Meet the Colorado artist who paints using the power of the sun

GOLDEN, Colo. – An artist in Golden is using a magnifying glass and the power of the sun to bring a simple message with his work: Sustainability.

Michael Papadakis told Denver7 his discovery to use the sun as his paintbrush started back in 2012, after purchasing a one-way ticket to South Korea, hoping to discover himself and his path in life after college.

Discovering a new kind of art

“My only plan after that was to move west,” Papadakis said.

After landing in South Korea, Papadakis met with a friend who was participating in an artist retreat at a commune in the Xinjiang province in northwest China.

While at the commune, Papadakis said he picked up a magnifying glass to create art, adding the sensation sparked something within, and he felt “like I had one it before.”

This is Papadakis' first piece created using the sun

After some time at the commute, he would then meet a group of travelers from Italy and Spain, who offered him the opportunity to travel the Silk Road -- an ancient network of trade routes connecting the Korean peninsula to the Mediterranean Sea – in order to end their trip in Turkey.

During his yearlong travels, Papadakis would meet people from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and also Afghanistan. As a way to thank them for their hospitality, he would create art with pieces of organic materials such as bread, cloth or wood, using only the sun and his magnifying glass. 

Experimenting and expanding

After three months in Turkey, Papadakis told Denver7 he felt it was once again time to find a home back in the U.S., which would eventually lead him to the state of Colorado, which he said reminded him of the many places he visited as the traveled the Silk Road.

“There was something in my mind, a ringing in the ear that told me to move to Golden,” he recalled.

In November of 2014, he would eventually settle there, right next to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the primary lab working in renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development in the U.S.

Papadakis said finding out about the place gave him the inspiration he needed to once again pick up his art form and deliver his message to the general public.

Through experimentation, Papadakis would expand his utensils from just a magnifying glass to overhead projectors and other very large lenses.  

A business is born

Word got around and Papadakis would eventually get invited to Pallet Fest in 2015 and TEDx Mile High in 2016.

Papadakis would also create his own printing company using his solar talents.

Sunscribes: A Solar Printing Company specializes in what Papadakis calls “solar printmaking.” Using a combination of refraction and reflection from the sun’s rays, Papadakis etches his designs on organic materials that aren’t treated in any way.

The most difficult artwork he’s ever had to create has been a logo for Stinkin Crawfish, an informal restaurant specializing in Cajun-Creole eats based in California.

It doesn’t look like such an easy task to accomplish and Papadakis is the first one to admit it.

“It’s a battle of the elements. You’re battling wind, you’re battling weather, you’re battling the material you’re working with,” he said about creating his artwork, which can take anywhere from two to about 30 hours, depending on several different factors.

And it’s not only the elements he has to worry about.

Papadakis said he always wears Shade 5 welding glasses – using regular sunglasses would be dangerous to his eyes.

The materials he works with also have to be pure and not treated, as everything that has been treated will give off an odor when burned that he could inhale at the time of creation, putting his lungs at risk.

And of course, there’s the sun.

Papadakis told Denver7 that because he’s exposed to the sun for several hours each day, he always makes sure to wear protective clothing such as long-sleeve shirts and a hat, adding he also drinks a lot of water to keep himself hydrated.

Less is more

So what’s the ultimate message Papadakis wants to express with his art? 

“Using sustainable means to create art can be a different way to get the message across for sustainable energy,” Papadakis said. “Things are better, sacred and valued more when you use fewer resources.”

Papadakis will showcase his art at the GoPro games in Vail from June 8 through June 12 for the Vail Valley Foundation. There will also be an auction.

GALLERY: View some of the artworks created by Michael Papadakis

If you would like to see more of Papadakis' work, you can reach him via Facebook, Instagram and through his website.

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