Using the natural landscape as his canvas, British artist Justin Bateman creates impermanent artwork from found pebbles and stones. The artist now lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he leaves detailed pebble portraits on beaches, in forests, by railways, and up mountains. Each natural-colored stone acts as an individual paint stroke or mark that’s integral to the overall image. On Instagram Bateman plainly says, “Pebbles are my Pixels.”
From famous faces to iconic works of art, each piece captures the character of its subject in a restricted color palette of stoney hues. By using found pebbles, Bateman never truly plans his portraits in advance. Rather, he lets the stones themselves dictate the composition of the artwork. “Art should always be unrestricted, yet in its limits I find freedom,” he says. “The beauty of this process is that I don't have any idea how a piece will look at the outset.”
Many of Bateman’s pebble portraits take several days to complete, but the artist doesn’t become attached to the work he creates. He’s inspired by spiritual practices of Tibetan monks, who create highly detailed mandalas from sand and then destroy them. This practice is a reminder of the impermanence of life, which is a theme Bateman explores, too. For him, the most satisfying part of his work is knowing that nature will eventually reclaim the materials he uses. He says, “My work is impermanent, I leave only footprints.”
Although each mosaic will eventually disappear, Bateman takes photos of his work as a digital reminder. And lucky for us, this allows us to admire the impressive details of his work. Each pebble portrait looks almost like a sepia-toned or grayscale photograph, complete with warm shadows and pale highlights rendered in stones. It’s incredible how much depth and detail Bateman can achieve with pebbles alone.
Check out Bateman’s pebble art below and find more from his portfolio on his website.