8 Amazing Works of Art You Need a Microscope to Appreciate
For as long as there have been people making art, there have been people who are really good at it. People like Thomas Kinkade and the painter of Space Jesus, just to name two. But it's one thing to paint the weeping, planet-sized face of Jesus Christ hovering in space; it's another to intentionally make the job more difficult on yourself by picking the hardest possible medium to create your work. Like, for instance, if the thing you were sculpting or drawing on was microscopic.
At that point, you're really just showing off. At the risk of rewarding that kind of showboating, here is ...
Pencil Tip Art, by Dalton Ghetti
Does this count as a No. 2?
That's not a huge novelty pencil tip right there. That's a tiny little saw carved into the end of a regular ol' pencil (in this case, a flat carpenter-style pencil) with microscopic precision.
The same pencils we throw away when they're too stubby, Dalton M. Ghetti makes into art. Intricate art. And that's not the work of a laser and a computer -- this was done with his own two hands, using a razor blade, sewing needle and magnifying glass to carve his intricate sculptures out of graphite and pencil wood.
Are you noticing how he planned it so that the handle of the saw would be wood, but the blade would be graphite? Are you letting that sink in? Now notice the four little screws or rivets on the handle at the base of the blade. Yeah, this man is insane.
We bet he carved tiny postcards inside there.
Are you imagining how easy it would be to snap that right off if your hand slipped or, heck, if you just touched it the wrong way? Or how many hours of work you would lose every time somebody accidentally grabbed one of the pencils and started making a grocery list with it?
Anyone feel like Monopoly?
If the pencils look used, that's because Ghetti purposely uses discarded objects for his medium. So each of his pencils was once somebody's trash. And since his art isn't for sale, the only way you're going to get a Ghetti original is to drop a pencil on the ground and wait in hopes that he picks it up, then break into his studio after he turns it into a beautiful horse head or whatever.
Sculptures in the Eye of a Needle, by Willard Wigan
Joe Biden is trapped inside a nearby thimble.
It's easy to be unimpressed by this Willard Wigan sculpture of the Obama family if you're not grasping the scale. Let's put it this way: That little dark thing protruding into the picture from the bottom? That's an eyelash. And that oval frame where the first family is standing is the eye of a needle.
For perspective, here's a picture of a pair of disembodied hands holding a regular-sized needle:
Yeah. If you've ever attempted sewing, you know how hard it is just to fit a thread through that little hole at the end of the needle -- imagine squeezing a whole tableau in there. Note the details, like the president's tie. And that's just the beginning:
Above: How Lilliputians immigrate.
To make sculptures so small, Wigan has to use surgical blades. After all, he's working with materials like grains of sand, dust fibers, spider cobwebs and the hair from a dead fly. A half empty dustbin is like his Costco. The process is exhausting:
Because the works are so minute, the sculptor has learned to control his nervous system and breathing to ensure he does not make even the tiniest movement. Wigan, when working, enters a meditative state in which his heartbeat is slowed, allowing him to reduce any hand tremors and work between heartbeats.
You know your work is intense when you have to put yourself into a coma to do it.
Wigan spends a chunk of each workday clinically dead.
Sagaki Keita Draws Classic Masterpieces Composed of Tiny Doodles
That drawing of the Mona Lisa is good, but not mind-blowing. Like you wouldn't Facebook "Like" it or anything. But take a closer look:
She must have fallen asleep at a party.
The whole thing is made of tiny little interlocking doodles.
Sagaki Keita recreates classic works of art composed of little goofball characters that any of us could have drawn during seventh grade math. Look carefully and you'll probably find a dong.
Here's another reproduction you might recognize:
Look closer still and you'll find:
Ha ha. Gotcha.
Akinobu's Itty Bitty Models in Itty Bitty Bottles
The tiny vikings are out raiding a village in a bottle.
If you're anything like us, you have no idea how people get ships into bottles, but you vaguely suspect voodoo, time travel or Criss Angel. If there's a perfectly logical technique to it, we don't want to know, because we thrive on fantasy. Maybe they make the ship first and build the bottle around it?
But Japanese artist Akinobu doesn't just put ships in bottles -- he puts ships in ridiculously tiny little vials smaller than your thumb. And not just ships -- he puts whole landscapes in them, and dinosaur skeletons and mini-universes.
Pssh. Everyone knows little velociraptors are where it's at.
Tiny sea turtles hatched on the beach!
