felted white deer from True Style Lab This felted deer seems like it could wake up at any moment. (Photo: True Style Lab)

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.

felted bullfrog from True Style Lab
This handcrafted bullfrog looks like it would be at home in a garden. (Photo: True Style Lab)

"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."

felt puppy from True Style Lab
Ohta makes felt replica of pets on commission, like this puppy. (Photo: True Style Lab)

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.

felted fennec fox from True Style Lab
This tiny fennec fox looks like it came out of the wild. (Photo: True Style Lab)

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.

felted degu from True Style Lab
This is a felt degu, also known as a brush-tailed rat. (Photo: True Style Lab)

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."

felted wolf from True Style Lab
Images of this felted wolf went viral, earning international attention for Terumi Ohta. (Photo: True Style Lab)

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."

baby felted elephant from True Style Lab
Baby felted elephant takes a nap. (Photo: True Style Lab)

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.

felted cat from True Style Lab
Merino fibers make up this cat's coat. (Photo: True Style Lab)

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.

felted Boston terrier by True Style Lab
This relaxing Boston terrier looks so lifelike. (Photo: True Style Lab)

You can follow Ohta's work on Instagram and Facebook.

felt kitten from True Style Lab
This handmade kitten looks ready to play. (Photo: True Style Lab)

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.