There are several different styles for sculpted artisan keycaps. I’d like to introduce my favorite style, which I am calling “Story Keycaps”: tiny pieces of art that can live on your keyboard and tell a story.
But before we dig into what makes a Story Keycap a Story Keycap, let’s go over a few common composition styles for sculpted artisan keycaps.
One of the most common sculpted artisan keycap styles is “face” keycaps: these are keycaps that feature a face that takes up the majority of the keycap profile and often (though not always) faces upwards — e.g., the user “presses” directly on the face in order to type.
Here are a few examples of face keycaps I have made:
Face keycaps are one of the most common sculpted artisan keycap compositions with good reason: details are prominently displayed, and it’s conducive to multi-casting resin techniques. If you collect artisan keycaps, you’ve probably seen a lot of amazing face keycaps in the artisan community — and may own quite a few yourself.
Another common style of artisan keycaps is encapsulations, abbreviated as “encaps.” Encaps are subjects or tiny scenes encapsulated in clear resin to hold a high level of detail while maintaining a uniform keycap profile.
Although encaps often show a scene and tell a story, they already have an established name — so I am not including them in my personal categorization of “Story Keycaps.”
What Are Mihi’s “Story Keycaps”?
My favorite type of artisan keycap to sculpt is something I call “Story Keycaps.” Story Keycaps can be compositionally similar to face keycaps or encaps, but they should always tell a small part of a story. These keycaps help us imagine more than what’s visually present.
Here is a small gallery of keycaps I’ve made that I consider Story Keycaps, and I’ll explain why in more detail below:
Story Keycaps don’t have to be intricately complex (though occasionally they are). However, they should do the following:
- Evoke a narrative beyond the visible elements
- Enable the viewer to imagine a setting, a backstory, a history, or a future
- Present questions that the viewer uses their imagination to answer
Let’s go through a few examples to demonstrate.
The Renewal keycaps are nest keycaps… but they’re more than that. Each one lays the ground for the beholder to imagine a small story.
Dragon’s Nest Renewal
This dragon’s nest Renewal keycap features textured green and gold eggs in a silver metallic nest on a cooling lava base with a fire beetle. What kind of dragon laid these eggs? Where is the dragon now? What sort of kingdom does the dragon live in? Is the nest on a volcano or lava field? What will the dragon hatchlings look like when they emerge? What kind of lifecycle does the fire beetle have?
An entire story could be imagined about the origins, history, and setting around this keycap’s features.
Ice Nest Renewal
This ice nest Renewal keycap features a snow-covered nest of frosty blue eggs on a glacial base with a silver frost beetle. What kind of bird laid these eggs? Do the eggs need to be kept cold instead of warm in order to hatch? Is the nest atop a remote, stark, wind-and-snow-swept mountaintop? What does the ice bird eat and what will it feed its chicks?
Even the Renewal colorways that are inspired by real-life nests tell a small story, because birds’ nests are stories unto themselves.
Each nest asks:
- What kind of bird made this nest and laid these eggs? (Answer: from left to right, robin, sparrow, blue jay)
- When will the eggs hatch?
- What kind of tree is the nest in? (Answer: from left to right, spruce, under a canoe, white pine)
- Will the hatchlings fledge successfully? (Answer: sadly, none of them did; the jays came the closest)
Birds have an extremely high egg / hatchling mortality rate. In fact, the sobering fact is that every single egg in every photograph above perished before becoming a successfully fledged baby bird. These are nests that I personally discovered on my property, and not a single baby bird survived. The eggs were destroyed by other birds or predators, or the hatchlings were predated, or the fledging baby birds were killed by predators while on the ground (we kept putting the baby jays back in the nest, but eventually they were all found dead under the tree). While this is sad, it’s also a strong demonstration of the fragility of nature, and thus the preciousness of successful life. To me, each of these nests tells a story.
Quoth (and Renewal)
Quoth is a Story Keycap featuring a raven skull with a black iridescent feather and two leaves (one live green leaf and one dead brown leaf) on a stone base. I pair Quoth with Renewal on my keyboard to represent life, death, and renewal. While Quoth is heavy with symbolism, it also evokes a scene and a setting: what was the significance of this raven? Where and why did it die? Ravens are highly intelligent; what kind of life did it live?
Then I place these keycaps next to others, and the story continues to evolve:
The Nature Witch Story Keycaps
Combining several Story Keycaps together takes our journey even deeper, and compels us to imagine the threads and tendrils that connect each individual story with the others. This is my “nature witch” row, consisting of a backlit Toil and Trouble, a spotted tabby Catnap, Quoth, and Renewal.
Each of these keycaps alone are Story Keycaps, but together, there’s a broader narrative. Toil and Trouble features a cauldron of witch’s potion. This particular colorway of Toil and Trouble has a neon green brew that is backlit by the keyboard LEDs. It has a blue flower petal, green leaf, spotted mushroom, red berry, and a green and yellow caterpillar on a wood plank base. What is brewing in that cauldron and why? The neighboring Catnap is a spotted black, brown, and tan tabby. It’s sleeping contentedly, curled up next to the cauldron. Where did the witch find this familiar? Does the cat have any magical properties? Perhaps it can communicate with the witch. Maybe it brought her the ingredients for the potion simmering nearby. Quoth and Renewal then round out this magic / nature collection with their interwoven story of life, death, and rebirth.
Some Story Keycaps are rooted more firmly in familiar tales. Take the Xenomorph keycaps, for instance: Hug Me, Kane, and LV426.
The Xenomorph keycap set shows the lifecycle of H.R. Giger and Ridley Scott‘s Alien life form, but each keycap also tells a mini story on its own.
