A Digital (Paper) Artefact

My digital artefact is going to be an experience for me, an exploration of a community I’ve admired, but have never partook in. I’m going to embark to the other side of the Paper Craft community: designing. It’s what fuels the archive pages, fills the stream with new models, collaborations, and series, by artists from across the world. Designers, like SmileRobinson, are selecting content that they enjoy so much they want to share it with a larger audience. They do this by constructing Paper Craft models of their favourite characters, for fans to experience, build, and discover new content, in a hand-crafted collection. I’m utilising my knowledge of the Paper Craft community to design a facet of a cultural experience, to make a culture familiar for insiders, and represent a culture to outsiders (Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2011).

I want to design Paper Craft models of Asian content and showcase it online as templates and constructed models. Along side, I will develop a reflection of the process, the story behind the model, and encourage learning about a different culture through design. And these designs will be representations of the research fields the students of DIGC330 have chosen. You, are my subjects that have presented me with connections to unfamiliar content. I will share that knowledge back as foldable paper.

 Digital (Paper) Asia:



*I share no affiliation with ‘Asian Paper: The Global Pulp, Paper and Board Industry.’ Although that’s a pretty cool industry group.

A (Digital) Paper Trophy

I was listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour, a weekly podcast commenting on everything popular culture has to offer, and it discussed the method of self analysing why you’re a fan of something and why you might be avoiding other content. I related this to my interest in Papercraft and I started listing reasons why I chose to create some models and not others. I found that most of the models I have created were of Japanese anime characters, but the revealing find was half of these designs I didn’t know what they were from; I had chosen them purely for artistic reasons. However, now that I had chosen them I was interested to know more about them, and from this process of research I revealed that my Papercraft models were a digital catalog of new interests in content I was not familiar with.

I’ve discovered through my methodology that Papercraft is a digital and physical communal practice. Papercraft models represent a physical symbol of a cultural icon you cherish, and you create the model as a paper trophy. You assemble a design of a character or symbol of the content you’re a fan of. But before the final paper trophy, Papercraft models are digital designs that connect and distribute fan culture. Most of the Papercraft models I’ve made or collected are based on anime characters from Japan. My collection builds a catalog of “digital trophies” that connect me to different Asian content forming a familiar cultural bubble. While some of the designs are unknown to me, I want to challenge my familiarity. I want to challenge my cultural “rut” and find designs of other Asian cultural elements, from India, South Korea, Thailand to China.

gdragondrummerpapertoyFrom my first search I discovered official Papercraft merchandise of Kpop band 2PM that you can buy. It comes with pre-cut designs of each of the 6 Korean band members. So if there’s official Papercraft, there has to be unofficial designs of Kpop stars. And there is; Pandabobo designs models from the KPop band ‘Big Bang‘ as they’re depicted in their music videos and live events. At first, I didn’t understand the appeal of models designed off real people and not characters, but after watching Big Bang’s music videos I found them do be very creative and an appropriate choice for Pandabobo to design from, like his “Pinochio” costume from G-Dragon’s song ‘Crayon’. The idea of creating your own papercraft designs on something you love interests me and has sparked an idea about my digital artefact project: why don’t I create Papercraft models of digital Asian content?

I’ve been collecting, downloading, printing and folding Papercraft models for years, but I’ve never analysed my interaction with the community, and asked my self: why don’t I design models? Sure, I find it a little intimidating, but designing and remixing Papercraft work is half of the process of the Papercraft community and there are programs that are engineered to help with making models. Creating a model based on a piece of digital content is a simple way to communicate and distribute culture among my peers. I could use the research DIC330 is providing and design cultural models of each of the students research sites. If that’s too hard a task, I could chose KPop videos and design models from them. I could utiilise Papercraft as a means to communicate and display an unfamiliar aspect of Asian digital content to an audience.

The Paper Trade Market

Papercraft communities on DeviantART consist of groups of users who are actively trading, circulating, and contributing to series by constructing their favourite characters from anime, video games and other Asian media. These groups, like Anime-Papercraft, are divided into series, either by the content or the model design, and each product is available for download as a template (most of the time). Except I don’t like many of these designs. Most of them are just characters stuck onto a Cubeecraft model. They’re often detailed but uninspired. As much as I admire the spirit of the collaborations involved in these groups, the products they’re designing I have no interest in putting them on my shelf. My only interest is discovering who that character is.

