to be a part of your life. Time is the most important factor here.”

Eddie’s dream is to be able to create a set of dioramas depicting Kuala Lumpur’s growth from an unassuming village to the bustling metropolis of today.

“Imagine walking through a door and by the time you walk out, you know the history of KL. Imagine being a kid who walks through Kuala Lumpur from the 1800s to 2020, and he sees the progress as he walks.”

“That’s the dream. That’s my vision. I would love to see that come together,” he says hopefully.

For more photos of Eddie Putera’s works, please click here.