The design of a bird is breathtakingly intricate. The trajectory of those bright splashes of color streaking through the sky depends upon the precise arrangement of thousands of feathers, each one made up of dozens of iridescent, tightly packed filaments. Nevertheless, it is an advanced aerodynamic design that artist Diana Beltran Herrera is trying to faithfully re-create out of paper, in order to bring her closer in tune with the nature around her.
Hailing from the Colombian city of Bogotá, Herrera has been fascinated by birds ever since her mother brought home a pair of them when she was a girl. “I loved them, but I began to be concerned about them. Surely these animals have a reason to exist besides just being put in a cage?” she remembers. “When I went outside, I saw that birds were real living creatures, having real experiences just like me. I wanted to try to save their experiences and simultaneously remind myself of how important it was to be alive.”
This feeling of empathy between birds and herself–fellow creatures exploring the world with a joy and curiosity that could so easily be caged–is what inspired Herrera to start making her hyper-realistic sculptures. She creates a base model, then feathers it over with papercraft plumage delicately filamented with scissors. The larger the bird, the more time-consuming it is to realize. A crane, for example, can take Herrera up to two weeks. The final details are always the eyes, beaks, and legs.
Over time, Herrera’s birds have become more elaborately detailed: Although the 26-year-old started modeling her birds from memory, she now designs them from vector drawings, which allow for more precise re-creations, right down to the size of individual feathers.
To date, Herrera has created more than a hundred specimens, including golden hummingbirds, birds of paradise, blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, cardinals, belted kingfishers, blue herons, flamingos, quetzals, and many more. She poses them to be as lifelike as possible.
“I think the corporal language of a bird is just so beautiful,” says Herrera. “I try to model my birds after photos of them moving. The result is never quite the same, but I like what I have at the end.”
For her, the process of portraying birds as works in paper is an extension of her natural curiosity about the world. “I have always been very curious about the things around me: how they grow, develop, and find a place in this universe,” says Herrera. Few creatures live as harmoniously, find their niche, and become a part of their environment as birds do. “To me, birds are a recurrent subject in the idea of discovering a place.”