Taking Paper Beyond the Drawing

Game Of Thrones

The White Walker (Night’s King) from Game of Thrones. Photo by Jeff Nishinaka.

The School of Fine Art – Painting course offerings have found an engaging new presence with world-renowned illustrator and fine artist Jeff Nishinaka’s recent contributions to the online and onsite curriculum. Nishinaka’s work leverages the structural properties of three-ply paper, patience and dedicated focus as presented in the refined process of paper sculpture. 

Nishinaka’s discovery of the medium arose from a challenge from a professor in his undergraduate studies to use a non-traditional material as an exercise in finding a unique visual voice. This discovery evolved to become a devoted medium for Nishinaka, rooted in the practice of refined drawing and the study of form. His bas-relief images express a narrative sense of volume and distance and when lit, the works come to life in a manner unique to the finely crafted presentation of the medium. 

Nishinaka’s process involves true discipline with a focus on the highest standards of craftsmanship yet his tools are simple. A pencil, eraser, an X-acto knife, wooden dowels, tweezers, glue and his own hands, for influencing the paper with the elegance of human touch, help to shape his creations. 

Nishinaka’s paper sculptures have been commissioned by Microsoft, Starbucks, Ralph Lauren, United Airlines, Clinique, MGM Studios, Lexus, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Qualcomm and Iggesund Paperboard and grace the walls of martial arts expert Jackie Chan. Nishinaka’s illustration work is represented in the U.S. and London by Bernstein & Andriulli.


Jeff Nishinaka in the studio. Photo by Grace Guarte.

His recent work includes a piece titled The White Walker AKA the Night’s King commissioned by HBO in partnership with the agency Mass Appeal. The work was unveiled at the Angel Orensanz Foundation in New York’s Lower East Side at an event called “Art the Throne,” as a celebration of the hit series Game of Thrones’ sixth season premiere. Although elaborate and engaging, the work did not see its full expression until it was creatively lit for the event where the full presence of character and craft, as inspired by the dark figure, was brought to life by Nishinaka. 

His range of subject matter is broad as seen in an uplifting flock of monarch butterflies portrayed in a paper sculpture measuring 8 ft. x 8 ft. that was recently installed at the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, CA. This elegant paper sculpture was commissioned for the Where Hope Has a Home project, a philanthropic partnering of the San Francisco Design Center and the Ronald McDonald House.

The space, designed in part by Half Moon Bay resident and Academy alumna Kristi Will, Home + Design, provides housing, community and support to the families of critically ill children while being treated at the nearby Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital on the Stanford campus.

Nishinaka’s recent contribution to the School of Fine Art’s curriculum succeeds at sharing his experience, technique and insight into the medium of paper sculpture with those enrolled in both the online and onsite versions of the course. His instruction helps students to create three dimensional, bas-relief paper sculpture beginning from the basic techniques of sketching, designing, cutting and mounting paper to result in the creation of the illusion of space and form in finished works. 

Even after a successful 30-year career in illustration and fine art, Nishinaka notes that the return he gets from teaching in the School of Fine Art – Painting at the Academy motivates him to continually refine his own skills, improve his craft, and excel in a unique medium to share ever evolving rich information with his Academy students and continue to attract commissions from national and world wide clients.

Nishinaka will be teaching the online and onsite sections of the Academy’s FA 348: Paper Sculpture in the Fall of 2016 and Spring of 2017.

See more of Nishinaka’s work at