Innovative paper art that brings all kinds of contemporary designs to life.
We may live in a digital world, but our love affair with paper art has by no means diminished. Folded into origami and kirigami, laser-cut, layered and made into sculptures, paper artists can transform a humble sheet of old tree into a spectacular artwork.
Here are some great of examples of paper art being used imaginatively within contemporary design, giving new life to one of the most ancient arts. You’re sure to find the inspiration you’re looking for…
01. Self Preserving
The Self Preserving campaign from cosmetics company Lush to promote its use of natural ingredients saw shop windows all over Europe fill with epic paper art. It was a collaborative effort, with artist Charlotte Day creating original illustrations of the natural ingredients found in the product range, which were then brought to life in 3D using textured paper to create shop window displays designed by Owen Gildersleeve.
A special hero installation in Lush’s flagship store in London’s Oxford Street even moved, masterminded by 3D designer Thomas Forsyth. “Many hours were spent experimenting with different algorithms and code structures so that we could give the flowers more believable and animated movements,” explains Forsyth. “We’ve actually ended up creating a program in which the flowers randomly generate their own movements, so when it feels like one of the flowers has turned to look at you, it kind of has.”
Paper art duo Julie Wilkinson and Joyanne Horscroft aka Makerie Studio design and create showpieces for window installations, advertising and editorial clients. “Circling is an extremely personal project, one that came from trying to deal with a period of intense fear and worry,” says the duo. “Bright colours and happy thoughts are usually our driving forces, but some days take their toll, and this was our way of dealing with anxiety. Making something constructive out of a stressful state of mind was a way of feeling less helpless, literally turning darkness into beauty.”
Each piece was handcrafted from iridescent gold and black paper, and features a central creature surrounded by circling predators.
Virgina-based designer Eric Standley takes paper art to a new level with his incredibly intricate, multi-layered creations, often inspired by Islamic or Gothic architecture.
This detailed design is based around the fractal geometry that occurs naturally in the universe. “When a DNA braid is viewed from the top down, the layered double helix rotation abides by the golden ratio (phi),” explains Standley. “I began applying phi to the drawing processes of Kismet and Phidala.”
04. Tissue series
Lisa Nilsson works in a variety of media, but for us her stand-out work involves quilling. We can’t resist her Tissue series: a collection of anatomical cross-sections rendered in paper.
Says Nicholls, “I find quilling exquisitely satisfying for rendering the densely squished and lovely internal landscape of the human body in cross section.”
05. Forest Folks
French artists Lucie Thomas and Thibault Zimmerman make up renowned paper art studio Zim & Zou. The duo’s colourful paper sculptures appear all over the world – including in this series of installations in a new Hermès store in Dubai.
The series is based around the theme of nature. “In this project, spectators have a sneak peek of the curious characters living inside this environment,” the pair state. “This microscopic point of view, where plants… reign as masters, is like a kind of picture, a flash, a precise instant in nature’s unrestrained run.”
06. European Birds
Colombian-born Diana Beltran Herrera specialises in amazing paper recreations of nature, her work featuring wonderfully detailed flowers and plants and the most incredibly realistic birds of all shapes and sizes. Recently, the Bristol-based artist has also started incorporating insects, butterflies and fish into her work, demonstrating the same level of attention to detail.
South African agency TBWA needed a way of getting clients’ attention, and hit upon this novel way of tackling a brief: taking actual paper briefs and turning them into eye-catching paper art incorporating concepts relevant to the specific brand message, and then sending the briefs back to the client. The project was a huge success, attracting new work within five days.
08. Nissan Juke
Nissan wanted to create a life-size origami version of its Juke car to celebrate the model’s fifth anniversary. Inspired by its Japanese origins and the craftsmanship of UK manufacturing, the company turned to British designer and illustrator Owen Gildersleeve to make its vision reality. As with the Lush project above, Gildersleeve brought in Thomas Forsyth to lend his 3D build expertise to this epic undertaking. The final car was built from heavyweight card over a foam board skeleton.
There’s plenty of paper art out there that incorporates books into the design, but Spanish designer Malena Valcárcel‘s designs are particularly magical. “I transform books into a new story in a way to make people stop and appreciate, if just for a moment, the magic of books,” she says. Take a look at the range of book paper art designs in Valcárcel’s Etsy store, along with some delicate paper jewellery.
10. Cut Scene
Making a living from paper art is a difficult task, but thanks to his talents and enthusiasm, Marc Hagan-Guirey – aka Paper Dandy – has done just that. For his Star Wars-inspired Cut Scene exhibition, the artist create 12 kirigami models of different iconic scenes, each cut from a single sheet of paper. The project received rave reviews.
Hagan-Guirey has also released a book entitled Horrogami, which includes 20 Kirigami projects inspired by cult horror tales such as Dracula, Frankenstein, Sleepy Hollow and King Kong, along with step-by-step instructions to make your own.
11. Decorex Expo
Just one example of Marc Hagan-Guirey’s work in this list would seem like we were short changing you. So feast your eyes on his kirigami design for Decorex International, a company that puts on big interior design expos in the UK. Read more in our article here.
12. Fiat Dobló
Brazil-based illustration agency D’Avila Studio created this vibrant paper art piece as part of Fiat Motors’ campaign to promote its SUV, the Dobló Adventure. The team created two prints, both of which placed the paper overlapping on layers to create an impressive depth effect.
13. Paper Dragon
This majestic dragon was created by a group of artists at INK studio in Belgium. It stands at above knee height and was made entirely of paper – it’s definitely worth taking a look at the studio’s website for some making-of photos. The dragon now resides peacefully – we are told – in the studio’s offices.