I love to find intricate, detailed and thoughtfully constructed models. It has to convey and represent the spirit of whatever media I enjoy. I don’t want Naruto’s head stuck on a square. I want him to be in a striking pose. These are toys I want to display. But for some, people like to have entire sets.

Smilerobinson's room with her 5cm models displayed in glass cases.

Smilerobinson’s room with her 5cm models displayed in glass cases.

Papercraft images on DeviantART are visual portals to Asian media. Models are representations of an Artist’s passion and interest in an anime or a video game. Smilerobinson is an artist on DeviantART that creates 5cm models and circulates them on popular groups. As I click through each of her collections, more suggestions from Smilerobinson pop up on the side, and I continue clicking. Some characters I recognise, some I don’t. But on each image there is a description of the show the characters are from, and below there are users thanking and making her designs. Smilerobinson is going beyond just viewing Asian media, she’s appropriating her favourite characters into her papercraft designs and making it available to download. She’s also sometimes borrowing from other artists and linking their work too. Her work is inspired by Nibi‘s Hetalia Kakukaku papercraft, found on Pivix, a Japanese art board. Pivix was fascinating to explore in, a mixture between instagram and Deviant art, and mostly dominated by Japanese artists.

There’s so much content on DeviantART and Pivix. These platforms are providing a voice for small Papercraft communities. Groups are centralised fandoms; designers sharing and presenting models on their favourite shows. These models are small mementos of the anime they enjoy, and it’s a way to display it in your room, or to the world in a creative way. Plus, you’re making it yourself. For me, the idea of being able to recreate designs on DeviantART is what engages me in the community. I can build a model of an anime I love, tweak it, share it, and then place it on my desk.



Shin Tanaka’s Paper Art

Tougui, of France, and Cubeecraft, of USA, are well-regarded international Papercraft artists. They’ve collaborated with corporations, celebrities and artists from around the world, and these collaborations reflect the nature of the Papercraft industry. Beyond its historic connections with Japan and Origami, Papercraft is an international communal collaboration. I’ve participated in this culture with other fans by building, redesigning, and circulating paper models across digital networks. But Shin Tanaka does not participate in this network. Shin Tanaka, of Japan, is a notorious Papercraft artist because he elevates his work above his fans and peers, and disassociates himself with my understanding of the community.

I’m not suggesting Shin’s designs are terrible, on the contrary I love them. His models closely resemble modern art: simple and angular like the basic shapes that form a drawing. They’re also quite intricate and detailed and printed with designs that reflect Shin’s affinity with America, urban design and street art. Shin also has a close relationship with fashion with models often featuring an article of clothing, like a jumper (seen in his numerous T-BOY series); a hat; or one of the 96 smiling shoes from his Ws series. He’s also worked with over 200 brands and designers, including Nike and Scion, in collaborations and promotional projects. Most recently he collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld, a European man with white hair who is a prominent celebrity in the fashion industry. The KARLxSHIN project was created in 2013 for the Parcours Saint Germain, an annual event where art installations are exhibited in luxury boutique cafes and hotels in Paris. Karl and Shin’s partnership may be surprising but not unlikely. Shin’s work transcends Asian culture because its simplicity is inclusive, and his work with Karl only strengthens that observation. International fans, like myself, can find relevance in Shin’s work because street and urban art has influenced art disciplines across many cultures.

One of Shin Tanaka's T-BOYs with a hood

One of Shin Tanaka’s T-BOYs with a hood

The consistency of Shin’s works reminds me of people building paper cranes over and over, design after design. However, while a paper crane is thrown away after its constructed, Shin’s is showcased. His site is run by publicist and photographer Mily Kadz who runs other high-end artist pages. This association of Papercraft with other high forms of art and photography is unique elevating his work to a high degree. Perhaps this is why his designs are displayed like an art gallery. To be seen not touched. It’s not distributed freely by the artist. You can only download his work for the first two months, anything older is deleted (and some are only released for 24 hours!). But the worst aspect is you can view his entire collection – all 200+ designs. I feel awe and discomfort towards Shin. He’s constructed a high profile image by elevating his work beyond its usual form. I want to make his works but there’s no access. Let me make them, I say. You can’t have it, someone translates. But I want it!

