Evansville native Jesse Sumrall stumbled upon his passion for creating intricate Styrofoam dioramas for tabletop gaming and décor completely by accident. Sumrall, who works full-time as an inventory control analyst, searched many years for “his thing” and tried his hand at other activities such as podcasting and woodworking, before harkening back to a craft he remembers doing in his youth.
“I was looking through art on the internet and just saw a line drawing of a broken castle tower,” he says. “I happened to see a suggestion below of a little model house and it brought up memories of when I used to build dioramas for elementary school assignments. Seeing miniature houses and dioramas made me remember how much I loved doing that in school.”
Though he has no art background, Sumrall dove headfirst into the niche art, realizing he could achieve his artistic desires by constructing detailed, old-world dioramas for roleplaying and tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons.
The generally inexpensive artform crafts models out of XPS foam, which is mostly used as insulation in homes. With just a pencil, ruler, knife, and some paint, Sumrall creates any idea that comes to his mind, from medieval churches to mossy dungeons.
Recently, Sumrall has sought to add more elaborate detail to the dioramas through various upcycled materials, using everything from empty toilet paper rolls to plastic straws and mesh netting to hold bulbs of garlic.
“It’s kind of a curse I have now,” he says. “Everything I look at, I’m trying to break apart in my head and see how I could use it.”
In 2019, Sumrall formed his own part-time proprietorship, Chisel and Foam, to sell his foam models to D&D and other roleplaying gamers as well as anyone who wants them as home decor.
“It occurred to me that this is something that I’m going to do forever and something that I’m going to make a lot of things of,” he says. “I do have limited storage space, so I figured if I could sell one or two things and if it even just pays for itself, I’ll be happy with that.”
Sumrall’s models are available for purchase on his website and at Your Brother’s Bookstore in Downtown Evansville. He says he would like to teach classes on how to construct the dioramas at the bookstore. Videos on how to craft the foam buildings are also available on Chisel and Foam’s YouTube channel.