FOR John Duncan, “painting” is different than it is for most people. Instead of using a canvas and oils, he does something totally unique to create his masterpieces—he cuts cotton paper into thousands of intricate little pieces that are used to build incredibly detailed renderings of homes, churches, buildings and other architectural scenes of the Lowcountry.

Artistic since he was a child, Duncan was always drawing pictures for himself and for his family. Then, 25 years ago, he created pen-and-ink drawings of storybook buildings for his nieces as Christmas presents. He copied the drawings and then painted the originals, never imagining what might eventually become of those copies. A few years later, he began experimenting with ways to make them three-dimensional.

Over the years, Duncan’s technique has become more refined, and he has been commissioned to re-create homes and buildings all over the country. Even so, his favorite subjects are the historic homes and iconic architecture of Charleston. Wielding an X-Acto knife, he cuts out countless details to create the structures, building them up to give them dimension and using watercolors to bring his work to life. Each piece takes up to 200 hours to complete before it is set into a 3-inch-deep frame.

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