08/01/2012 08:53 am ET

Willard Wigan's Microscopic Art Becomes A Big Part Of Ripley's Collection (PHOTOS)

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British artist Willard Wigan has made a big name for himself by focusing on the small -- the infinitesimally tiny, to be more specific.

Wigan, 55, is the world's most renowned "microscopic artist," specializing in sculptures too miniscule to be seen with the naked eye, such as a portrait of Queen Elizabeth he did on a single coffee bean.

Wigan does his wee works using tiny homemade tools such as a shard of diamond attached to a pin for cutting or the wing of a dead housefly as a paint brush.

Each work takes between three and eight weeks to complete. He does his work between heartbeats to avoid hand tremors while fashioning his miniature artworks. Or, if he's carving, he takes advantage of the tremors as sort of a pneumatic drill.

It's not easy, he admits.

"There are times when I've inhaled my work," he told The Huffington Post. "There are artworks still inside of me."


Willard Wigan: World's Foremost Microscopic Artist

Despite setbacks like that, Wigan has earned international acclaim for his works, which are owned by some of the world's richest and most famous -- from Prince Charles and Elton John to Mike Tyson and Simon Cowell. Charles even honored Wigan with an MBE in 2007.

Now Wigan's work has a chance to be seen -- or not seen -- by a larger audience than ever, thanks to a recent purchase of 97 super-small sculptures by Ripley's Believe It Or Not!, which plans to exhibit them in the company's various Odditoriums around the world.

"They could all fit inside a thimble," Wigan said.

However, Ed Meyer, Ripley's vice president of exhibits and archives, is quick to point out that the company did not risk their investment by letting Wigan deliver them like that.

"They were delivered in a jewelry box that looks more like a fishing tackle box with different compartments," he told HuffPost.

Meyer is mum on how much Ripley's actually paid for sculptures that can't be seen without a magnifying glass, but told the Orlando Sentinel, "you could buy a car for every one of them -- and I'm talking a good car."

Wigan was first inspired to go small when he was 5 years old as a way to fight back against a world that didn't appreciate him.

"I was singled out by teachers, who tended to use the word 'nothing' when referring to me," he said. "One day, I saw some ants and wondered if they had homes and started building some for them."

Wigan said he decided that if he made art so small no one could see it, then no one could criticize it. It turned out to be a good decision.

"My mother said, 'the smaller you go, the bigger your name will be,'" he said.

Wigan said he thinks the Ripley's acquisition is a step in the right direction.

"Ripley's is known throughout the world," he said. "That is an honor. Seeing is believing and when people see these, they will understand what humans are capable of."

Meyer said the works will be placed in various Odditoriums, while 20 will be set aside for a touring exhibit. In addition, Ripley's will purchase other future works.

Not that Wigan is excited about getting back to work.

"I don't get pleasure doing this," he laughed. "I get pleasure when finishing it."