From his downy fur to his dozing eyes, it's hard to believe the deer above isn't real. Instead, the lifelike creature is the result of hundreds of hours of painstaking work by Japanese artist Terumi Ohta. She has mastered the art of needle felting, creating wild and domestic animals so incredibly realistic that they easily warrant a double- or triple-take.
Although Ohta began drawing as a child and studied European and traditional Japanese flower arranging, it wasn't until about four years ago that she turned her attention to felt. The self-taught artist was drawn to animals, a subject she has loved since childhood, she says.
Now she shows and sells her work under TrueStyle Lab, a Tokyo-based studio where she also teaches workshops on her craft.
"I was born, raised and surrounded by nature and animals in Hokkaido in the most northern part in Japan," Ohta tells MNN. "I spent time with dogs, birds, fishes, iguanas and pigmy jerboas as pets in my life so far. My favorite TV programs were always related to animals."
Ohta started her artistic career making simple sketches when she was a little girl.
"I've loved drawing since I was a child. The models were wild birds from dad's garden, all my pets, and animals from illustrated books," she says.
She began experimenting with needle felting just a few years ago and immediately transferred her interest in animals to 3-D creations. Ohta uses various colors of wool to create the texture of an animal's fur or skin. She turns to clay when she creates details, such as the eyes, nose, teeth, nails and claws.
Ohta says she takes her inspiration from nature.
"It could be many things. When I walk my dog at a park and find a unique shape of trees, the shadow, moss etc., not only animals. I'm very inspired by shapes and texture from living things, including animal eyes, nose, fur ... every part."
Depending on the size of the animal she is creating, Ohta's projects can take hundreds of hours.
"Sometimes I need more than 200 hours to complete if it's a whole 3-D sculpture. If the size was bigger, it could be more."
Ohta has had her work on display at various events in Paris, London, New York, Osaka and Wales, and recently she had a solo exhibition in Tokyo. She gained a broader audience when photos of her felt wolf went viral in Japan and then hit social media worldwide.
Ohta says she has received commissions from all over the world to make replicas of people's pets or even copies of company mascots. Currently, she's on hiatus from taking new made-to-order creations because she has so much work on tap.