Anatomical Quilling: Paper Cross Sections of the Body

Artistic renderings of the internal body, from anatomy books to fine art, are often poorly communicated versions of real-life. These paper creations by Lisa Nilsson, however, create the perfect balance of aesthetically pleasing detail and scientific accuracy… even though they’re completely made with strips of paper. Created using the paper-crafting technique of quilling, originally used by Renaissance monks and nuns to make artistic use of the worn out gilded edges of Bibles, Nilsson has curled and twirled some remarkably detailed and tiny pieces. Why does paper make these pieces so enjoyably perfect?

“I find quilling exquisitely satisfying for rendering the densely squished and lovely internal landscape of the human body in cross section.”

“Densely squished” is a very accurate term, as her pieces are often only a few inches across. The close-up images shown here do a good job showing the impressive level of attention she pays to each internal shape, appearing much larger than the real-life pieces. Viewed from a distance, the pieces loose their strictly paper based form and look nearly photographed or drawn. You can see more of Nilsson’s creations, including paintings with just as much attention to detail, at


Above: A detail of “Head and Torso” showing the sinuses, front teeth and tongue.
Below: “Head and Torso,” measuring a tiny 9 x 13 x 1 inches

A detail of “Abdomen” showing the spinal cord within a gold vertebra.

“Thorax” This piece represents a cross section through the chest. It is life-size. The heart is encircled by the lungs which are caged by the ribs. The very bright white spot in the center of the gold vertebra is the spinal cord. 21 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches

A detail of “Thorax” showing the humerus within the muscles of the upper arm.

A detail of “Head I” showing the sinuses.

“Head II” This piece represents a cross section of the head at the level of the eyes. It is life-size.
The beautiful white cross leading from each eye to the brain is the optic nerve.

A detail of “Head II” showing a cross section of the brain.

“Female Torso”

“Male Torso”


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