30 beautiful examples of paper art

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 

This campaign for Lush even moves

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.”

02. Circling

Circling is a personal exploration of anxiety and helplessness

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.

03. Phidala

Eric Standley's work echoes Islamic art and Gothic architecture

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."

Take a look at his website for more breathtakingly detailed creations, or read our article on his laser-cut paper art.

04. Tissue series

Lisa Nilsson's quilling turns anatomical cross-sections into things of beauty

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

Zim & Zou's vibrant paper sculptures are featured all over the world

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 

It's hard to resist these detailed and colourful paper 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.

This is definitely the best way to approach a brief

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

This life-size Nissan car was built from foam board and card

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.

09. The Tree of Knowledge

This book sculpture represents the Tree of Knowledge

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

Paper Dandy's Cut Scene exhibition recreates Star Wars scenes

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

We're big fans of Hagan-Guirey's wonderful paper creations

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

D'Avila Studio used overlapping paper to create depth

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 dragon paper art was a team effort

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.

Koleva celebrates the Day of the Dead with intricate masks

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

Oono's books open up to tell their stories layer by layer

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.

Next page: 15 more incredible examples of paper art