Arts and craftsmanship: paper portraits by Calvin Nicholls

I’m not usually one for long, windy discussions on the difference between arts and crafts. But I got an email from my dad that got me thinking.


It was a selection of screencaps of some carved-paper portraits made by Canadian artist Calvin Nicholls. The buffalo above is just one of the many wildlife portraits he’s made (animals are the subjects he focuses almost exclusively on).

Nicholls uses archival paper, craft knives, scalpels and tiny dabs of glue to layer together his stunning, highly detailed portraits. He has a fascinating section on his website that walks you through each step of his painstaking technique (click here, then click on “About Me,” then on “My Method”).



Nicholls’ work is definitely art. No doubt about that. But it’s based on craft – skilled work, or a technique honed through hours of practice. I think that’s why the crafter in me was so blown away by these pictures. These are the culmination of years of practice and a loving dedication to fine detail.

Once I started thinking about the subject, I found a really interesting article on the difference between arts and crafts – it was a Radio New Zealand talk broadcast in 1990 (when I was just a clueless high school student). It sets up a lot of fascinating questions: Do crafts have to be useful? Does art have to cause an emotional response in the artist as well as the audience? But the quote I love the most is:

There are elements of art in the most ordinarily humble of crafts. The love of materials, the original leaps of imagination, the ability not only to delight [but also] to jar an audience, and reveal new possibilities in a craft medium – these are features of the artistic act and characterise all crafts at their most engaging.  – Denis Dutton

Where there’s craft, there’s art. No matter if your medium is paint or cloth or string or paper and scissors. I couldn’t have said it better myself.