Dutch artist Johan Schreft creates three-dimensional lifesize models of birds from pieces of paper. To make his works even more realistic he paints each one by hand with watercolors and gouache. The results are simply mind-blowing.
Leiden-based Johan Schreft showed an interest in drawing as well as animals and nature at a very young age. Inspired by the artworks designed by the english artist Malcolm Topp, he started making paper bird models when he was only 14 years old. Over the years the Dutch artist honed his skills, and today his papercraft models look so realistic it’s almost impossible to tell them apart from the real birds that inspired them. Johan takes anywhere from two days to a full month to complete just one of his stunning masterpieces, and although he uses some computer software for the basic design, he does most of the work by hand. Because each bird species has its own specific features, he can’t use a standard design, so every model goes through a complex process that requires several steps and involves a lot of trial and error.
Schreft starts off by sketching a bird template on a piece of paper. He then painstakingly cuts out all the separate parts using a pair of scissors and uses glue to assemble a colorless 3D model. This is just a test build to make sure the bird’s shape and physical features are at a satisfactory level. Then it’s time to move on to the actual artwork. This time he starts painting all the template parts before cutting them out from the sheet of paper. Armed with a soft-tipped brush he uses watercolors and gouache to paint all the tiniest details, from the bird’s specific coloring to the way its feathers overlap. Once every piece is colored he starts carefully piecing them together once more. To make everything looks just right he does some touch up paint work on the completed model as well.
“Of course, it is impossible to capture every curve of the bird’s body in paper, compromises have to be made, or the model would have too many gluing tabs, making it too difficult to make. A lot of the realism is suggested with the paintwork,” Johan says. “For this part, I take the most time. With very fine brushes, I try to achieve the most realistic effect in color and detail. I use watercolors or gouache paint. It’s always an exciting moment once the template has been painted to assemble the bird and see what the result is. I always do some adjusting and extra painting after a model is assembled. Sometimes models require a considerable amount of extra painting, like on the eyes or other important details.”
The talented papercraft artist and painter hopes his realistic models will stir viewers’ interest in birds and wildlife. For those who would rather have a realistic paper bird in their home instead of a stuffed one, he offers templates of the required parts that can be downloaded from his website.