Papercrafters can transform simple sheets into masterpieces

In the hands of a paper artist, a humble sheet can be transformed by a few clever folds or cuts into a creature, a structure, even an elaborate diorama.

That alchemy is at the heart of papercrafting, and the finished projects make interesting, unusual home décor.

Depending on your talent level, you can choose a simple-to-assemble kit, print out instructions from a paper artist, or buy a finished piece of custom artwork. A hobby for some, a collecting interest for others, papercraft can be a fascinating avenue of creative expression.

Dallas-based Michael Reilly and Shane Selman are former paper industry programmers turned designers. They’re serious about playing with paper.

“It’s easily one of our favorite mediums. There’s just so much variety – it’s flexible, foldable, delicate and structural. Even the costliest sheets are inexpensive enough to allow for experimentation. There’s an almost infinite variation before you ever cut a single line,” Selman said.

The pair bought a laser cutter in 2008 and began experimenting. In 2010, they turned the hobby into a business. Gustav Eiffel’s original design was a great jumping-off point.

“The Eiffel Tower started out as a demo piece, to show investors what we could do,” Selman said. “It was the perfect way to demonstrate the detail and precision that the laser was capable of, and its unique architecture was perfect for playing with structure.”

Most models at the time were complicated and difficult to assemble. But Reilly began looking for a better way; a simple tab closure tested well. The designers now offer the kit in several color options and two sizes, available through artifacturestudios.com. A less detailed but equally easy-to-build Eiffel Tower model is available at pylones-usa.com; choose from French magazine, newsprint or blueprint patterns, or buy a plain one and decorate it yourself.

Roman Detyna commands an impressive array of battleships, destroyers and fighter planes, but he’s no threat to national security. Detyna is an artist in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., who specializes in model military vehicles made of paper. Mighty vessels that did battle in the theaters of World War II are re-created in scale models the size of a table, a pen or even a matchbox; assembly takes anywhere from a couple of days to a year or more.

A technical draftsman, Detyna says his early models were challenging. “The complex tower bridge of the Takao was really difficult. At the time, I didn’t use much 3-D drafting to help me visualize the shapes, so all the necessary unwrapping was kind of happening in my imagination before I drew in 2-D.”

Now drafting on the computer, he sells his detailed and historically accurate plans for between $17 and $35; his website, digitalnavy.com, also has many free downloadable designs. The site has advice on tools and techniques, and a gallery of finished projects shared by an international contingent of fellow modelers.

Less challenging but no less charming are the Glasgow Tenement models created by Scottish designers Franki Finch and Beth Fouracre. Paying homage to a Glaswegian architectural icon, the kits come with pre-cut pieces and glue. A grouping of the structures on a mantel would be a conversation starter.

Won Park, a Honolulu-based designer, has developed a following for his origami made of dollar bills, a medium he likes for its strong texture, pattern and ability to hold folds well. Park coaxes elaborate little wonders out of the bills: a Formula One race car; an articulated koi; even a model of the U.S. Capitol Building.

“The fish is made with only a single bill, and takes about three hours to fold. The Capitol was made with one $50 bill and 50 $1 bills,” Park said.

He has a couple of how-to videos online, and a book, “Dollar Origami” (Thunder Bay Press, 2011).

Artist Helen Musselwhite makes evocative 3-D dioramas of woodland scenes that have a pleasing folk art vibe. She places some in box frames and others under glass domes, but with all her work she cuts, folds and scores her paper by hand. She has done work for Stella McCartney, Cadbury chocolate and Target, but she will do custom work for individuals as well.

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