“Hug Me” is the Facehugger keycap, with one leg broken and an acid burn hole in the side of the keycap base where the keyboard LED shines through. What happened to the individual who inflicted this damage on the Facehugger? Where is the Facehugger now, since it got away? Will it go on to find a host for its parasitic embryo?
“Kane” is the Chestburster keycap. This story is more strongly rooted in direct source material: XO Thomas Kane was the first on-screen death in the 1979 Alien film. The Kane keycap is derived from his death scene, complete with his white t-shirt, nametag, and the bloody Chestburster ripping its way out of his body. If you’ve seen Alien, you’re quite familiar with his story already, but the Kane keycap tells this story in a way that goes another step beyond just showing a figure of a Chestburster alone.
“LV426” is the adult drone Xenomorph, exhibited in a Gigeresque portrait style, with dots representing 4-2-6, the designation of the moon where the crew of the Nostromo discovered the crashed ship containing the Xenomorph eggs. The Bloody Nightmare colorway of LV426 has a bloody mouth and blood dripping down the edge of the keycap base. Is this the alien that decimated the crew of the Nostromo? Whose blood is it? Who’s next?
The Elephant’s Child Keycaps
Limpopo (elephant) and Hither (crocodile) are a set of artisan keycaps inspired by Rudyard Kipling‘s Just So Stories, specifically: The Elephant’s Child. You can read more about the story itself in my blog post introducing Limpopo and the post introducing Hither.
By themselves, Limpopo and Hither are fairly standard face keycaps — but together, they tell the story of The Elephant’s Child, the folktale about how the crocodile gave the elephant his long trunk on the banks of the Limpopo River.
The Catnap keycaps look like happy, sleeping kitties, but the original Catnap sculpt was created as a commemorative piece.
My black tuxedo cat, Basil, died a few years ago, and I wanted to memorialize him on my keyboard.
Catnap has significance to me as a commemorative piece, and I plan to make a long-haired version as well in memory of my other kitty who also died a few years ago. I have heard comments that some colorways remind people of their pets who have passed as well. Stories for commemorative keycaps are real, emotional, and near to our hearts.
Catnap keycaps can tell fantasy stories as well, like the ones shown below:
Who are these kitties? Are they witch’s familiars? Are they companions to magical girls? Are they humans shape-shifting into cats? Are they guardians to their moons, stars, or gems?
I’ve created many other Catnap colorways (including calicos, spotted tabbies, white, Siamese, gray, etc.), and the stories these keycaps represent will be unique to their owners.
If you adopt a Catnap that resembles your cat, or the cat you had growing up, or the cat you hope to have in the future, those are your stories. Catnap can have personal significance to you, in the way it does for me, to remember my own kitties.
My very first true Story Keycaps were some of the Miyazakeys. These are keycaps inspired by anime films written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Not all of the Miyazakeys tell a story: some are simply face keycaps. However, others tell more of the story and prompt the viewer to think and call on their imagination.
The Ohmu keycaps inspired by Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind were some of my very first artisan keycaps. I wrote about how they were made in a blog post: Keycap Creative Process – Nausicaä-inspired Ohmus.
Together, these two keycaps tell the story of the ohmu: the enraged, red-eyed ohmu storming across a desert wasteland, and the peaceful, tranquil, blue-eyed ohmu at home among the plants and spores in the toxic jungle.
The Derelict Guardian Keycap
The Derelict Guardian keycap is a Story Keycap inspired by Laputa: Castle in the Sky.
This keycap inspires curiosity and questions. The Guardian robot is derelict and abandoned to time. Just the head remains, partially buried, covered in moss. But it’s peaceful. There are flowers growing. What has this robot seen and done when it was activated? Who will find it now, and what will they think of it? How would it behave if it were reactivated?
Jiji and Kiki Bread Wreath Keycaps
Jiji the cat keycap was inspired by Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Jiji could just as well have been a generic black cat, but I wanted to tell a small piece of his story. The Jiji keycap depicts a specific scene: when Jiji is lying on the carpet pretending to be a toy stuffed animal. Jeff the dog befriends and rescues him and this facilitates his escape and return to Kiki.
Additionally, the bread wreath was baked for Kiki to hang in the window of the bakery to advertise her delivery service. The entire movie essentially culminates in Kiki’s success, and the recognition of her achievements and growth represented by the wreath in the window.
No Face / Angry No Face Keycaps
The No Face / Kaonashi keycaps are inspired by Spirited Away.
Alone, they’re simply face keycaps. Together, they tell the story of the different facets of No Face, and how his corruption affects him.
Calcifer was inspired by Howl’s Moving Castle, but the keycap shows more than just a fire demon.
Calcifer is situated atop ashes and burning logs, and is cooking a frying pan with bacon and eggs. The different variants of Calcifer have slightly different expressions, helping the viewer to imagine a whole scene rather than just a snapshot of a character in a single moment.
More of the Miyazakeys arguably tell stories, but you can decide for yourself! Check them all out in more detail in Mihi’s Miyazakeys blog post.
Story Keycaps Are My Favorites!
As long as I am interested in making artisan keycaps, I will try to continue to create keycaps that tell stories. Fitting a story into the tiny real estate of a 1u keycap surface brings me a lot of creative joy. It challenges me to think bigger — while thinking smaller at the same time (in literal size).
What components, features, or subjects can evoke curiosity and interest in the beholder? Of course, not all of my keycaps are — or will be — Story Keycaps… but my sincere hope is that I can bring more of these experiences to peoples’ keyboards. ❤️
I Sell Keycaps
I sell my artisan keycaps. To see current stock, you can check out my shop. If you’d like to learn what keycaps will be available for raffle and when the raffles are held, check out my Instagram at mihi.mini.studio or subscribe to my newsletter.
Thank you so much!