Made On Earth — Toothpick Artistry

Craft & Design


The online exhibit is called “The Essence of Patience,” and it takes just one look at Steven J. Backman’s work to grasp the truth in that title.

Using just small hand tools, enormous patience, and lots of toothpicks, Backman creates amazingly intricate works of art. From detailed replicas of historic buildings, to a functional remote-control boat, his work pushes the boundaries of what we’d expect could be created out of tiny slivers of wood.

Backman grew up in San Francisco, and many of his sculptures reflect the region. Famous icons like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Fairmont Hotel, and the city’s cable cars figure prominently in his art.


His largest sculpture is of the city’s famous bridge, a 13-foot-long replica using 30,000 toothpicks that took more than two years to complete. But he also created a tiny version of the span that’s smaller than a single toothpick.

Backman first started making things out of toothpicks in elementary school, where he made a DNA molecule out of toothpicks and beans. Nearly 40 years later he’s still fascinated with the medium.

Unlike carving a solid piece of wood, toothpicks remind Backman of building blocks, but on a scale that allows him to produce striking results. “Once I create a sculpture, it looks like it was carved from a solid piece of wood,” he proudly exclaims.

His work is created with the simplest of tools — razor blades, tweezers, needlenose pliers, and glue. He doesn’t use loupes or magnification, even on the tiniest pieces. He prefers square center toothpicks with flat ends, and he gets his massive supply from Diamond.

Backman’s work has been featured in the Empire State Building lobby, hotels in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge’s 50th anniversary celebration, and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum. Toothpicks as an artistic medium might seem improbable, but Backman seems to have found his calling — even though, as he readily acknowledges, “It is truly a painstaking process, but it’s a labor of love!”

One Toothpick at a Time:

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!