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Hand-painted miniature masterpieces smaller than a thumbnail

(CNN)At first they look like regular paintings - beautiful, and bursting with talent -- but regular nonetheless.

And then, it strikes you that these photographic images are barely larger than your thumbnail.
Lorraine Loots, an artist based in Cape Town, has dedicated her life to making "paintings for ants;" miniatures that measure somewhere between 8 and 30 millimeters, making them smaller than coins or the nib of a pencil.

An hour a day

    It all started in 2013, when Loots was pursuing a career beyond art -- "a real job" - as a production manager at photo shoots.
    "I didn't want to stop painting, though, so I constructed this borderline-OCD project where I had to spend an hour a day creating something."
    With a steady hand and an eye for detail, she set forth painting random items that took her fancy every day.
    Eventually, the project took over her days and became a full-time commitment, resulting in a book called 365 Paintings for Ants.

    Dedicated to Cape Town

    In 2014, to coincide with Cape Town's designation as World Design Capital, she did it all over again, creating 365 postcards related to her home town in some way -- referencing the city's exotic landscape or one of its native birds.
    Each one of her intricate images became viral sensations on Instagram and racked up big sales on Etsy.
    This year, she has decided to limit her paintings to just 100, focusing around four different themes -- space, books, animals and miscellaneous.
    So far, she has created meticulous images of horses, sloths, planets and nebulas, The Great Gatsby and The Hobbit. And Bill Murray, because why not.
    And, in case you're wondering, no -- she doesn't use a magnifying glass.

    Attention to detail

    What defines this type of artistry? "Selective attention to detail," says Loots.
    "At times, my studio is so chaotic that I need to clear a small space on my desk amidst the pile of papers, paints, plants and figurines just to be able to work, but I'd spend an hour erasing and rewriting a letter that's a fraction of a millimeter too low/high/big/small."
    Her creative process starts with external sources of inspiration: "I'll search encyclopedias or the internet for reference pictures - I normally work from about 10 references per painting, as each reference would capture a different specific detail I need.
    "Next, I find the spot with the best light, find something small to fill with water, set up my tools and select a new podcast to listen to.
    "I draw the boundary circle in the middle of one of my pre-cut pages, sketch the rough outlines in watercolor pencil and then hack away at it with brushes and watercolor paint until I feel like I've captured whatever I'm painting."

    Listening to the followers

    Because of the nature of the project, there's not much room for creative block: "Besides, there's always something I feel like painting. If I'm really stuck, which rarely happens, I'll turn to my followers and ask for their suggestions - it makes for a great change of pace."
    Lorraine Loots
    But having a working routine that must be met every day isn't always easy: "I've had sick days during which I was only able to drag myself out of the bed for that hour it takes to do the painting, and it's taken all my willpower.
    "We lost a close family member on the last day of 2013's project, the day before I was going to take on 2014. That was incredibly hard. Life just goes on and sometimes you have to make big sacrifices if you want to stay committed."
    There's an element of pressure in having to create something for someone every single day: "But the incredible feedback and the feeling of being one step closer to achieving a much bigger goal is what keeps me going.
    "The reward is huge."
    Loots will be exhibiting all her miniatures from 2013 and 2014 at the Three Kings Studio in New York from July 8 -- 15th.
    Her paintings are available online on Etsy.