Sick stick pics: Extreme toothpick art will blow your mind

Backman works with glue and toothpicks while making a 2D picture. He spends an average of 10 hours a day on his art, and won't abide any distracting music or phone calls.
Steven J. Backman/ToothPickArt.com
Extreme toothpick art
Steven J. Backman has been building replicas, sculptures, and portraits out of toothpicks for decades
Steven J. Backman/ToothPickArt.com

(CBS/CNET) Imagine being able to spend 10 hours working on something and having zero distractions - no phone calls, no e-mail, and no music. That's the kind of concentration Steven J. Backman exhibits when he creates art out of the humblest of materials - the toothpick.

Pictures: Extreme toothpick art

The San Francisco native has been building replicas, sculptures, and portraits out of toothpicks for decades. At Maker Faire 2011 last month in San Mateo, Calif., he showed off some dazzling creations including a 28-inch-tall replica of the Empire State Building, fashioned from 7,470 toothpicks.

"Using my fingers to glue each toothpick individually is inspirational to me," Backman told CNET writer Tim Hornyak. "It gives me a chance to convey my passion in a tangible way and stirs up my imagination process to its utmost test."

For his creations, Backman uses Elmer's Glue and his stock of old white birch toothpicks, which are no longer being manufactured. There's no supporting wire, wood, or cardboard. That's one reason some of his pieces take so long to complete. He describes his art as "the essence of patience."

"I spend an average of 10 hours a day on my artwork," he says. "I do not listen to music or answer any phone calls during my art process."

That kind of Zen-like detachment from worldly distractions has yielded marvels such as a 4.5-foot-long, 10,000-toothpick radio-controlled yacht. Backman's largest piece is a 13-foot-long replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, complete with 100 LEDs and built from 30,000 toothpicks.

Having been featured in museums and the media many times, Backman now hopes to convince an automaker to sponsor him to make a one-passenger car out of toothpicks. It may or may not happen, but one fringe benefit of his artistic dedication is that Backman has lots of patience.

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    Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.