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Less is more for micro sculptor

WILLARD Wigan's microscopic sculptures live inside the eye of a needle, sit on the head of a pin and even at the end of an eyelash.

He hand sculpts the world's smallest pieces of micro-art out of grains of sand, granules of sugar, gold, dust fibers and many of his works are smaller the size of a full stop in the newspaper and are measured in a few microns (one millionth of a meter). The hair of a fly can be a tool.

The only way to view his mind-blowing microscopic creation is to use microscopes since it's impossible to see them with the naked eye - they are sold with display cases and magnification.

US President Obama and family celebrating his election victory within a needle's eye, Charlie Chaplin dancing on the tip of an eyelash, and a micro Shaquille O'Neal playing basketball with an astonishing facial expression are among hundreds of works created by the 54-year-old Briton.

"People are blown away. They've never seen anything like that in lifetime and they find it hard to believe,'' Wigan told Shanghai Daily.

"Creating these miniature pieces is not an enjoyable process though the end result is always a pleasure."

To work, the 54-year-old micro artist must enter a meditative state, control his nerve system and breathing (lest he inhale Alice in Wonderland), and focus. He works after midnight, uses a microscope and minute tools. He can even put lipstick on a housefly. But he needs to sculpt in the second and a half between heartbeats.

Around 20 of Wigan's' works, including his latest creation for jewelry chain TSL, will be exhibited at a private event on May 18 at Cool Docks. A week long exhibition will be held in June at Westgate Mall where people can view his works through microscopes.

Willard traces his miniature art to humiliation in childhood when he, then an undiagnosed dyslexic, was routinely shamed, ridiculed and paraded around by a teacher. He was labeled a failure for his poor academic work and "made to feel small."

"By age five, I was fascinated by ants. I watched them move around and I wanted to make little houses for them to live and play in. I used my dad's razor blade and began sculpting tiny log cabins. I got carried away then I started to find anything I could find on the ground, in the garden to make little furniture for them,'' he said. "I used to think ants could talk to me one day. It's like a fantasy world to me,'' he laughed.

Miniature art became a defense mechanism. "I had to defend myself, by showing people how big nothing is," he said.

His mother became his biggest fan and source of encouragement. "Smaller, smaller," she used to say. "The smaller your work, the bigger your name."

The Birmingham native started to challenge himself to create micro pieces since the age of five but he only shot to fame 12 years ago. Today some especially intricate works sell for more than US$100,000.

For two decades he worked for a factory, toiling on microscopic works at night, and never showing them to anyone. He never thought he would become a sensation.

Ironically, it was a large, very visible wooden bust of Shakespeare that drew attention; when a journalist interviewed him, Wigan showed him the miniature bust of Shakespeare.

"The smaller one became bigger than the big one," Wigan said.

The rest is history. He soon got attention from the media, art and science worlds, collectors and people around the world.

"That was when my life changed," he said.

In 2007, he was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in recognition for his services to the arts. His work is recognized by the international Technology, Entertainment and Design Institute.

Some of Wigan's biggest admirers include British tennis player and entrepreneur David Lloyd, Sir Elton John, Prince Charles of Wales, and many other celebrities.

"I'm never satisfied with my work and strive to make it smaller and better,'' he said.

Wigan takes subjects and characters in life and shrinks them to a molecular level. "It can be somebody walking a dog, someone looking over a bridge, two people kissing, a cat walking, a river with swallows in it, Cinderella, Minnie Mouse... It is all based on what I see in my life.''

It can take a few weeks or months to produce a single sculpture.

"Even making tiniest tools, like a diamond chip for a scalpel and a hair from a dead housefly for a paintbrush, takes a lot of time,'' he said.

"It's my destiny to be here in China,'' Wigan said. For TSL, he was inspired to create a microscopic couple in love atop an engagement ring. It's made of Kevlar and platinum and the lady even has painted fingernails.

"One should never underestimate things you cannot see because that doesn't mean they don't exist. I cannot read but I found something else that was bigger and better. I guess my work is an inspiration for others to live to his or her fullest potential,'' he said. "Sometimes, the smallest things can make the biggest impact.''


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