News Home & Design Artist's Hyper-Realistic Photo-Collages Merge Flora With Fauna Mixing photographs of real specimens of leaves and petals, this digital artist's works aim to invoke a sense of wonder. By Kimberley Mok Kimberley Mok Twitter Writer McGill University Cornell University Kimberley Mok is a former architect who has been covering architecture and the arts for Treehugger since 2007. Learn about our editorial process Updated March 15, 2021 01:20PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Share Twitter Pinterest Email Josh Dykgraaf News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive For a lot of artists, creative work is a way to ask questions and to nourish souls – both their own and those of others. Some artists may work with paints or watercolors, while others will work with clay or glass. The sky's the limit when it comes to the possibilities of expressing oneself and inspiring other people with one's work. For Australian photographic illustrator and digital artist Josh Dykgraaf, the tools of choice are his camera, a computer with Adobe Photoshop, plus a sharp eye and a vivid imagination. The self-described "Photoshop gun for hire" specializes in creating visually stunning photo-collages that depict fantastical creatures or even entire landscapes – meticulously assembled from photographs that he mostly snaps himself. Josh Dykgraaf One of Dykgraaf's most compelling and ongoing series of photo-collages seems to literally merge flora with fauna. Titled "Terraforms," the series depicts various animals in different poses – but as one looks closer, one can see that the scales or feathers are actually made up of individual flower petals or leaves, all skilfully made to look as if they are a natural part of the animal. Josh Dykgraaf To create his materials, Dykgraaf not only photographs landscapes that he explores, but also of leaves, flowers, and branches found near his home. These raw images serve as the basic building blocks for his impressive photo-collaged pieces. He explains that: "The key to my work is that I'm shooting the material myself, it gives me so many more options by having direct control over the source material." Josh Dykgraaf While it may seem easy to shoot some pictures and manipulate them in Photoshop, Dykgraaf's detailed approach is much more involved than one might think. To give you an idea of how much time it takes, the photo-collage of two tawny frogmouths below took no less than 55 hours – and more than 3,000 layers! (Needless to say, that is a lot of layers.) Josh Dykgraaf Dykgraaf says that these eye-catching photographic renditions stem from his deep and innate curiosity of the wider world: "My creative process is a bit like cloud gazing – like as a kid, did you ever stare up out the clouds and make out different forms and shapes among them? For example, noticing that the feathers of a bird often resemble the leaves of a tree, that magnolia petals look like scales or that rock formations look like the wrinkles in the skin of an elephant, and so on." Josh Dykgraaf This penchant for recognizing greater patterns in the details of things extends to Dykgraaf's concern about the changing climate and how it is affecting Australia, prompting him to create a new photo-collage series dubbed "Terraforms II." For instance, in order to create the image below, called "Tjirilya," Dykgraaf shot pictures of plant regrowth in the aftermath of the 2020 East Gippsland bushfires, and altered them to create this heartwarming little critter. Josh Dykgraaf Dykgraaf explains further: "For my bushfire series I set out to create something in response to the horror we saw here last year. The [2019-2020] bushfires burned out about 186,000 square kilometers (71,814 square miles) of land, and killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion terrestrial vertebrates alone. Australia has a long history of regular bushfires, but climate and fire experts agree that climate change helped create the conditions for the extreme intensity that we experienced this year. Ordinarily, when a fire burns through an area, wildlife is able to find replacement habitat nearby, but the sheer scale of these fires meant that that isn’t possible resulting in fears that a great many species were driven to extinction. Most prominently, you might have heard the news that one of Australia’s most iconic animals, the koala, is currently projected to become extinct in the wild in the coming decades. All of this became a pretty powerful driver to take the series in a different direction." Josh Dykgraaf With images that seem to suggest that all living things are interleaved with one another, no matter what their actual physical forms may happen to be, Dykgraaf's striking photo-collages encourage us to look more closely, and to marvel at the fluid multiformity of the world. To see more, visit Josh Dykgraaf and his Instagram.