When seeing the work of Calvin Nicholls for the first time, it’s difficult to work out exactly what you’re looking at. They could be computer generated or even porcelain. In reality, they’re paper sculptures, but the level of skill and minuscule detail involved is breathtaking.
The ripples in the water, leaves and mounds of detritus are impressive enough, but when he continues with the feathers and then individual hairs, it’s difficult to be anything other than awestruck.
Calvin’s love of art and nature was inspired by growing up in the Canadian countryside. He worked as a designer but began experimenting with paper in 1984. His appreciation for the subjects he works with continues today, being a member of the ‘Society of Animal Artists’ and ‘Artists for Conservation’. Below, he describes the specific materials he uses and the process he’s refined over the course of his career.
Research for my sculptures often includes consultation with omithologists at the Royal Ontario Museum who allow me to access study skins and mounted specimens.
Rehabilitation centres, exotic animal farms and zoos offer the opportunity for me to observe habits and gesture with the assistance of staff and animal handlers. These sessions when combined with field sketching and reference photography trips create the basis for my preliminary sketches.
A rigid form is prepared from heavy weight paper in advance of any detailing to establish the basic shape and to provide a high degree of overall strength. All of the individual components are cut separately from a variety of papers selected by weight and texture so as to allow me to duplicate all aspects of my final pencil study drawings. They are subsequently shaped and textured through the use of many specialized metal tools before having adhesive applied and being positioned on the form.
The fine art, archival quality papers used in my sculptures are acid-free and buffered through the elimination of active acids and the addition of magnesium carbonate or calcium carbonate during the paper making process. The fibers of the paper as a result will resist any acids that may come in contact with its surface over time thus allowing manufacturers to claim a 400 year life span of these archival products.
Adhesives must also be acid-free and resistant to discolouration or staining. Methyl cellulose paste and polyvinyl acetate adhesive provide me with the qualities required in terms of workability and permanence.
The most exciting stage in the development of my sculptures is during this process of lighting and capturing the detail on large format colour transparency film.
After many months of research and a virtual apprenticeship with photographer Tony Moore of Toronto, I outfitted my studio with sophisticated lighting systems, an 8 x 10 view camera and the best lenses on the market.
© Calvin Nicholls, 2012