An Egyptian artist transforms pencil nibs into delicate miniature sculptures

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On a table at his home in Rosetta, a port city in northern Egypt, self-taught artist Ibrahim Bilal displayed a variety of his iconic mini-sculptures made with pencil nibs.

With some 80 works featuring landmarks and famous people in Egypt and beyond, the 30-year-old artist said he was inspired four years ago to fully grasp the art form after watching videos of a Chinese artist carving lead into sculptures.

“I took the idea and started developing it,” he told Xinhua News Agency, noting that the art was launched only two decades ago.

Passionate about ancient Egyptian icons, Bilal dedicated one of his earliest works to the famous Rosetta Stone, an ancient Egyptian relic inscribed with three versions of a decree unearthed in his city and housed in the British Museum.

“Being the first Egyptian to master this kind of art, I wanted to represent Egyptian antiquities in a modern way,” Bilal noted.

A golden mask of the young Egyptian pharaoh, King Tutankhamun, the seated statue of King Amenhotep III and the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti are among its most impressive pieces.

He also chiseled modern Egyptian landmarks such as the Cairo Tower and famous people like Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah.

Thanks to his skilled hands, landmarks from around the world, including the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, emerge on the pencil tips.

Bilal uses a microscope for a magnified view, a set of pen cutters or carving knives, and quality pencils mostly made in Germany or China while working.

The size of each sculpture does not exceed 6 millimeters unless it is a tower, and each takes an average of 10 hours to complete. Some can take him over 40 hours like his dearest King Tut’s mask.

After graduating from law school, Bilal taught himself to be a professional enough painter to give painting lessons to junior artists.

He started participating in exhibitions two years ago. The first exhibition took place at the Museum of Islamic Art while the second took place at the Cairo Opera House at the end of 2021, in addition to a few other workshops and private exhibitions.

“We use magnifying glasses to allow visitors to see the works displayed in detail without having to get too close,” Bilal said, noting that visitor feedback has been good.

These pieces are so delicate and fragile that they must be wrapped in tissues before slipping into a laboratory tube for temporary storage.

“For permanent preservation, we designed an acrylic and wood case with lighting installed,” Bilal explained.

The man does not hesitate to offer his works for sale as long as they are appreciated.

“It was a pencil. But once I turn it into a sculpture, it becomes a work of art and it should be treated as art as well,” he said.

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