I've been thinking a lot lately about using two dimensional materials (paper) to make three dimensional animals. I made a hummingbird last week, which you can see here, but forgot to take pictures of my process, so I decided to see if I could replicate it with a different bird. Enter the owl.
I see owl everywhere these days. It makes sense, right? They're awesome, fluffy, and fierce. Everyone loves cute, cuddly owls, right? Wrong! Or, at least, partly. Owls may be every other person's favorite flying animal, but they are also horrifying soul-stealing predators of the night.
Doesn't that make you want to make one out of paper and hang it over your desk? Yeah, me too.
So your first step of business will be to decide what kind of owl you're making. I chose the barn owl variety, since they are right up there in terms of creepiness. Black, pitiless eyes? Check. Alien face from beyond the grave? Check. Let's get started!
Look up some reference photos for deciding details like feather shape and color---for barn owls, I found photos from Ron Dudley particularly useful.
Step 1: Gather Materials
- white: for the body
- brown: for accent feathers
- orange: for the beak/feet/talons
- black: for the eyes
- Aleene's Original Tacky Glue
- scrap paper for applying the glue
Hardware: (all optional)
- wire (for reinforcing feet if you want to be able to hold things in the talons
- pin and pin cushion (not pictured)
- crimping beads
Step 2: Cut Out Body
The first piece to cut out is the body. Relying on the reference photos for the shape and size, draw a light pencil outline on heavy white paper. Cut it out with the scissors and add slight rough edges to indicate feathers and the position of the legs, tail and wings.
After cutting out and detailing the first piece, flip over the body and cut out a second copy. Make sure that the outward facing sides are opposite!
Step 3: Cut Face Shape
Using the body as a guide for size, fold a piece of white paper in an "M" shape as shown and cut out a rounded heart shape. This is the basic face shape.
Step 4: Cut Tail
Again using the body as a guide for size, fold a piece of paper in an "M" shape and cut out a rough fan shape. Use the exacto knife and scissors to cut feather details (not shown).
Step 5: Cut Top Wing
The wing will be split into two parts as seen in this picture: a brown upper wing and a white lower wing. Using the body as a reference for size, draw and cut out the shape of the upper wing. Flip over the piece and cut a copy. Make sure that the outward-facing sides are opposite!
Step 6: Cut Lower Wing
Using the upper wing as a reference, draw and cut out the lower wing. Flip the wing over and cut out an opposite copy. Make sure to leave space for attaching the wing to the body, as shown.
Step 7: Cut Leg Pieces
Now comes the first big question: do you want to be able to hold things in your talons?
If yes, you'll want to follow these instructions and make a two part (adjustable sized!), wire-reinforced foot. If no, just make a one piece foot and ignore all of the wire steps.
So, to make a two part foot, cut out the top two talons and cut the third talon out separately. Again, make opposite copies of both of these pieces. Using white paper, cut out the fluffy feathers that cover the legs. Use the exacto knife to cut many fine lines in this piece to contrast with the rest of the body and talons.
Step 8: Cut Face Details
The face is probably the most complicated part. It has five pieces, in order of assembly:
- the base: the "M" folded piece, you've already cut this one out. It is the largest piece. (You'll need to cut a slit halfway up this piece to fit the beak piece)
- the bown ring of accent feathers: trace the shape and size of the base and trim a few millimeters off. Cut a slit halfway up this piece to add the beak
- black "mask" for eyes
- face: trace the brown accent feather piece and trim a few millimeters off for the shape and size of this piece. Fold it in half and cut the nose and eye shape for a symmetrical face. Use the exacto knife to cut details.
- beak: using the same orange as the feet, cut a half circle the size of the hole in the face layer but add a small notch as shown. This will allow you to slide the beak into the face layer and secure its perpendicular position by gluing it between the body layers.
Step 9: Start Gluing! Feet First.
Now you have all of the pieces, as shown in the first picture, so it's time to start gluing!
First, you'll want to glue wire into the feet since that'll take the longest.
Twist a short piece of wire into a "V" shape and glue one side to each piece of the foot, keeping a piece of scrap paper between the pieces as they dry to prevent gluing them together. Sandwich the wire between the two copies of the leg/talons, keeping the scrap paper in place.
Note: I only "reinforced" the claws themselves, but in the future I would definitely use a longer piece of wire and reinforce the leg as well.
Step 10: Glue Body
To glue the pieces, you'll want to use thin layers of tacky glue to prevent wrinkling the paper. If you're using thinner paper or if you're feeling uncertain about the placement, I recommend switching to a slower drying glue like Nori to prevent damaging the paper. Tacky glue becomes stickier (tackier!) the longer it is in the air, so if you want to time to reposition, you have to work fast. For application, I recommend using scraps of card stock cut into strips to scrape the glue into an even, thin layer.
Note: It's important to keep your hands clean and dry for this step so you don't damage the paper! Wash and dry them thoroughly when you get glue on them (which will happen).
Here is a good order for gluing:
- head pieces together (in order: base, accent feathers, black "mask", face, beak)
- head to the right half of the body
- upper wing to lower wings (upper wing on top)
- right wing to body
- tail to body
- right side leg feathers to body
- foot to leg feathers
- left side leg feathers to foot
- left wing to body
- left side of the body
Step 11: Hang and Enjoy!
Let your owl dry for a few hours (I let mine dry overnight) and then you can hang it if you like. The details for the method I used here are already published here. Your talons can be used to carry messages like the one shown above!