Sunlight Art

Michael Papadakis uses the largest paintbrush in the world: the sun. In an art form he dubs “heliography,” Papadakis employs a variety of magnifying glasses and reflectors to harness the power of the sun to burn his art into pieces of wood. This sunlight art can be used to make everything from romantic scenes on fence posts to detailed landscapes and cityscapes.

Papadakis was inspired to invent this unique form of art in 2012 while he was traveling the world. Wanting to travel as light as possible, he realized he could use the sun as the ultimate traveler’s paintbrush.

“The idea of painting with the sun presented itself almost naturally to me.”

Completely self-taught, Papadakis developed his art form himself. Constantly experimenting during his 14-month voyage from South Korea to Greece, he refined his artwork using the sunshine local to the vistas and landscapes he was painting.

Heliography literally means the language of the sun, and Papadakis considers his craft to be a way to draw stories out of the sun.

“I am simply holding and redirecting the sun’s power to create art.”


Papadakis has to start at the crack of dawn in order to make full use of the day’s sunlight. He searches for the perfect place to catch the sunshine and inspire him. Typically, he sketches some guidelines on his wooden canvas, then gets to work as the sun rises. Though he can use sunlight all throughout the day, he finds when the sun is low in the sky is optimal. Seasons don’t really matter, and he even prefers to work in the winter because temperatures are low and the sun stays relatively low all day.

He uses a variety of lenses and mirrors to control the light. Some are so focused that he can use them from 15 feet away. Because he’s burning his medium, he keeps a spray bottle handy to control the flames and keep everyone safe, but his most important safety device is his welding shades.

“Sunglasses are not enough.”

The light he’s focusing on his work is so intense that even the reflection is enough to cause eye damage. Dark welding shades are a must, and allow him to focus on what he’s doing. When he paints in public places, he even brings a few extra pairs just in case onlookers want to stick around for a while.

Papadakis notes that he can’t pursue his art in a studio, and instead relishes the opportunity to get out and explore the world while he’s creating. We’ll continue watching his travels on Instagram, but you can check out his work along with our growing collection of exceptional artists in our new book, Odd Is Art.

From paintings by an artist with no arms or legs to sculptures made entirely of salt, you’ll find some of the most fascinating and unbelievable pieces of art from the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! collection. Designed as an elegant art book meets the eclectic one-of-a-kind Ripley’s archives and exhibits, Odd Is Art is a visually stunning book that will delight and amaze art lovers and Ripley fans alike.