Diana Beltran-Herrera transforms paper into brilliant 3D sculptures of nature

Recent Fine Arts graduate Diana Beltran-Herrera creates exceptional 3D paper sculptures, often reflecting the beauty in flora and fauna.

Diana Beltran-Herrera has exceptional talent when it comes to paper. Using an impeccable eye for colour and composition, mixed with her appreciation and love for botanical and natural history, the Columbian-raised artist has created a unique paper sculpture style.

Diana is a recent Fine Arts graduate who now lives and works in Bristol, transforming all types of paper and card into beautiful and intricate 3D sculptures for clients such as Hodder & Stoughton, Conde Nast Traveller, Florida Museum of Natural History and GF Smith amongst others. 

Growing up immersed in a diverse range of local fauna and flora and species from other parts of the world – such as migratory birds that come from North America – Diana connects to this in a peaceful way through sculpting animals and plants. 

We speak to Diana about the simple and economic nature of working with paper and how she hopes her art can change perception on animal trafficking and smuggling.

Miriam Harris: When did you first start experimenting with paper sculpture?

Diana Beltran-Herrera: "I started when I was doing my BA in industrial design in Colombia, but started taking it seriously after I finished. I found paper a very challenging medium but at the same time it was very economic and easy to access - I didn't have a job or many opportunities as a designer so I started to experiment with it everyday, first making collages and cutting it out, and then it suddenly became an sculptural medium that I could use to create different things.

I really like the sculptural approach because it is very easy to work with. You don't have to go over complicated time consuming processes to create something and it’s very immediate. With just some scissors and glue you can create volumes that together can become interesting objects, or by cutting it in particular ways and assembling it you can make interesting sculptures."

MH: What is the creative process behind your paper sculptures?

DBH: "It depends what I am working on. I like to experiment with different kinds of paper - not only coloured card. I use tissue paper, card, mount board, tracing paper, and anything I can recycle from printing companies. For every project or object the first process involves drawing on the computer - kind of exploding the object and finding all the little pieces it’s composed of - and then through sculpting I put the object back together again. When I work on nature-related projects such as my birds, different small animals or plants, sometimes I combine collage with 3D to create scenery and backgrounds.  

I occasionally work from a photograph. I try to guess how the real object looks and recreate it. For some other works I cast objects in paper, either wrap them around or measure them to make an exact replica."

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MH: Where did your fascination with botanical and natural history stem from? 

DBH: "I guess it comes from being Colombian. We don't have seasons so nature is constantly growing, things happen in a different way. Colombia is a must stop from migratory birds that come from North America around September, so being able to see local nature and the nature of other parts of the world in the same place is amazing.  

I got into creating birds because in Colombia there is a lot of animal trafficking and smuggling and I wanted to work on something that could change the view of how those animals should exist. By making them I was relating with them in a peaceful way. I got to know a lot by sitting in the studio and looking at photos and relating with my sculptures.  

In Colombia we have a large diversity of fauna and flora. Since I was very young I’ve always been on a farm or going on trips in the forest. I always feel really curious about the natural world and how other species live and relate with their landscape, so trips to the natural history museum and researching about botany helps with my curiosity." 

MH: What has been your favourite project so far?

DBH: “I enjoy all the things I do everyday. I worked for a cancer unit in a children's hospital in America, and the organisation that commissioned me told me the kids love it and that it brings a lot of happiness to them. I also created birds for Longwood Gardens in America to replace taxidermy species. I like projects that can change someone’s view or that can replace something missing; those mean a lot more to me.”

MH: What is the most challenging part about working with paper?

DBH: "The most difficult part for me is making curves and round surfaces. I like to make realistic replicas of things and don't want my objects or animals looking geometric, so I try to find a new technique to produce this. I want to make other animals but I guess there’s plenty of time." 

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MH: What's the best part?

DBH: "When an animal or object is finished! The process of figuring out how it will look is always very daunting because there are so many hours involved - you want it to look amazing in the end. I have managed to get good results and it makes me really happy to see all that I have discovered not only in a technical way but in a contemplative one."

MH: What upcoming projects can we expect to see from you? 

DBH: "I have two different kinds of work; commercial personal. For my commercial work I started a project late last year call "The Food Project". It’s inspired by botanical illustration. I want to produce a great selection of healthy foods in an engaging way. I believe it’s important to understand what food means and why it’s so important for us, and I also need to change some habits so this will help. My personal work is currently focusing on the idea of houses. I’m researching how paper can be transformed into different materials to produce intricate buildings.  

I’ve recently signed with JSR, and am working on some very exciting projects which unfortunately I can’t mention at the moment – watch this space though!"