Canadian paper artist Calvin Nicholls is known for his masterful skills in turning the simple white paper into something incredible. Nicholls creates three-dimensional portraits of animals by cutting and layering thousands of hand-cut paper pieces into low relief sculptures, with life-like detail and intricate structure. With a full-time career as a paper sculptor since the 1980s, Nicholls has worked on numerous advertising campaigns, books, and editorial projects, as well as for private collectors and art galleries. His work has been shown around the world in exhibitions, with the most extensive collection including over 75 pieces, created for the Follett Library Resources in McHenry Illinois.
Combining the Nicholls artistic skills with his life long interest in wildlife and the natural world
The paper reliefs beautifully blend Nicholls’ love and talent for drawing, model making, sculpting, and photography, as well as his life long interest in wildlife and the natural world. “Creating pieces for corporate clients or private collectors involves research, consultation as well as the art process so I find it to be very satisfying. Every piece is a discovery of sorts too. I’m always learning with each new sculpture”, Nicholls writes.
Familiarity with the subject is a big factor as well. My love of birds often propels me through pieces much faster than when sculpting subjects with an emphasis on musculature and structure.
The paper sculptures are slow to make, especially the detailed fur or feathers, with the largest one’s taking several hundreds of hours, while the more modest pieces keep the artist busy for two or more weeks. “Familiarity with the subject is a big factor as well. My love of birds often propels me through pieces much faster than when sculpting subjects with an emphasis on musculature and structure”, Nicholls explains the process.
The process starts from deciding on a concept, whether working on personal or commission work, with everything from materials to size and timing very carefully thought out. “Research often includes consultation with biologists, world-renowned photographers and trips into the field to witness the subject first hand. Final drawings identify the changes in plane and define the individual surface layering and detail”, Nicholls writes. With the help of a tracing paper “map”, the artist cuts the paper components and creates the positioning on the body form. Each piece is embossed, scored, and formed to present the desired texture. The final pieces, which are low relief and only a few centimeters in-depth, are framed in shadow boxes.
See below a behind-the-scenes video of Nicholls work for David Yurman holiday window. The artist’s Instagram page is full of interesting behind-the-scenes takes and close-ups of the work, so make sure to give him a follow for some more paper art inspiration.