Justin Bateman, Pebble Artist

By Mark S. Kuhar

British artist Justin Bateman creates impermanent artwork from found pebbles and stones. The artist, who now lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, leaves detailed pebble portraits on beaches, in forests, by railways, and up mountains. Each natural-colored stone acts as an individual paint stroke or mark that’s integral to the overall image. 

There are portraits of renowned personalities including George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Ho Chi Minh, Queen Elizabeth II, Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo, as well as iconic artworks such as David and The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, La Scapigliata by Leonardo da Vinci, and Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer.

From famous faces to iconic works of art, each piece captures the character of its subject in a restricted color palette of stony hues. By using found pebbles, Bateman never truly plans his portraits in advance. Rather, he lets the stones themselves dictate the composition of the artwork. “Art should always be unrestricted, yet in its limits I find freedom,” he said. “The beauty of this process is that I don’t have any idea how a piece will look at the outset.”

Many of Bateman’s pebble portraits take several days to complete, but the artist doesn’t become attached to the work he creates. He’s inspired by spiritual practices of Tibetan monks, who create highly detailed mandalas from sand and then destroy them. 

This practice is a reminder of the impermanence of life, which is a theme Bateman explores, too. For him, the most satisfying part of his work is knowing that nature will eventually reclaim the materials he uses. He said, “My work is impermanent, I leave only footprints.”

Although each mosaic will eventually disappear, Bateman takes photos of his work as a digital reminder. And lucky for us, this allows us to admire the impressive details of his work. Each pebble portrait looks almost like a sepia-toned or grayscale photograph, complete with warm shadows and pale highlights rendered in stones. It’s incredible how much depth and detail Bateman can achieve with pebbles alone.

You can check out more of his work at www.justinbateman.org.