14. Day of the Dead
This incredible paper art series from Bulgaria-based designer Tsvetislava Koleva celebrates the Day of the Dead with intricate and colourful masks that quite frankly, took our breath away (read our article here). Each creation takes a different theme and a different colour palette (shown here: Lace and Gold). Koleva specialises in paper art creations – her beautiful but slightly unsettling fashion masks are also well worth a look.
15. 360° Book
Japanese artist and designer Yusuke Oono creates books that open up to tell their stories as a multi-layered 3D scene. Each page is a separate laser-cut plane, and together they make up deep and gorgeous 3D images that reveal the story as you make your way from the front to the back of the book.
16. Malmö Festival
This identity for Malmö Festival was created by Swedish design agency Snask and features some wonderfully colourful paper art creations. Used for the print advertisement as well as huge promotional art installations, this is an impeccable example of what can be achieved with patience and creativity.
Artist Maude White likes to do something a little different when it comes to her paper art. She meticulously hand-cuts each piece to create works that are almost like lace. Inspired mostly by nature, and creating pieces that feature birds, leaves and flowers, White also creates beautiful paper art portraits of people. Each piece can take thousands of tiny cuts, with White working for hours on end to perfect each one.
She updates her Instagram feed with all her latest works, and is well worth a follow.
18. Nerd Love
Meghan Stratman originally started Nerd Love with the intention of creating a new piece of nerdy fan art every Monday for a year, but it turned into an alphabetical series – one geek hero for each letter of the alphabet, from How to Train your Dragon’s Astrid (above) to Tali’Zorah from Mass Effect.
“I like to include bright colours and a sense of humour in my art,” explains Stratman, “and enjoy combining elements to humorous effect, such as badgers sporting fezzes or weasels wearing rocket packs.”
19. Magic Circle
The artist Rogan Brown is inspired in part by the tradition of scientific drawing and model making, and particularly the work of artist-scientists such as Ernst Haeckel. He explains: “My work is an exploration and re-presentation of natural organic forms both mineral and vegetal.”
This project for Hyundai saw Russian design duo Alexey Lyapunov and Lena Erlich (aka People Too) creating tens of tiny, paper scenes. The concept was based around the slogan ‘Business works better with US in it’, with People Too creating letters representing different types of business (above is the ‘N’ for a care home company). To get a better grasp of the scale of the project, take a look at the duo’s work-in-progress photos.
21. Origami animals
Vietnamese artist Nguyen Hung Curong shows off the possibilities of origami in his detailed, lifelike paper art sculptures. Curong took up the hobby when he was just five, and created his first original design when he was just 10 years old. He’s continued to practise the art of origami and is now able to create amazingly detailed and lifelike models, usually from just one square of Vietnamese handmade paper called Dó.
22. Fairy Forest
This charming forest series was created by Makerie Studio for Harrods Magazine. The sets were created using layers of iridescent white paper cut into plants, butterflies and miniature mushrooms. Into each was placed a fairy sculpture by Robin Wright , and luxury jewellery.
23. Little Houses
Helen Musselwhite is an illustrator based in the UK. A creative with a particular knack for paper art, she’s previously worked with The National Theatre, Nokia and Stella McCartney. For her own book, Little Houses, Musselwhite fashioned several sets of paper dwellings from around the world. Young readers can count their way from one Scottish crofter’s cottage right up to 10 canal-side townhouses in Amsterdam.
24. Paper sculpture
Nicholls’ paper rendering of fur has to be seen to be believed
After being introduced to the idea of paper as a medium at art school, Calvin Nicholls’ first paper sculpture was a collaboration with artist Jonathan Milne back in 1983, and he quickly felt the draw of working in paper. He uses heavy paper stock for structure and lighter paper for fur and fine detail, and he constantly refers to his drawings and study photos to ensure that the assembled pieces are true to the original plan. Read more about the artist in our article on his stunning paper art animals.
Ojala’s creations aren’t strictly paper art
Eiko Ojala’s Myths designs were created digitally but without the aid of 3D software. The illustrator draws everything by hand to create landscapes, figures and portraits that look as if they’ve been cut from paper. His client list includes the likes of ADC, the Guardian, the V&A and IBM.
This paper art is made from old maps
Michaela Mihalyiová describes herself as a ‘freelance pencil holder and Slovakian palm lover’. She creates sweet (and not so sweet… what’s that ocean in the bottom left?) paper art and animations that she shares on her Tumblr site. This design was crafted from 30-year-old maps.
27. Candy Crush
Yulia Brodskaya is one of the most well-known of the contemporary designers working with paper art. She combines classic design principles to create beautiful and thought-provoking visual fusions. “Paper always held a special fascination for me,” says the artist. “I’ve tried many different methods and techniques of working with it, until I found the way that has turned out to be ‘the one’ for me: now I draw with paper instead of on it.”
Inspired by nature and its never-ending beauty, Sam Pierpoint has constructed a range of colourful, 3D creations that transport you to an entirely different world. This paper art sculpture was part of Visit Bristol’s Christmas campaign, and features some of the city’s most loved attractions. The night-time scene was created with G.F Smith papers and lit with LED lights, which were carefully threaded through the sculpture. Watch the making-of video below.
29. La Siesta
This personal project is all about hugs
In his illustrations and paper art, Juan Carlos Viñas Ballesteros (aka Jotaká) aims to create good vibes. One personal project sure to do just that is ‘La Siesta’ – a series of paper illustrations all about hugs; their importance and the ideal time to receive them.
Helen Friel is a freelance paper engineer and illustrator, living and working in London, with clients including Vogue, The Telegraph and Ryan Air. Her book, Midnight Creatures, includes five pop-up scenes full of hidden creatures. To find them, the reader needs to turn the lights out and use a torch to find them in the shadows that appear on their wall.