The Tiny World of Bhutan’s First Miniature Artist

Miniature Bhutan carves on the lead of pencil tips to make traditional miniature sculptures such as the Buddha, traditional bridges, swords and butter lamps. The designs are so intricate to the point that each product has minute details that can be seen magnificently on close speculation.

Written by Dilisha Subba  Photos by Pema Dorji & PemC

Sonam Tashi hunches over his work table crammed with his tools and peculiar tiny objects: a tiny bottle, a tiny dome and his miniature art pieces, some of which are too small for the naked eye. Meticulously, the artist starts making tiny carving marks on the pencil lead that will soon turn into something you don’t expect to see on the tip of your pencil. He holds his breadth every few seconds to ensure a stable motionless cut. Sonam does not use lenses or any fancy miniature art tools. He pushes his spectacles back up his nose ridge and in what looks like a painstakingly slow burn, he begins to carve the tip of the pencil’s graphite. Never has a needle looked as colossal as it did at that instant next to the tiny butter lamp sculpture he has carved on the pencil tip with absolute patience and attention to detail. It’s almost as though time has decided to stop for Sonam Tashi to create his art.

A butter lamp carved from the pencil graphite

Miniature Bhutan is a company that takes traditional Bhutanese items and literally makes a diminutive, microscopic version of them. Miniature Bhutan (MB) was found in December of 2017 after having won an award at the annual TechStar competition at Tech Park in Thimphu. The idea came up from a simple observation that almost all traditional items sold in Bhutan were imported from neighboring countries. The core value of MB includes that every single product is handmade. They try the miniature version of many different Bhutanese traditional items in the venture to promote ‘Made in Bhutan’. “MB is all about making products that are there in Bhutan…We don’t need other imported souvenirs to show us how Bhutan looks like. We actually want Bhutanese people to show how Bhutanese products look like. We are there to show what Bhutan looks like. Bhutanese can tell our story”, says Sonam Tashi with much fervor.

Bhutanese sword ‘Pata’ made from graphite

MB carves the lead tips of pencils to make traditional art such as the Buddha, traditional bridges, swords, butter lamps and is so intricate to the point that each product has minute designs that can be seen magnificently on close speculation. They also work with art on rice grains which are designed into pendants as personal products. What’s fascinating is that MB provides a story behind every product. Sonam Tashi worked with enormous organizations such as UNDP, Asian Development Bank and Kiloskar oil India Ltd. before giving all that up to follow his ardor.

Miniature Bhutan also creates pendants with names written on tiny rice grains

On talking about the market status in Bhutan, he says, “Many organizations buy from handicrafts which is far cheaper but… the products we make are handmade with traditional art, it takes a lot of time and pain to do this. So if the government could buy that kind of products from the individual entrepreneurs it will be easier to sustain also la.”

Working with nanoscopic objects is as intricate, as it is time-consuming. Sonam Tashi shares a story about having worked on silver dust for three months only to have it blown away by the wind when a colleague accidentally opened the window. Such occupational hazards are a daily mission for him to tackle.

Further plans for MB include making a 2.5cm Thangka and making the smallest book in Bhutan which is completely authentic to the point that the book will have a Bhutanese author as well. MB also plans to hold an exhibition on Miniature art in the near future.

For more information go to Miniature Bhutan facebook page.

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