The Model Artist: An Interview with Max Dorey

Max Dorey is a set designer, modelmaker and resident artist at Puppet Place.  His work has earned Off West End award nominations for ‘Best Set Design’ and ‘Best Design’ in the UK Theatre Awards.  We caught up with him to talk about his passion for modelmaking, why it is important in his artistic practice and how models can tell their own stories.

Picture: Max Dorey

What interests you about modelmaking?
I never did any ‘proper’ modelmaking per se until I started doing theatre design at university, though I had had a go at bits and pieces, and have always made things. I think as I’ve started to use modelmaking as a tool in design rather than an end in itself it means it’s always been something that serves to tell a story and to be something which needs to engage the viewer, either as a theatre tool or as an art object.

I’m always learning new skills, and it’s great to discover a new technique to help you try new things, but it also means that you can quite quickly put together something that feels ‘real’ or begins to tell a story, without worrying when it’s ‘finished’ or ‘perfect’. As I’ve done more modelmaking, I’ve discovered that it’s interesting to play with these ideas at a scale and let people start to tell their own stories from the model without the need for the play at all. It’s something which can be practical, a hobby, or artistic, and so far it’s been the easiest way I’ve found to express ideas.

Picture: Max Dorey

What aesthetics, materials and subject matter do you tend toward?

Generally, I’ve always had an interest in broken down, grimy and used materials – there’s something so engaging about the ‘reality’ of a space or object when you start to break it down and notice the little chips and dents that start to tell the story of a design or prop. It’s the part when the model will really start to come to life. I’ve started to move into cleaner and more stripped back designs in theatre work, but I’ve also just started working on a series of art objects that really take the broken down, rusted aesthetic to it’s full, and hopefully give the impression that we are looking at something with a real history and life to it.

Some of the themes I’m really interested in are the relationship between design and nature, separation and a need for a space of ones own, climate change and our relationship with each other in dealing with it. I like isolating these moments to really examine them, I’ve started to get a lot of interest in scaffolding and supporting structures. I like retro design, too, I love anything with graphic design from the Victorians right through the 60’s and 70’s. We have a bunch of packaging from the GDR at home that we got in a flea market in Berlin. It has a lovely simple and lively quality to it. Basically the trash around a product, boxes, bottles, etc, all are interesting, artistically, and in setting a scene in place and time.


What commercial works and exhibitions have you been involved in?
I’ve done a few bits and pieces over the last few years – I started making puppets. I’ve sold stencil paintings, props, illustrations, and other bits. I’ve displayed my theatre work and models as a finalist for the Linbury Prize for stage design at the National Theatre, as well as the Society of British Theatre Designers exhibition in Nottingham, and exhibited some of my illustration work alongside the stories they were drawn for.

When I was at the RSC as an assistant designer we also did various bits of front of house exhibitions, and helped design the foyer for the new incarnation of ‘the other place’ when they first reopened for the Midsummer Mischief Festival. Currently, a book I’m a co-author for is on sale in UK bookshops, published by Penguin. It’s a book of odd and silly haiku written under the guise of pen name Gordon Gordon, called “Is that all you people think about? A modern Haiku collection”. It’s great! everyone should buy it in triplicate. I also have been selling ‘treecups’, model scenes in tea cups and coffee cups.

Picture: Max Dorey

What projects do you have in the pipeline?
I’m currently designing a directors festival for the Orange Tree theatre, another show at Central School of Speech and Drama, and have a schools tour of Julius Caesar in the works for The RSC. I’m hoping while we’re there to be able to push through a personal theatre project we’ve been looking to RnD for a while, and the next step for my own work is to get some of the various projects which are pure modelmaking to completion.

I’ve been working on a set of trash spaceships to display at the Tobacco Factory during the The Bristol Festival of Puppetry, made entirely from junk and scraps rescued from the bin. Another project that I’m hoping to get pushed forward this year is a huts project.  I’m aiming to make a shanty town of huts, one for every country on earth, and a set of robots whiling away their days aimlessly, as well as illuminated shadowboxes. It’s great to push through a project add see where it takes you, but it always takes the initial push before you start seeing where it will go – Instagram is great for that. I can put out my latest work and get an immediate reaction. I’ve set up a secondary account to @maxdoreydesign called @dreamyoxdesigns where I’m hoping to put out anything which is purely for sale for it’s own sake, to differentiate between my theatre and making work.


Interview by Emma Windsor


To find out more about Max Dorey and to view his portfolio of work visit his website, twitter or Instagram.  For a full list of productions Max has worked on, see his CV.  Read an interview with Max about his theatre design work on our News Blog here.

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