Rust stains, chewed gum, and fading stickers are some of Danny Cortes‘ favorite things. These small details add character and realism to his miniature art, dioramas of New York City street scenes inspired by the 1990s and 80s. Making dioramas started out as a fun childhood hobby for Cortes, but has since turned into a flourishing art career. His strikingly detailed dioramas capture the gritty and nostalgic elements of life in New York.

miniature subway diorama by Daniel Cortes
Image Courtesy of Danny Cortes

Untapped New York Insiders were invited to meet Cortes, virtually, as he chatted with us from his miniature art studio! Insiders got a behind-the-scenes look at Cortes’ process and see miniatures in the making. This live, virtual event was free for Untapped New York Insiders! Not an Insider yet? Become a member today and your first month free with code JOINUS. Membership gives you access to our archive of over 200 on-demand videos, including our talk with Danny!

Making NYC Miniatures

Daniel Cortes holding up his miniature versions of an ice cooler and a dumpster

Cortes first started making miniature art as a kid. He would craft elaborate backgrounds made out of cardboard and cereal boxes for his G.I. Joe and Transformer toys. He continued to dabble in diorama making throughout his life and followed other miniature artists on the internet. When the pandemic hit, Cortes decided to dedicate more time to honing his craft. He began making miniatures every day and started to share his work with the world on social media.

A miniature yellow newspaper box
Image Courtesy of Danny Cortes

He looked to his youth for inspiration, creating scenes of New York City from the 1980s and 1990s. Using materials like foam, toothpicks, and popsicle sticks, he started to make miniature versions of things around the neighborhood like sticker-clad ice boxes and metal dumpsters. When he shared images of his work on Instagram, it resonated with other New Yorkers.

Danny Cortes mini subway
Courtesy of Daniel Cortes

Cortes’ passion for miniatures grew with every piece he made, and his skills improved. No detail goes unnoticed in his work. From paint chips and rust stains to graffiti tags and tiny rivets, the details are what bring Cortes’ miniature art to life. Cortes’ work focuses on the distressed places and objects that most people might look past, like a newspaper box covered in stickers and tags or a rusty lamppost. His miniature subjects vary from pieces of the city, like street signs and ice cream trucks, to models of subway cars (both exterior and interior), storefronts, handball courts, and whole apartment buildings.

Mini Ghostbusters car
Courtesy of Danny Cortes

With his work, Cortes has attracted clients from all walks of life. Since 2019, he has recreated local storefronts for New York shop owners, sold to art collectors and celebrities, and made custom pieces for New Yorkers who want a piece of a disappearing NYC that they can hold onto. His work has appeared in multiple art galleries and exhibitions and on the renowned auction block of Sothebys. Check out more of his work in the gallery below and join us for a live, virtual talk with the artist on May 18th!

Making NYC Miniatures

Danny Cortes portrait
  • Interior subway car miniature
  • Willie L's Burgers model
  • Brick wall miniature

Next, check out What’s Up With These “Good Luck” Spot on the Streets of NYC?