Paper engineering – inspiration to think outside the box

branding agency Melbourne

Matt Shlian. I’m not sure why I haven’t heard the name before, maybe because I don’t come from a design background, or maybe because I’m just a little slow like that, but what ever the reason, I can now appreciate that this guy is producing some seriously cool work. He calls himself a paper engineer, which immediately tells me that he is coming from a different place to a lot of other artists.

The geometric precision evident in his work reflects this idea of ‘engineering’ art.  As someone that can be quite logical in thinking and not always so creative, I find it refreshing to see art that is created from a different angle.  Matt Shlian‘s inspiration to create his paper works comes from a constant curiosity about spatial relations and the need to know how things work. In fact, he first became interested in this art when he was in school and would take home pop up books and deconstruct them to see how they worked. A typical engineering mind that has utilised his skills in a very different way.

This marriage of art and science is so unique, and looking at some of his works it is hard to believe that they are made entirely of paper. Matt created this piece when he was flown to Jordan to work on a piece for Queen Rania. Yep, he’s kind of a big deal.

4 days in Jordan

Curious as to how a guy and his origami became such a big deal? So was I.  This video compiled by record label Ghostly, who Matt works closely with, gives some really interesting insight into his thinking and his passion for paper engineering. Not to mention the awesome time lapse footage showing him make something from scratch.


What I find most interesting about what he says is that he can never visualize the finished product when he is working, and that if he could, he’d no longer want to make it. He really is just making it up as he goes along, and that mentality has got him working for some of the biggest companies in the world including Apple and Procter and Gamble. He is commissioned by the big brands for packaging design projects and even in-store experience, with Levi’s decking out their flagship Manhattan stores with Shlian’s handy work.

shlian x levis resized

The sheer versatility of his work seems to be opening the door to endless opportunities for Matt, who has even taken his skills to a small screen collaboration, working on UK comedy OopsTV which is basically a random compilation of funny and interesting clips. This 10 second clip that featured on the show suggests that Matt is having a bit of fun with his work and certainly doesn’t always take himself, or his work, too seriously.
(This clip has already had a few views on YouTube – as in over 1.7 million.)

So when he isn’t making pieces for the Queen of Jordan, iconic brands or foreign TV shows, what does he do? Matt is certainly not selfish or secretive about his unique talents, and teaches paper engineering to students at the University of Michigan. His teaching is no exception to his ‘outside the box’ thinking, once making his studentsparade down the streets of his local Ann Arbor dressed in outfits made entirely of paper which he helped create. We’re talking this kind of thing:

paper costume resized

This work offers some inspiration for a really different place to go in terms of packaging design or attention-grabbing display materials. I know I would not just walk by that Levi’s shop window.   It just goes to show what can be done with something as simple as paper when you have the right minds working for you!

Tessa Cowley
Brand Account Executive


Post a comment

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,