Paper art is perhaps more than appealing than ever in today's digital world. A humble piece of paper has so many possibilities – it can be folded, laser-cut, layered and made into sculptures.
Below are some of our favourite examples of paper art being used imaginatively within contemporary design, giving new life to one of the most ancient arts. If you're looking to incorporate other ancient forms of artwork into your work, you can also check out our calligraphy fonts (opens in new tab) roundup.
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01. Paper cut octopus
This stunning octopus was created by paper cutting artist Masayo Fukuda (opens in new tab). Not surprisingly, the intricate creation has been a huge hit on social media, with this video (opens in new tab) of her octopus having been viewed over 10 million times. It really is quite hypnotic.
02. Canon city
Paper artist Hattie Newman has tons of paper projects to lust over, but this paper city made for Canon is particularly impressive. Newman created it for a Canon expo where people could use it to test their cameras, and the detail in it is sublime. See more about the project here (opens in new tab).
03. Autumn Book Review(opens in new tab)
We're big fans of Owen Gildersleeve (opens in new tab)'s work so it was tricky to choose between his projects for this roundup. But we love the simplicity of the hand-crafted leaves on this editorial illustration for The Guardian. It also goes to show that it is definitely possible to capture the hand-crafted nature of paper art through photography, as these leaves were created and then photographed, leaving a space in the middle for the copy.
04. PG2(opens in new tab)
Lola Dupré (opens in new tab) is a collage artist and illustrator based in Scotland. Many of her pieces look like slick Photoshop creations, but they’re in fact created using paper and scissors – plus plenty of time and meticulous sticking. She cites the Dada movement of the early 20th Century as key inspiration. The image above is part of the campaign for Nike’s PG2 basketball shoes. The kaleidoscopic design fits perfectly with the campaign slogan ‘Be comfortable in the chaos’.
05. Circling(opens in new tab)
Paper art duo Julie Wilkinson and Joyanne Horscroft aka Makerie Studio (opens in new tab) 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," say 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.
06. Phidala(opens in new tab)
Virginia-based designer Eric Standley (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab)," explains Standley. "I began applying phi to the drawing processes of Kismet and Phidala."
07. Forest Folks(opens in new tab)
French artists Lucie Thomas and Thibault Zimmerman make up renowned paper art studio Zim & Zou (opens in new tab). The duo's colourful paper sculptures appear all over the world – including in this series of installations in a 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."
08. We Sent Their Briefs Back(opens in new tab)
South African agency TBWA (opens in new tab)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 (opens in new tab) was a huge success, attracting new work within five days.
09. The Tree of Knowledge(opens in new tab)
There's plenty of paper art out there that incorporates books into the design, but Spanish designer Malena Valcárcel (opens in new tab)'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 (opens in new tab), along with some delicate paper jewellery.
10. Cut Scene(opens in new tab)
Making a living from paper art is a difficult task, but thanks to his talents and enthusiasm, Marc Hagan-Guirey – aka Paper Dandy (opens in new tab) – 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 (opens in new tab), 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. Paper Dragon(opens in new tab)
The second paper dragon on our list, this majestic example was created by a group of artists at INK studio (opens in new tab) 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.
12. Day of the Dead(opens in new tab)
This incredible paper art series from Bulgaria-based designer Tsvetislava Koleva (opens in new tab) celebrates the Day of the Dead with intricate and colourful masks that quite frankly, took our breath away. Each creation takes a different theme and a different colour palette (shown here: Lace and Gold).
13. Malmö Festival(opens in new tab)
This identity for Malmö Festival was created by Swedish design agency Snask (opens in new tab) 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.
14. Women(opens in new tab)
Artist Maude White (opens in new tab) 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.
15. Magic Circle(opens in new tab)
The artist Rogan Brown (opens in new tab) 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."
16. Origami animals(opens in new tab)
Vietnamese artist Nguyen Hung Curong (opens in new tab) 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.
17. Little Houses(opens in new tab)
Helen Musselwhite (opens in new tab) 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 book, Little Houses (opens in new tab), 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.
18. Paper sculpture(opens in new tab)
After being introduced to the idea of paper as a medium at art school, Calvin Nicholls' (opens in new tab) 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.
19. Candy Crush
Yulia Brodskaya (opens in new tab) 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."
20. Visit Bristol Christmas Campaign(opens in new tab)
Inspired by nature and its never-ending beauty, Sam Pierpoint (opens in new tab) 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.
21. La Siesta(opens in new tab)
In his illustrations and paper art, Juan Carlos Viñas Ballesteros (opens in new tab) (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.
22. Midnight Creatures(opens in new tab)
Helen Friel (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab), 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.
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