Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Paper Wonderland: The Magical Paperscapes of Jeff Nishinaka

Jeff Nishinaka
Jeff Nishinaka with his dog, Zak
Image courtesy of:

"An artist is made by an ounce of talent and a pound of practice."

How to adequately describe seeing Jeff Nishinaka's pristine paperscapes for the first time without lapsing into hyperbole? To begin with, one is struck by the apparent simplicity of each piece, yet the impression - and complexity - of the different advancing and receding layers of paper leave one with the desire of wanting to see more. Bit by bit, layer atop layer, the duet between light and shadow - of depth or the impression of depth and dimension - lend themselves to a heightened reality of another world, a white world composed, incredibly, of paper - that once-copious resource of everyday life which is fast becoming  obsolete in this, the era of digital efficiency; living, as we do, in the age of paper recycling for the sake of  forest conservation makes Nishinaka's work all the more precious - and fragile. Simply put, it's magical.

Nishinaka working on Dragon for the Peninsula Hotel, Shanghai

A native of Los Angeles, California, Jeff Nishinaka has been doing what he has been doing - creating three-dimensional masterpieces of art using nothing more than his technical skills and masterful manipulation of paper - for twenty-eight years. His foray into paper sculpture began whilst still a student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. In addition to his fine art compositions, many of which are highly sought after by art collectors and range in size anywhere from eight-inch by eight-inch to twenty feet in height as well as in width, Nishinaka has built himself an extensive commercial portfolio in those twenty-eight years of work, including commissions - both national and international - from such distinguished brands and corporations as: Bloomingdale's, Galeries Lafayette (Paris), Sprint, Visa, Coca-Cola, Mattel, the Peninsula Hotel, Paramount Pictures, Penn State University and many more besides.
(Source:, undated)

Golden Gate Bridge ~ Follett Software Company

But long before prestigious commissions and acclaim came his way, Nishinaka recalls precisely that moment in his childhood when he became interested in art. In a candid interview with The MDM [Monthly Digital Magazine] Wanderlance in November, 2010, Nishinaka reminisced, "I was in the second grade. Our class assignment was to draw a mural on a large piece of paper... The theme for the mural was a California desert with all its flora and fauna. We were given an assignment to draw anything native to a desert before beginning work on the mural.We were told to vote for the best drawing in the class with the winner being awarded the title of 'Mural Monitor.' I drew a desert box turtle and won the title! I didn't do anything special after that. It was just a fun thing... and started me on my journey."
(Source & quote:, November, 2010)

Brooklyn Bridge

For his part, Nishinaka describes his first - and inadvertent - introduction to the possibility of utilizing paper as an artistic medium in this way: "I have always wanted to be a painter, but while studying illustration at Art Center, I was given assignments in both a graphic design and fashion drawing class at the same time to experiment in different mediums, one of them being paper. That was my 'Ah-ha!' moment. I quickly developed a feel for working with paper. From then on, I began experimenting with different papers, finding ways to shape, bend, and round edges on it. I wanted to manipulate paper in the least invasive way, to keep the integrity and feel of it. Paper to me is a living, breathing thing that has a life of its own. I just try to redirect that energy into something that feels animated and alive."  
(Source and quote courtesy of:, undated)

The Lion King

Heifer International

Atlantic Records ~ CD cover for the band, O.A.R.

Beaver Stadium

The Writer ~ Dynamic Years Magazine
The above five images are courtesy of:

Inspiration for Nishinaka comes from everywhere and anywhere. He recently visited Africa - Tanzania - where he was inspired by the endless source of subject matter and scenes of life there: the wild animals, the people and their culture. But as he told MDM Wanderlance, the challenge for him is not so much the use of paper as his medium of choice but rather, working out the design of each piece and the angle from which it is meant to be viewed; the selection of which elements to include and which to exclude: "I want the viewer to see the texture and feel of the paper and its tactile quality. I feel like I'm having fun playing with a bunch of cut pieces of paper!"
(Source & quote:, Novemver, 2010)

The Savoy
(Created for the main lobby of the Alexan Savoy Condominium project in Los Angeles) 

But aside from various public commissions and installations for hotels, condominiums and corporations, Nishinaka also undertakes private commissions, and one of the most ardent (private) collectors of his works is none other than the action-movie star, Jackie Chan, of whom Nishinaka has done two portraits to date. In fact, Mr. Chan is a close friend of Nishinaka and possesses the largest collection of the artist's work.

Towards the end of his  MDM Wanderlance interview, when asked by the interviewer whether perfection is "attained by precision or practice," Nishinaka's response is adamant: "Perfection is never attained. It is always elusive, but reveals parts of itself through patience."
(Sources:, undated &, 2010; quotes:, November, 2010)

Sprint Press

United States of Avex

Vasco da Gamma Bridge ~ Follett Software Company

University of Colorado Hospital

Jackie Chan ~ Drunken Master

Jackie Chan ~ Young Master

Nisei Week Festival ~ Los Angeles

Terracotta Warriors

Dragon & Phoenix ~ JC Group, Hong Kong

El Sereno Phoenix
(Created for the Barrio Action Youth & Family Center ~ El Sereno, California)

United States Postal Service ~ Philatelic Magazine cover

Children's Museum of the East End ~ Bridgehampton, New York 

Tiger Mask

The Composer

NN State University Sports Hall
The above fifteen images are courtesy of:

Barbie by Jeff Nishinaka

The above four images are courtesy of:

The above three images are courtesy of:

 The ANA Intercontinental Hotel in Tokyo
ANA Intercontinental Hotel ~ Tokyo
(Part of the installation to celebrate the hotel's 5th anniversary)
Image courtesy of:

ANA Intercontinental Hotel ~ Tokyo

ANA Intercontinental Hotel ~ Tokyo
(Installed to celebrate the hotel's 5th anniversary)

Video courtesy of: ABADesigners ~

There have been several exhibitions held of Jeff Nishinaka's work in the last few years, mainly in Japan but most recently, one in Shanghai, China, in 2008; his next exhibit is slated for 2012 in Taipei, Taiwan.

To view and learn more about Jeff Nishinaka and his incredible creations, please visit Mr. Nishinaka's website:

Imperial Dragon

Recommended reading:

White Graphics: The Power of White In Graphic Design (2001), by Gail Deibler Finke: Rockport Publishers


  1. Wow what beautiful pieces & love his interpretation of the Vasco da Gama bridge.

  2. I quite agree. Mr. Jeff Nishinaka's work is superb.