Now, if you look at those bottlets, you'll notice that the openings aren't as proportionately small as the opening of a wine jug or Budweiser bottle or whatever. Yet carving those little worlds, then getting them into anything without crushing their metaphorical guts, is a major triumph in itself.
And unlike most of the works of art on this list, Akinobu's work is available on Etsy. They're the perfect gift for everyone's favorite bottle-themed holiday, Tiny Model in a Bottle Day!
It's a lot of fun until you realize there aren't air holes.
The Tiny Origami of Anja Markiewicz
Seconds after this picture was taken, the mouse was devoured by a thumbnail-sized origami hawk.
Origami is tricky to begin with. Your material is more delicate than a 13-year-old girl's feelings during her period, you're not supposed to use glue or tape and if you don't follow the multistep patterns perfectly, you'll end up with the shameful sculpture known in origami circles as a "wad."
Well, in true "I'm so good at this, I can do it tiny" fashion, German artist Anja Markiewicz folds origami so small that she has to use needles to get the job done, and she starts with bits of paper less than an inch wide.
Look at that. She's taken this ancient, delicate art and shrunk it by, like, a gabillion. At any given point the creation it took hours to make could be mistaken for a piece of lint or an "absolutely nothing" and destroyed by an inward gasp. We're picturing someone with allergies walking into her studio and inhaling thousands of hours of work in a sneeze intake.
But even that seems downright sturdy compared to ...
Lorenzo Duran's Cutaway Leaf Art
There's a thin line between genius and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
It's one thing to create beautiful things out of solid wood or paper or panties, it's another to make art out of a material that can crumble into a coke-fine nothingness as you work. Lorenzo Duran does just that with fallen leaves. His art is so delicate, so intricate, so Touched by an Angel-esque you'd be impressed that it gets done at all, much less out of the stuff that will make your compost next year.
Something tells us Lorenzo makes kickass jack-o'-lanterns.
Here's how he does it: First he has to collect the leaves. Then he has to wash them, dry them, press them and turn them into something other than leaves, presumably. Maybe grocery bags? Next, he creates a design on paper. Then he lays the paper over the leaf and walks away while his elf minions do the dirty work. Just kidding -- he uses a razor blade to cut out the designs himself.
Are you picturing that? Cutting out each of those branches with a razor? Are you picturing getting 95 percent of the way done with it, then accidentally lopping off half of the tree because your hand twitched? Are you picturing yourself running around the house trying to find a teeny tiny little roll of Scotch tape?
OK, that's just ridiculous.
Sculptures from a Single Toothpick
In case you've ever wanted to pick spinach out of your teeth with the Eiffel Tower.
You've probably heard of people building models out of toothpicks. Tedious work, sure, but there's always a way to take it to a level that will make even those people feel bad. Well, San Francisco artist Steven J. Backman does his models with just one toothpick. That's what it took to make the Eiffel Tower sculpture up there -- the wood of one toothpick, a straight razor, glue and spunk (the "gumption" kind of spunk, not the other kind of spunk -- that would be even more impressive.)
It's all a matter of slicing away at the individual toothpick and reassembling the tiny boards into the Brooklyn Bridge or White House or Marcy Projects. He can do anything!
Oh, and don't get us wrong, he can scale it up and make the big stuff, too:
We don't even want to know how he made the glass.
Barack Obama is his own posse.
Those portraits of Barack Obama (who somehow makes his second appearance in this list of tiny art subjects) would look like nothing but specks or grains of sand if you held them in your hand -- the image up there was generated with an electron microscope.
What's the point of making art so tiny that you'd have to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids anyone who wanted to see it? We'll let the world's philosophers answer that question. In the meantime, NanoArt, art so small that you can't see it with the naked eye, is the newest thing in ... very small visual media, we guess? As for the image you see above:
"The smallest presidential portrait by far, each image is composed of 150 million carbon nanotubes, roughly representing the number of votes cast in the 2008 presidential election."
If 150 million nanotubes sounds like a lot, keep in mind that all of them together still make a face that's only about 10 times the width of a human hair. Here's a very simple explanation of how it was made:
Can you tell those are fingers holding up that plate of tiny Obama heads? CAN YOU?
And here's a picture of some NanoArtists at work:
This is a whole genre of art, by the way, using all sorts of chemical processes to get cool-ass sculptures that microbes can gather around and enjoy. Below are "microfibers attached to a substrate that twist together upon evaporation of a solvent that they were immerged in."
If you squint, they look a little like puckering anuses.
As amazing as that (presumably) is, all we can imagine is a fly swooping down and accidentally eating the whole thing.