You can’t even buy his designs. I’ve attempted to find links to his work through caching sites like Way Way Back Machine (a cataloging site that I use to find ‘download links’ that have been removed)  but it doesn’t work if they’re removed from the server. Here, this is why I love Shin. I’ve developed a compulsion towards Shin’s works. I resemble a younger me who wanted to collect all the Squirtle cards from Pokemon Trading Cards, or all the Crash Bandicoot toys from Tazos. I don’t know quite why I want these things, maybe because it was unlikely I could collect em’ all. But I wanted to collect and build these models. But I can’t because I’m too late. This is remarkable for a Papercraft artist to do. This is Shin Tanaka’s notoriety. I now regularly return to his site to get his new models because I refuse to miss out.

Besides his collaborations, Shin is not connected internationally with his fans. He has no social media presence, at least not on American and European platforms (maybe he’s active on Asian social platforms), but as an Australian audience member It’s hard to search beyond my English limitations. It doesn’t help when nothing is linked to Shin’s website. He has no personal connection with his audiences except for our connection with his work. You can find a small amount of his work everywhere. But most of it is hard to find. Yet, even though his designs are temporary, there are sites and Shin ‘devotees’ that have archived potentially all of his work. I have them all now. It is perplexing that an artist, influenced by urbanism, only communicates through his collaborations. In an industry that is driven by connections, Shin Tanaka is the least connected participatory.

Gear’s Heart (歯車のハート): A Paper Automaton

Gear's Heart

The design above is called The Gear’s Heart, created by paper engineer Haruki Nakamura. Nakamura lives in Japan and designs paper automatons and toys for his company KAMIKARA. Earlier last year I found a video of his creation on YouTube called ‘歯車のハート Gear’s heart’. It’s a paper automaton made up of 12 gears that rotate three times before returning to the same position.

At first, I was dubious of what the video entailed. I had found it on a papercraft (/po/) subboard on 4chan; a site that commonly produces strange subcultures and dubious (and potentially scarring) links. But the video gave me an insight in to the the artist’s passions and motivation for creating such a complicated model. Despite the language barrier, the design alone and its movement are reasons why this videos has been viewed over a million times.

The video seems old, perhaps filmed in his bedroom under low lighting, a static hum. The red heart is poorly lit in front of saturated curtains. His disembodied arm is pointing out different aspects. He makes an effort to not enter the frame. You can sense Haruki idolises his creation even if you don’t speak Japanese. The heart is the centre piece. This video is for his creation. He rotates the handle and his creation moves. Each gear turns and the structure pulses. I’m transfixed.

‘I have to make this’ I remember thinking. I can make this. I’m going to make this.


I still haven’t made it.

The completion of such a project is itself an achievement. As is the process of transforming a 2D object into a tangible 3D object. It’s the type of construction you would expect to cost a lot of money. But the model is free and distributed everywhere online. However, the creator does offer a Paypal account to pay for an “official” copy. Although I can’t imagine paying for something when there’s a download link offered on many sources. I don’t even know if the design can be attributed to the author of the video.  Especially when Sabi996 offers it for free on DeviantArt. The model is almost a fable. It felt like I had just breached an underground subculture. Somewhere I didn’t understand aurally, but visually I was learning.



I created a blog with a 12 year old girl from Hong Kong when I was 14. I designed the graphics and wrote editorials until I was 18. It was a help blog for a game called Poptropica. Along with it, an enormous community developed from around the world, and every reader that said “Thank you”, I still cherish today.

I know firsthand how quickly a culture can become central to your life, and the people that share it. I had a passion for blogging and gaming when I was young. I struggle to find the time now. But I still have a passion for watching anime, learning about its influences on western animation; borrowing manga and feeling overjoyed or worried when they’re devised for the silver screen; and drawing, copying the styling’s of Akira Toriyama (Dragonball), chibi, online devised comic webstrips, and everything else that made me draw so harshly. These interests are a part of my identity, so much so that I sometimes wish I was Asian.

Currently, my obsession is on Pepakura or Papercraft (model). I’m fascinated with the intricate designs, the detail and precision needed to create models, and the artist’s vision to create a paper toy that conveys movement or expression through its structure. These toys are designed by artists around the world, like Shin Tanaka from Japan. I thought I could focus my research on this subculture of creativity, but I’m concerned that it is primarily an offline medium. However, it is a special art, one that is distributed online, edited, collaborated, and then printed and made by you. There are many communities and organisations designing and sharing paper models based on popular culture or original creations. I hope to discover these communities through the lens of autoethnography and share my explorations with you. I will be updating my research on Twitter which you can follow by searching #2EDIGC.