I first noticed Johan Scherft’s work last year. I featured his artistry of hand crafted paper birds. (See post here.) Johan is incredibly detailed in his reproductions that many times, these birds look absolutely real to the untrained eye.
Johan has been working on new projects that have included using his paper craft technique and setting it in motion.
Johan Scherft was born in 1970 in Leiden, the Netherlands. At an early age he exposed a talent for drawing, and also an interest in animals and nature. Jahan started bird papercraft at the age of 14. He then studied at The Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague focusing on graphic design, free painting and drawing. He continues to live and work in Leiden.
“These birds were inspired by the paper models of flying birds, designed by the english artist Malcolm Topp.” With these self created models, and other drawings, Scherft was accepted to the royal academy of arts in The Hague.
“To me designing a good papercraft is still the most challenging discipline I practice.”
What is it like to live the life of an artist in Holland? Do you sustain a good living?
Holland is a small country but with a rich history of art. I think this is the reason why our art nowadays is somewhat politically manipulated. Holland still likes to be on the frontline of art internationally. Some artists who are considered important get support from the government with a yearly grant. However if you are not so lucky and your work is judged as being not modern or not important enough you are sort of ignored. That is why I think here is a lot of unfair competition. For me to make a living in art is still a struggle. It’s hard to make a living. I can’t invest in making a good presentation or even a decent website. But of course I am very happy, I can work in freedom!
Last year, I featured your bird papercraft projects. I revisited your site and see that you are working on a new set of oil paintings. Can you tell us what other projects you have been working on lately?
Actually I stopped making oil paintings and I switched to drawing which is more spontanious and quicker then painting. I really like to work with charcoal and pastel. I made a lot of very large drawings in charcoal of extinct animals. Oil paint has the big disadvantage that it works slowly. Also I sometimes had problems with the texture of oilpaint, especially when working big on canvas. Some parts in the paintings become shiny and brilliant, while other areas are ‘sunk’ and become dull. It’s so difficult to control all of this because you have to work in layers and wait in between for the layers to dry. Pastel is really nice in its texture and surface: overall velvety and opaque. Also I made some new paper birds, and moving paper animals.
When did you first begin to paint and do paper craft? Does one inspire the other?
I started papercrafting at the age of about fourteen. At that time the models I created were coloured with colourpencil. The painting I learned when I studied art at the academy. I always switch in between different techniques. But I never do papercrafting without a certain amount of drawing or painting. Now all the birds are painted, and this is also the most time consuming job. To me designing a good papercraft is still the most challenging discipline I practice. Switching between techniques and subjects is typical for my style and way of working. The last project I finished was this drawing ‘Pastorale’. The most logical step to do is making another landscape, but the next day I was experimenting in trying to make a marionette of a dinosaur!
Your paintings are so detailed and unique. It has a style similar to some of the old Dutch master painters. What painters inspire you and what keeps you inspired from day to day?
I admit that I get inspired mostly with classical art. But there are a lot of artists around now who make amazing things. I recently saw some amazing and inspiring drawings of Paul Noble in the Boymans museum in Rotterdam. What I really admire in an artist is concentration and devotion. But too much contact with other art can also be distracting a little, you really have to invent your own world and not imitate other artists. I get more direct inspiration from nature. This is my true source of inspiration.
What are you trying to convey in your latest drawing such as Pastorale?
I always like to suggest space in a painting or drawing. I don’t really envy painters who work abstract. They miss that special moment when that illusion of space is created, and you have the feeling you can walk into the landscape, and when a dot of colour is not just paint or pastel but a tree in the distance , a rock or even a mountain. When I made the pastel drawing pastorale I felt like shaping the land, and I felt like walking there in the nature and hear the birds singing. The landscape is totally fantasized, I could make roads, trees and mountains where I liked them. With a touch of purple or blue it is pushed back to the distance. I like this freedom in creation, I don’t like to just copy photographs. It’s almost like writing a story. The road in the landscape can also be seen as the winding road in live we walk. The bear is symbolic: In Holland we have an expression: ‘bears on the road’ which means certain problems we have to overcome in live.
I notice some of your paintings are quite small and very detailed. What inspired you to paint smaller canvas rather than on large ones?
When I paint with oil I prefer to make small paintings on wooden panel or copper plates. My eyesight for small details is very good because I am close-sighted (near-sighted). A large painting is just too time consuming, because of all the details I like to show. And I never liked to work on canvas, it always gives me problems with the surface or the canvas becomes limp. But with the drawings I can work big and that is also nice. It’s a more active way of making art, you do a lot of walking back and forth when working on such a big drawing. And when I make a small painting I just sit on a chair and work at a table. Also in the end I was a little frustrated about the fact that a small painting is so easily overlooked by the audience. You have to step close and make some effort to see all the details. In one painting I attached a magnifying glass, that helped a little to get the people more interested!
I really enjoy your papercraft ‘Moving Animals’. Can you tell us more about the process of how these works of art are made?
Through the years I made a lot of sketches of all my ideas. I accidentally discovered the use of musicbox mechanisms. I looked through some old sketches and found the idea of the chameleon and the fish carrousel which I wanted to make already a long time ago. But I didn’t know how to do it back then. I realized that the musicbox system was ideal for these ideas because they don’t require electricity and also it’s very silent. And I like the touch of nostalgia of these wind up mechanics. The magical fish carrousel is my personal favorite, it was relatively easy to make. The moving chameleon was a challenge to work out the system and actual mechanism.
I notice you sell a lot of your art work on your website. Can you tell our readers your typical clientele ?
I never sell much paintings or drawings directly from the site. Most of my work is sold from a gallery and at stock exchanges. I don’t have direct contact with the clientele really, except for the people who buy my templates of the paper birds . These templates of the birds are directly sold from the site. They go to all kinds of countries. I am amazed to see the creative things people do with the paper birds and the response I get is overwhelming!
The following film is a compilation of some of Johan’s work that includes papercraft, drawings and paintings.
Johan Scherft has been working as a professional artist in Holland since 1993. He has been working as a free artist mainly concentrating on painting, but also etching, papercraft, mezzotint, drawing and illustrating.
Photo Credits and Links