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Amazing Minuscule Castles Etched on Single Grains of Sand

We generally imagine sandcastles as modest estates formed by countless grains of sand. But for artist Vik Muniz and artist/researcher Marcelo Coelho, they thought the opposite. Taking a minuscule sand particle, they etched an entire castle on it. The process took them nearly four years to perfect, but the results are extraordinary. These detailed images (enlarged as photographs) are less than one half millimeter in length.

Through a series of trial and error, the two used a combination of 19th century techniques and cutting-edge technology. Muniz first created sketches of castles using a camera lucida, an optical superimposition device created in 1807. It relies on a prism to project a reflection of what's in front of you onto paper. He then sent these drawings to Coelho, who etched them using a Focused Ion Beam (FIB), a machine capable of creating a line that's only 50 nanometers wide. The FIB's highly-sensitive levels allowed them reproduce the drawing at a microscopic scale.

To discover the truth behind these images will blow your mind. “When someone tells you it's a grain of sand, there's a moment where your reality falls apart and you have to reconstruct it. You have to step back and ask what the image is and what it means,” explains Muniz, who is no stranger to these types of awe-inspiring works. We've seen him previously construct fascinating images out of garbage.

The sandcastles are now on view at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art as part of a comprehensive exhibition of Muniz's work over the last 25 years.

Vik Muniz website and Marcelo Coelho website
via [Colossal and The Creators Project]

Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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