For some reason paper craft and/or stationery seem to creep into this blog at least once a week… When I’m not posting about home love, I seem to be posting about paper love! But I know you guys share my enthusiasm for beautiful papery creations…. and I have to say, nothing is more picture-perfect-papery than the work of Sydney-based Mr Benja Harney!
Benja = Paperform. He’s an incredible designer who specialises in custom paper engineering. I don’t even think 2 paragraphs of the usual TDF gushing can do Benja justice. His work is just seriously, totally out-of-this-world amazing.
I mean really. Crazy good, right?
Benja creates high-end pop-up books and professional paper construction for every possible application – including advertising, editorial illustration, fashion, packaging, invitations and fine art. His work is often commissioned by graphic designers and stylists for use in commercial ad campaigns and photo shoots… recent clients include Sportsgirl, Harpers Bazaar – and he’s particularly proud of the paper wings he painstakingly crafted for the Hermes windows in Sydney late last year!
In addition to being insanely talented, Benja truly seems like such a super nice guy. And if there’s one thing more impressive than sheer skill – it’s skill + hard work + niceness + modesty. Benja’s ticking all the boxes for me! “Paper is such a humble medium to work with”, he says… “It inspires and challenges me every time I sit down at my cutting mat.”
Tell me a little about your background – what did you study? What boring dayjob did you have before deciding Paperform was your destiny? What path led you to what you are doing now?
I studied Graphic Design here in Sydney at Enmore Design Centre. We had a class in rudimentary paper construction and it was here that I rediscovered my childhood love for making things out of paper. I started with a set of small pop-up books and a pop-up look book for a fashion designer friend of mine and was hooked from there on in. I have been slowly building Paperform over the last 5 years and am now at a point where I have so many wonderful jobs to work on. Paperform started with scattered jobs here and there, and I have spent many long hours and late nights working on projects to build up my client base and my portfolio to where it is today.
MAN you have done some incredible work for some seriously amazing clients..! Where might we have seen your work recently?
I have just recently finished designing a pop-up box for Smirnoff Black Vodka. I think I came with an elegant solution to the brief. I’m rather proud of that one and I love designing packaging. The Topshop/Incu collaboration was lots of fun because I was given free reign so I just got playful. The Sia album cover shoot was a laugh too. It was all about creating something for Sia to enjoy herself in and the art director who asked me to be involved is a great talent. And Hermès of course.
What do you think it is that is so magical about paper?!! Everyone uses it every single day… yet it still has such capacity to surprise and thrill us when used in an unexpected way…!
I think it has a simplicity that really speaks to us in this modern digital world. It’s like playing and kind of reminds people of childhood I guess. People love to dream about those creative times. Plus, I think people love to see just how creative one can be with a flat piece of paper! People marvel at the technical aspect of engineering something out of paper. It is certainly the technical challenge that drives me in my work.
Is Paperform just you and a scalpel? Or is it 45 trained staff and a production line?! (I expect not!) Do you outsource anything at all or get help with larger projects?
Yes! Paperform is just me and scalpel! I work from my little studio in Surry Hills and make a big mess in here. I don’t outsource anything at this point, because I’m a bit of a perfectionist about what I create. I won’t hand over anything to my clients unless it’s perfect. Its the kind of job where precision and perfection are core tennets at the heart of what I engineer. As I’m working on larger jobs, I’m finding that I will have to start outsourcing some work to keep progressing, but this would be only if things were to be produced en masse. I think things made by hand speak on some subtle level that is important to what I create. (Budding paper engineers can apply here for some work experience pls!!)
You have an incredible reputation now as Australia’s paper master! Does this mean work finds you…? Or do you have an agent? Or do you hunt people down that you want to work for?
Gee thanks! *blushes* I do love paper!! Work has found me through my creative network so far. I don’t search out clients as such, although it has been an important part of my work process. I have so many ideas about what I want to create so I seek out people who can help me realise them. I don’t have an agent either (although I’m working this at present). It’s ment that I have had to be tough in some cases about being paid what I’m worth – it can be a challenge to be a freelance creative – but ultimately the people who I work for are passionate about what they do and that helps drive me that little bit harder. I have also found that having a strong web presence has really helped raise my profile both here and internationally too. Oh and I can’t forget to mention my friends. They are very important contacts!
What have been one or two of your favourite creations?
The Hermès Christmas windows are the biggest highlight for me. To be asked to create something for a prestigious international company like them, who have such a focus on quality and craftsmanship was a distinct honour. It really put the pressure on tho! It was a great challenge to cut all those feathers by hand. But the satisfaction of seeing them in the windows made me forget all the hard work I had put in. I was over the moon! I also made a promotional pop-up books for Harpers Bazaar last year too which was another highlight of my work to date. I love making pop-up books!!
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I do a lot of thinking! I really find I need to wrap my head around a project before I get started. But then I hit the cutting mat and just start to create. There can be lots of late nights because paper engineering is a time consuming process. You have to make things over and over until it’s perfect.
One of the main challenges faced by independent designer / makers is the challenge of working alone. Do you work alone or do you share your creative space? How do you keep connected to the design community, and who do you bounce off for valuable feedback?
I thrive on the input of others. There is a great bunch of creative people in my studio who I’m always pestering for feedback. Its really important to the creative process I feel because you can lose perspective if you design in a bubble. But at the end of the day, it’s just me at my desk and I always follow my instincts. Some of the best things I’ve engineered have appeared when I do that.
Where do you turn for creative inspiration – travel, local and international design trends, books or the web etc?
I’m always searching on the net for other people who make things out of paper around the world and here in Sydney. I love seeing what they are doing and showing them what I’m working on too. I read a lot – ideas can come from anywhere really. Lots of books about anything. I think the past is something that is a major influence on my work. I love the 18th century and Art Deco/Nouveau. I find I’m always turning there to help locate elegant design solutions.
Which other designers / creative people do you admire?
Too many to mention here really. But to name a few, Thomas Demand, Robert Sabuda, Matthew Reinhart and Richard Sweeney are my paper idols. People who follow their own creative path in whatever medium they work in always garner my admiration!
What would be your dream creative project?
Without a doubt to get a pop-up book published! I’m working on a few ideas now and my main push for the next half of the year is to get them in to print. Also some furniture. I think the next step is to take my work overseas. I would love to live and work in Japan or Sweden for example. Those places and the people who create there blow my mind!
What are you looking forward to?
Being completely self sufficient with my paper construction work. I work as a graphic designer a few days a week at present. But I’ll be really happy when I can do paper construction all the time. I want to find a balance between work and leisure and travel and just continue engineering with paper for as long as it interests me.
Where do you shop in Sydney for the tools of your trade?
Art shops – no big secret here. Paper from anywhere will do.
What/ where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?
Toko or MilleVini. Tsukasa Japanese on Crown street is my all time fav tho. Its kinda ratty, but the food is the best in town and it has a great buzz about it. Sitting up at the sushi bar is a Friday night tradition for Benj.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
I’ll probably be down at Bronte beach looking at the sea reading the newspaper with some eggs and a coffee I imagine.
Sydney’s best kept secret?
Hmmm…. Corny – but my mates. They keep me smiling and challenge my brain!