Over the past few years there have been many new creative ideas in the field of art. One such creative, yet challenging, idea is miniature sculpture made out of pencil leads. Ibrahim Belal is an art instructor who organises workshops for adults and a sculptor who has a passion for making miniature statues out of pencil leads. He is the first to introduce such an artform in Egypt.
“I graduated from the Faculty of Law in Cairo, but I always had a passion for art. So, after I graduated I decided to work in the field of art. I started to study art and then to organise my own drawing courses for adults,” Belal said “Three years ago, I saw a miniature statue made out of pencil lead by a Taiwanese artist which I really liked, so I decided to shift to this genre of art and work in this field.”
“The moment I saw the miniature sculpture made out of pencil lead on the Internet, I was curious to know how it was made. I got a pencil and started many unsuccessful trials because I didn’t know any details about it at first. I was just imitating the idea. It took me about 20 trials before I was able to make my first sculpture, a heart shape, out of pencil lead,” he added.
“After this successful attempt, I became more confident and believed that it was possible to do something more. I started making more sculptures until I had become seasoned at it,” he said, adding that it took him a lot of practice to be able to control his hands while working so as not to spoil the sculpture.
In order to get the best results, a sculptor should use good quality lead that can be worked on successfully. “The size of the pencil lead is not so important. I once made a sculpture out of an 0.5 mm thick piece of lead and others even smaller in size. The issue is the quality of the material used. The pencil lead should be 100 per cent lead without impurities, as otherwise a statue could disintegrate. The lead should also be soft enough to work on,” he said.
Belal uses tools like a magnifying glass and a detail knife resembling a cutter but in the shape of a pen with a very sharp edge like a medical scalpel to work on the lead. A year ago, he started to use a microscope, which gave him even better results.
Sculptures he has made are displayed behind a magnifying glass so people can clearly see them in the different galleries he exhibits in. He has made about 50 pieces, including a miniature sculpture of the famous Tutankhamen mask, a statue of Akhenaten, a statue of Amenhotep III, one of Queen Hatshepsut, and one of Queen Nefertiti.
His favourites are mostly sculptures with an ancient Egyptian theme. “Not every piece of my work that people like I like, and vice versa,” he said. “I like sculptures related to the ancient Egyptian civilisation because it is my civilisation. It was the main reason that I started to learn and develop the art of miniature sculpture,” he added.
“I have exhibited twice thus far. The first time was at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo a year ago for two weeks. This was featured in the celebration of the museum’s 100th anniversary. The second time was at this year’s turathuna (Our Heritage) cultural fair.”
It is because the sculptures he makes need special equipment for people to see them that he has not been able to take part in many galleries. But there are galleries for miniature sculptures in many Western countries, including France and the US. It was because this type of art is not known in the Arab world that Belal wanted to be the first to work in the field and at the same time to support Egyptian culture by making miniature sculptures of famous Egyptian artifacts, wanting to reintroduce them to people in the form of miniatures.
“People nowadays do not acknowledge anything except what they already think of as art, not even artists themselves. So, they are amazed by the miniature pieces without acknowledging their artistic importance. It is because people don’t know much about this form of art that they are not interested in it. They see everything new as unusual or even not as good art, unfortunately,” Belal said.
“As a result, I do everything by myself and nobody supports me. I am currently organising an exhibition at the Cairo Opera House, however, which is also as a result of my own efforts,” he added.
“There are people who are curious and eager to learn this art, but it would be difficult to teach them because not only do they need to have some artistic knowledge, but they must also have considerable perseverance.” If the lead breaks when it is being worked on, you have to start all over again, for example. But if an artist truly has a passion for art, he will keep trying over and over again, Belal said.
“I have met many people of this type while I was teaching my courses,” he said, adding that he is considering starting a course in this field particularly if there are students who share his passion. “I wish I could find such students because I love teaching,” he said.
“A potential student in my miniature sculptures class would need to have some knowledge of the art of sculpture because we use the same techniques that are used in larger sculptures or conventional sculpture,” he said, the only differences being the size and the material used.
Belal would like support from the Ministry of Culture to raise people’s awareness about miniature sculpture and in support of art in general. “I would like to organise a gallery in the Louvre Museum or the Berlin Museum, for example, not just in Egyptian or Arab museums,” he concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.