Benja

Harney

My name is Benja Harney. I make anything and everything that I possibly can with paper.

I am a paper engineer. I love the technical challenges that focusing on one medium brings to the creative sphere. Paper is such a humble and endlessly inventive material with properties that challenge me every day.

My work is all about technical precision overlaid with strong and vibrant colour combinations. I want my creations to spark intrigue and invoke happiness.

I originally studied an arts degree at university, but was too impatient to explore the world so I left to live in London before I could finish!

I then studied graphic design at Sydney Design Centre (Enmore TAFE). It gave me a fantastic grounding in practical design application and it was the place where I discovered my passion for paper.

My studio is currently in Surry Hills in Sydney; I love being surrounded by Sydney’s inner-city creative hub.

My studio is always changing. Every new project brings a fresh round of materials that are transformed into unique paper creations. I spend a lot of time tending my plants, because caring for them puts me into a deeply relaxed state.

One day I’d love to spend some time living in my second favourite city, Tokyo. I come alive in that town. I’m fascinated by Japan’s deep culture and its quirky people. Hiking in the Japanese mountains is my happy place!

Like artwork, the key to a robust French onion soup is to put in a lot of love (and cook those onions down for hours and hours).

I think of myself as an inquisitive soul who was put on this planet to be a little quirky.

What interests me most about being a freelance creative is the chance to create images and objects that haven’t existed before.

It’s really important to dedicate time to personal work because even though I am a commercial creative, what really influences me is my own personal relationship with paper and I’m ultimately driven to create things that make me feel inspired and that feed my curiosity. Lately in my personal work I’ve been revisiting my childhood fascination with Ancient Egypt and was compelled to make this Eye of Horus.

While I’m not doing client work, you can probably find me recycling paper and organising materials. I’m really excited to experiment more with miniturisation because people are fascinated with tiny paper objects.

Most of my work starts with a rough idea that I mock up quickly in paper. Then I use a process of refinement to bring forth the final form.

I often get asked, do I get lots of paper cuts? The answer is, not as many as you would think, but it does happen. I was once doing a job in Tokyo with a very tight and high pressure deadline and got a papercut within a papercut. Not my best moment!

When creating my work, I always try to follow my instinct with regards to form and colour. I’ve also learnt that it’s usually best to walk away when you’ve hit a wall and come back to your work in the morning.

People are often surprised to learn that I don’t use a computer program to generate my designs. For me, the computer is just another one of my tools.

The best thing about working on commercial projects is responding to a brief and bringing my own personal spin to it. Each new project brings a creative challenge that I love to solve using paper. I always strive to exceed expectations, for both my clients and myself.

One of the most formative experiences of my career was the first time I collaborated with Hermès on their Sydney Christmas windows. It was 30 days of non-stop cutting of feathers to construct seven pairs of huge, delicate, paper wings. It was this project that taught me the drive and commitment it takes to be one of the world's best. You only get one shot to impress with a company like Hermès so you have to bring your finest work.

Here’s a recent installation made of paper, string and napkins that I created for Multi Channel Network’s TedxSydney 2019 stand. I loved that going with a simple idea yielded a really dramatic result.

Not long ago I flew to Tenerife, Spain, to shoot a commercial with Zara for their ‘Boxes with a Past’ initiative. It was a grueling 38 hours of travel and I went straight into the shoot with no chance to rest—but I hit the ground running. I love when everything finally comes together and the magic happens.

One of my favourite projects recently was an installation I did for R U OK? Day. The objective was to make people smile, and I think we achieved that with this whimsical shaggy piano.

The three things currently inspiring me the most are collaboration, process, and colour. I combined all three recently when I teamed up with illustrator Daniel Gray-Barnett for Facebook’s 2019 worldwide Pride campaign. The final artwork has fantastic energy!

One of my all-time favourite projects was created for The City of Sydney’s 2016/17 New Years Eve celebrations. As a hometown boy it was an honour to represent my city. Close to 600 hours went into fabricating the piece and seeing the artwork around the city and up on the bridge with over a billion people worldwide watching on the night was a very emotional moment!

I really loved creating Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite: Les Folies Tour pop-up book. I’ll always remember flying to Hong Kong and presenting the finished book to her, backstage at her concert.

Here’s another piece I’m really proud of. It was created for Hermès Germany for their 2014 Summer Surrealist Ball. These three headdresses fold together without the need for glue and I consider them to be some of my masterpieces.

Here’s some some pop-up cakes I engineered for my star baking mate Katherine Sabbath’s Greatest Hits cookbook that I’m really proud of.

The highlight of my year was recently having my work featured on the legendary Play School! I got to spend some time snuggling with Jemima, Humpty and Big and Little Ted. I also tracked down the Rocket Clock!

I was lucky enough to create work for the Breast Cancer Foundation in 2013. It was an honour to produce portraits of the featured women and be able to tell their stories.

Professional recognition is something that means a lot, because my work is full of passion and drive. Some awards currently lining my trophy room include the FBI SMAC 2012 Best Artist award. This is one of my favourites because I was voted in by my peers.

In recent years I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to speak at some amazing events and conferences, such as:

Semi Permanent (Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland), Graphika (Manila), Bubble and Speak (Brisbane), CreativeMornings (Sydney) and Vivid (Sydney).

That’s me! If you want more, check out my full folio and Instagram. Got a brief? Contact me and the good folks at Jacky Winter.

With Jacky Winter you work directly with the artist alongside a hands-on producer—it’s a power-up for your artwork commission.

With Jacky Winter you work directly with the artist alongside a hands-on producer—it’s a power-up for your artwork commission.

With Jacky Winter you work directly with the artist alongside a hands-on producer—it’s a power-up for your artwork commission.