Welcome to "Sandland" – How Microscopy Uncovers the Beauty of Sand

Interview with Jenny Natusch from Lancaster, UK, about Treasure Hunting under the Microscope

October 30, 2014

Jenny Natusch from Lancaster, UK, is an artist, a photographer, a microphotographer and most of all she is a "sandgazer". With her totally different way of looking at things, she creates wonderful detailed images and photographs out of the dusty, brown mass we call sand, using a microscope to uncover it’s hidden beauty from all over the world.

What made you turn your back on your career and devote yourself to art?

I’m a textile designer by training. I worked for several years as a designer of children’s wear and then went into television. I also owned a television production company for a few years. Ten years ago I had a complete career change and started selling products and services to the legal and real estate sector and that then morphed into a technology business. But after a decade of very hard work I realized that I wanted to do something completely different. I wanted to do something for myself that had nothing to do with commerce or earning money. So I followed my true passion and returned to my artistic roots.

What made you decide to take up microscopy?

It all started in biology lessons at school. I was mad about looking through the microscope and just admiring the fascinating patterns, structures and colors of the specimen. I even stayed in the biology room during my lunch break. It was never my aim to gain new scientific knowledge or be able to name the things I could see, I just wanted to discover the beauty and art in the microscope images. I think that was also the moment I decided to become a graphic designer. But it was only recently that I bought my first microscope from Amazon for £ 5.95.

Sandland gallery

How did you get the idea of looking at sand through the microscope?

I was surfing the net for microscope images. I chanced upon a book by Dr. Gary Greenberg from Hawaii that was full of fantastic images of sand grains that he photographed through the microscope. I found them incredibly inspiring. Sand is such a beautiful substance, so full of life, and yet nobody really looks at it except for geologists and scientists. I wanted to do exactly the same as Dr. Greenberg – view the sand as a work of art and show the world the life and beauty in this brown, dusty mass. So I bought two more microscopes with better resolution and a camera port so that I could photograph the sand grains.

What does it mean to you when you find an especially beautiful grain of sand?

I’m just amazed by what I discover and see through the microscope. It’s like beachcombing when you keep stopping to collect beautiful shells. We don’t really know exactly why we do it. We often pack the shells in our bag and then forget about them. It’s the collecting itself, the act of picking up and feeling pleased with the treasure we have found – that’s the important thing. That’s what I do under the microscope: I collect. I sift through the sand really carefully, I’m totally focused on looking for unusual sand grains. When I find an interesting one, it can feel like hitting the jackpot. Sometimes I’m so delighted that I run off immediately in search of someone I can show my "treasure" to.

So it’s like a treasure hunt?

Yes, it is for me. And I then have to be very careful not to lose this treasure, like a fish you have on the line and try to pull into the boat without it jumping off the hook. So I separate this special sand grain from the others and examine it in detail. I take an exact look at it, in fact I really stare at it and take pleasure in the shapes and colors, patterns and special features. Then I think about how I can present it to its best advantage, the illumination I would like to use and the background. Then I take my photos. It sometimes takes hours, often even a whole day just to get 1 or 2 decent photo’s – but it’s a wonderful pastime.

What is the most fascinating aspect of microscopy?

It feels like looking through a telescope and discovering a new universe, it simply takes your breath away. Under the microscope you see so much that you’ve never seen before and you concentrate on one thing – you’re totally focused. The times we live in are very fast-paced, technology is gradually taking over and we hardly ever have time to concentrate on ourselves and our needs. For me, microscopy is the perfect antidote to this fast-moving way of life, it’s calming and focuses your thoughts on one particular thing. It’s almost meditative and clears your head. Sometimes it takes a while for me to leave this wonderful tiny world and return to reality. It’s just an indescribably fantastic feeling when you look at all these small things under the microscope and realize there’s a whole spectrum of beauty and life that we rarely see. I’m always looking for other artists who combine microscopy and art in the same way. There are so many artists who paint wonderful landscapes, portraits and still lifes, but very few seem to focus on looking closely at this microscopically tiny world.

Are you planning new art projects with the microscope?

I think I will always be more fascinated with natural subjects, as opposed to those that are man-made. I’m particularly interested in the elements – fire, water and earth. They are an integral part of my work and a constant source of inspiration. At the moment I’m concentrating on sand, but who knows one day I might embark on a new project looking at water samples under the microscope.

If you want to see more beautiful images, visit:  http://sandgazer.co.uk/