Zack McLaughlin, a.k.a. Paper & Wood, creates hyper-realistic sculptures of birds from (you guessed it) paper and wood. Proving how versatile paper is as a material to work with, his sculptures are incredibly detailed, with even the tiniest feathers being cut by hand. Unsurprisingly, each work taking between 30-120 hours! We visited his studio to see the incredible sculptures up close, and talk to him about his process.
So, you cut everything by hand?
Is that why you’ve wrapped the scissor handles with fabric? So they don’t give you blisters?
Yeah – the handles are quite sharp on the edges!
[Zack starts snipping the air]
I just really like this pair, easy to use, good snipping action.
Good snipping action, and a satisfying sound. How many pairs do you get through a month…week…day??
I stick with them actually – I have a sharpening block. I repair them when the pins fall out, too.
That’s very sustainable of you. And you must use a scalpel for the feathering technique?
Ahhh no! I’ll show you that now.
[Zack picks up a feather-shaped piece of paper and quickly snips the edge, turning it to move the feather around]
It curls up by itself and creates a nice, feathered texture.
Amazing! What made you decide to only use scissors?
I tried scalpels, but they were ripping the paper and the lines were too straight.
Do you ever get fed up and just walk away?
Sometimes I do need a breather! I’m quite good at switching off when I’m working; I get into a zone. It’s quite therapeutic.
Unless you cut yourself.
I’ve never cut myself. I’ve had papercuts, but from packing the birds to ship and not while making them.
You must be an expert! Paper Cutting Level 100.
I think my hands are just soft from the grain of the papers.
Do you count how many individual pieces of paper go into each work?
Sometimes, and it varies. The barn owl wings are about 350 feathers per wing, and then by the time it’s finished it’ll be about 1500 feathers. It’s easier because it’s bigger; the smaller birds like the hummingbirds have the same number of feathers but they’re miniscule!
For bigger jobs I get people in – at one point I had to do 14 hummingbirds in a week, and I had to hire two people to come and help me cut feathers.
How do you plan out each piece?
I draw blueprints for each print first, and some of them I’ve made into kits for people to try making at home. I also run workshops for both paper birds and wire birds.
Do guests tend to find the workshops relaxing or stressful?
A bit stressful at the half way point – people start to get worried that it’s not looking how it should! I get like that with my work as well – it never looks like what you think it should, in your head.
So how long ago did you make your first bird?
About 4 or 5 years ago, and it was the biggest bird I’ve ever made. They just keep getting smaller and smaller!
What were you doing before Paper & Wood?
Children’s book illustration. I created the first bird as a prop to photograph and then illustrate for one of my own books.
And that was it – now you’re onto entire forests of animals!
That sparked it! I began playing with paper more and more – it’s such a great, versatile material. What you can create with it is limitless!
Speaking of forests, tell us about that cherry blossom tree in the corner of the studio.
That was made for the Jo Malone RIBA Regent Street competition with the tree full of paper blossom flowers, framed by paper wisteria, jasmine and roses and with paper fruits and animals throughout the store.
We had to look closer to realise that even the floor covered in leaves was, of course, paper leaves!
It took 8 weeks to make and install, I still have the 1,500 roses here in bags.
Any other brand collaborations you’ve worked on?
I made 14 birds in a week for Barbour’s lightweight wax jacket collection – that was intense.
Do you take private commissions?
Yes – particularly for light features and bell jar displays, and I’ve just started getting requests for Christmas tree decorations. They mainly find me through Instagram – the ultimate marketing tool for independent creatives! I’m not very good at the marketing…
Your work speaks for itself!
I’m quite lucky that there’s not a lot of work that is similar…I don’t really think about it a lot. I just want to make!
Do you ever exhibit? We think an enchanted forest complete with animals would be awesome…hint hint…
I’d love to an exhibition – an entire paper wonderland! Or an underwater scene. Or dinosaurs, and dragons.
Each room with a different theme!
I need to get someone to commission this.
For more information on Zack’s work, or to book a workshop to learn the art of papercraft and wire sculpting, visit Zack’s website.
Zack wears the Adler in Silver.