Really small, perfectly formed

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Willard Wigan holds a pin that he uses to create micro-sculptures. (China Daily)

A micro-sculpture of a dragon.

When you look at the 1.9-meter-tall British artist Willard Wigan, it's hard to imagine that his creations are measured in millimeters.

Presenting four pieces for SH Contemporary 2012, the Asia Pacific Contemporary Art Fair, held at Shanghai Contemporary, Wigan also announced his collaboration with independent Swiss watchmaker Greubel Forsey.

Viewers of Wigan's works have to use microscopes under strong lights and will be rewarded with a sculpture of Cleopatra, a rat, the London Olympic Torch, and a townhouse, which are all placed in the eyes of needles, or on the heads of pins.

For the new watch of Greubel Forsey, Wigan will sculpt six human faces with different expressions. They will be placed in the center of the dial, which can be observed by a small magnifier attached inside the watch.

Wigan has already finished one, and it will take him another year to finish the rest. According to Steven Forsey, founder of the high-end watch label, this is "an art piece rather than a timepiece".

Wigan says he became a micro-sculptor at age 5. His teacher put him out of class because he couldn't read, so the frightened young boy ran into a nearby garden and looked at the ants.

"I was so young that I believed ants could talk like us. I found they were very sad too, because they had no house to live in, so I started making houses for them."

He also made hats and shoes for the ants. When he showed them to his mother, she was amazed and encouraged him. This, he believes, was the start of his artistic career.

Alice in Wonderland is the most incredible piece Wigan has ever made. He created it in 2008. No bigger than 0.005 millimeters, the artwork illustrates the Mad Hatter's tea party in the fairy tale: Alice with the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and teapots and cups on the table.

"It was punishing, but it is my favorite piece."

Because his creations are so small, he has to make the tools he uses. One of his paintbrushes is made from a hair on the back of a dead fly. Others can be made from needles used in traditional Chinese acupuncture, because they are incredibly thin.

There are significant technical difficulties. When Wigan was making the first Alice in Wonderland piece he sneezed, and later found he had inhaled his work.

"When you are working on these small creations, you have to know how to control the movements of your hands."

He practices his art by putting a smooth steel object on his index finger. Wigan controls his muscles so that it doesn't fall off. To achieve this, he has to keep in shape, so he goes to the gym a lot and has a healthy diet. He never drinks alcohol or smokes.

"When I am working, I have to kill my body. It's almost like a dead man working," he says.

As the work requires so much concentration, Wigan claims it affects his mental outlook. He says he was waiting for a train in a station on one occasion, but just stood there for hours, watching trains pass by without moving.

Wigan is often asked why he spends so much time creating such small things.

"You can't see it, but it exists," Wigan explains. "But when you see it, you feel the impact. That's the value behind it."