Colorado’s claim to 300 days of sunshine may be an exaggeration, but if there weren’t a sliver of truth to the catchy slogan, Michael Papadakis would’ve found a sunnier place to call home.
“This is one of the 300 days of sunshine,” Papadakis said outside his home in Golden.
Papadakis has never counted days of sunshine, but it’s safe to say he pays more attention to the sun than most of us.
“I wake up in the morning and I know where [the sun] is,” he said.
Papadakis is an artist who relies on sunshine to create his work. He wears welder shades most days a year.
“We definitely have to protect our eyes,” Papadakis said, putting on a pair of goggles. “That’s the truth.”
Papadakis stood in front of a large wooden canvas set up in a courtyard of his apartment complex. With two hands, he gripped wooden handles attached to what used to be a television screen. Papadakis held the thin piece of glass high above his head and angled it toward his canvas. As the sun shined through the glass, he focused a beam of white light onto the wood. The wood sizzled as he moved the beam back and forth, burning black lines into the canvas.
“See that flame?” Papadakis said. A cloud of smoke puffed the edge of the canvas.
“Yeah, lots of smoke,” Papadakis said.
Papadakis practices what he calls, “heliography.”
“You’re drawing or painting with the sun, and to go a little deeper, you’re transcribing, I believe – you’re ‘sunscribing’ white light into a message,” he explained.
Papadakis has been practicing heliography for about five years. He discovered the art form while traveling across the Silk Road from China to Turkey.
“It was on that path that I discovered the power of a magnifying glass and the power of sunshine,” Papadakis said. “I was painting with the sun through that entire trip.”
While Papadakis started with a magnifying glass, he upgraded to larger pieces of glass and eventually started using mirrors. He sketches his designs into wood and “paints” over them, shaping the sun’s powerful rays into beautiful art. Papadakis creates everything from portraits to signage for local businesses. He’s most passionate about sharing the art form with others, especially children.
“This art form is definitely for adults, but I think it’s most beneficial to children,” he said.
Papadakis routinely hosts heliography teaching sessions along Clear Creek in Golden. He sets up several wooden canvases and brings along magnifying glasses and protective goggles for anyone willing to paint with the sun. Papadakis also teaches the kids who live at his apartment complex in Golden. Among his most promising students are his two young neighbors, Rachel and Elijah Drummond.
“I think Mr. Mike’s work is completely awesome,” said 8-year-old, Elijah.
Elijah is a heliographer in training. He showed off his painting of a house he used a magnifying glass to create.
“All you need is that big yellow thing up there called the sun,” Elijah said.
Papadakis said Elijah sometimes helps tweak his designs, and is never afraid to share his thoughts about the final product.
“He’d be like, ‘oh, I think you need to add a border to that, or I think it’s too boring. I think you need to add this,’” Papadakis said with a laugh.
Kids like Elijah inspire Papadakis’ work, and they’re often the subject of his paintings. In recent years, he’s created work depicting children all over the world, especially those born into war zones. He recently completed a piece based on a photograph taken in Syria after a bombing. The photo shows a couple men carrying babies from the rubble of destroyed buildings.
“The kids have no say in any of this, but they have to grow up with it,” Papadakis said. “I’m trying to illuminate that concept alone, that out of all of what’s going on in the planet at the moment, the children are the most important.”
Children inspire Papadakis’ work, and he hopes to inspire them.
“This art form can teach kids from a really young age to respect that power of the sun,” Papadakis said.
It’s a power Michael Papadakis holds in his hands and hopes to share in Colorado so long as the sun keeps shining.
Learn more about Michael Papadakis’ work here: sunscribessolarprinting.com