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San Clemente Journal

Photographer Mike Woodward Making Mountains out of Molehills

Jul 15, 2020 11:14AM ● By Mary Colarik

Small stone shown at left becomes an 80 inch piece of art.

by Mary Colarik

as a five-year-old boy living in Spain with your family you become so enamored with the family pastime of collecting, cutting and polishing stones that this interest in geology eventually leads you to a career as a macro-photographer of rare gemstones, rocks and fossils almost 40 years later.


That’s exactly what happened for local resident, Mike Woodward, who began collecting and photographing all types of rocks, gems and fossils from around the world as a young child; developing a true zeal for geology combined with a love of science and the ability to see art from nature. Yet … it took quite some time before his passionate hobby truly developed into creating a way to make a living.

The Journey to Creative Independence
Woodward attended University of California, Los Angeles taking graphic design courses. After college, he opened his own graphic design business, focusing on advertising work for 15 years. He also sold traditional photos-landscapes and beaches, including his most popular print – the moon over Manhattan Beach Pier, that is until another photographer copied this well-liked image and began selling the same photo. 

One day, Mike decided to open his special shoebox filled with the rocks he had collected since he was a youngster. He selected a rock, a Brazilian Banded Agate, only 3 ½” high by 2 ½” wide, then using a macro photo process captured the image inside this amazing little agate. His process involved developing a photo via photomacrography using a 4 x 5 style camera set up like an enlarger with a polarized macro lens making a digital 103 megapixel scan that is sent directly to the computer. This allowed him to capture a tiny image within the rock and transform it, with some help from Photoshop, into a stunning image to be printed on canvas or aluminum. He named this first print shot from a rock “The Flame.”  

 In 2005 he attended the well-known prestigious Art Fair in Palm Springs where this unusual piece of art was a huge hit with the art show attendees. After this show, he began searching through his carefully categorized assortment of rocks, gems and fossils – extracting the “stories from within the forms that are not visible to the naked eye.” Then, using his photographic process he began enlarging the tiny images into gorgeous pieces of art. 

Art show goers often think the images are a painting printed on canvas. Woodward is somewhat amused when people claim that a particular image is a place that they have visited such as a cove along the coast or a special spot in Carmel or the mountains. He will then bring out the rock, fossil or gem to show them where he was able to extract the teeny, tiny picture to be developed into a full print. 

 Buying and collecting agates, and gems, including Peruvian and Australian Opals, he is continually adding to his collection of rocks from years ago. He also collects fossilized ammonite that is found in various locations around the world - these are from the Jurassic Period 60 million-years-ago, and once they are magnified they look like large Nautilus shells. Unusual colors emerge when these fossils are enlarged and printed due to different minerals that are in the earth depending on the country from which they are extracted.

The Forming of a Family Partnership
Woodward met his wife, Sandy, in August of 2006 at the San Clemente Art Show when Mike acquired a booth at the last moment-not a great location, but right next to Sandy’s booth-she makes and sells jewelry. They started chatting and she realized his exceptional talent immediately. 

Soon, Woodward relocated from Manhattan Beach-where he also enjoyed another longtime pursuit-Beach Volleyball. Luckily, he found a place nearby to continue playing his sport at Doheny Beach. Then on April 15, 2007 Sandy and Mike tied the knot. They now travel the country together in a gigantic Mercedes Van filled with his stunning artwork, attending about 20 Juried Art Fairs each year. People are “thunderstruck” by his unique capturing of these organic forms from the earth.

The couple enjoys meeting the many wonderful people who attend the shows. Not only do they meet lots of “regular” folks who often return to visit their booth year after year, they have also had Woodward’s art purchased and featured on two television shows. While displaying and selling his art at the Calabasas Fine Art Show a few years ago they were approached by the set designer for the Showtime TV show Weeds. One of Mike’s beautiful plume agate 5 x 8 cm from Oregon was transformed into a 30 x 40 abstract print that was displayed on a set wall in a few episodes of Weeds. 


Another time, David Hasselhoff was in the booth looking around at the various pieces, but not saying anything to the Woodwards, later a production person from the Animal Planet show, TANKED contacted Mike requesting a large 10 ft. piece of art to be designed for a fish tank that was being built for Hasselhoff for the reality show which was seen on the episode featuring Hasselhoff’s gigantic fish tank. Woodward created this piece of art from an Australian Opal. Now, each year when they are at the Calabasas show Hasselhoff drops by the booth to say hello and chat with the Woodwards - he’s friendly and always has a big smile on his face.

Mike sells small images, the kind often mounted in a child's bedroom, enlarged into 8 x 18 foot installations. He has also created custom pieces for clients, including, but not limited to beautiful back splashes.  

He enjoys working with stones, “they don’t talk back.” He views them as his “victims” who land in his good graces. Once you see the incredible art that he creates from these little geologic wonders from the earth you will never look at stones and fossils in the same way.  
Unfortunately, due to COVID 19 Stay-at-Home orders and social distancing the large art shows that the Woodwards look forward to attending each year are mostly canceled for 2020. 
Mike Woodward has a terrific website highlighting more than 1,000 of his prints-these are available for purchase on the website. Also, six of his original Manhattan Beach photos are available for sale there. Prints are on gallery wrapped canvas, aluminum, glass or polymer coated. 

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