Playing with “Colossal Paper Machines”: 5 Questions for Phil Conigliaro


Photography by: Tae Won Yu

Reprinted with permission from “Colossal Paper Machines” © 2015 by Phil Conigliaro [Workman]. Photographs by Tae Won Yu.

1. Please tell me about yourself as a maker. How did you first become interested in papercraft?


Well, I guess it really started when I was about ten years old, though at the time I probably would have considered myself an “unmaker” or a “remaker.” It was about that time I got my hands on a screwdriver and took apart every bit of technology I could get my hands on — I really just wanted to know how everything worked. Sometimes I could put it back together, and other times I had some explaining to do.


It wasn’t until much later when I was in my midtwenties that I was working as a freelancer and in-house production artist making mock-ups of books as well as dummies and displays. One day the creative director came in with a manuscript for a pop-up book. The writer of the book wasn’t much of an artist, so she asked if anyone could make a working version of the book for her. I said, “Sure.” That weekend, I learned the basics, and from then on, I was into papercraft. It’s like a new puzzle every time I get a new project, and there are always multiple ways of finishing the puzzle, so it never gets boring.


Photography by: Tae Won Yu

2. Can you describe the process for designing the projects featured in your book?


I guess the place to start is always deciding what you want to make; from there I would look up a reference. Having all sorts of images from all sorts of angles and different models is a great way to get inspired. Once I have the reference, I would make an isometric drawing of whatever it is I am making: a front, side, and top view allows you to get all the piece sizes and shapes in matching proportions. At this point, I do what I learned when I was 10 and start taking apart all the pieces and seeing how they fit together. Once broken apart into smaller parts, I can print them and cut them out to make sure they assemble the way in which they were intended. If they go together correctly, I color them and label the pieces.


Photography by: Tae Won Yu

Make the Steamboat

3. Each project comes with a brief but detailed history lesson. Why? What do you hope readers will learn most of all?


First and foremost, I want to make sure the people who are making these models are having fun. Having the biographical pages for each machine is a great way to help people understand that, yes, these are just paper, but the machines that they are modeled after are amazing! What they do, their actual size, and their history all create a more immersive experience for the reader. I am sure different people will take different things away from this book: maybe a love for papercraft for some, or an interest in engineering for others (not just paper but mechanical), and maybe some just want a beautifully designed and organized educational toolbox.


Photography by: Tae Won Yu

4. Do you have a favorite project from the book?


Mine is the haul truck: It brings me back to the days when I was little and had a metal Tonka truck that I could play with in the sand.


Photography by: Tae Won Yu

5. What tips do you have for aspiring paper engineers?


I guess my advice would be if you try something and it doesn’t work, try it a different way. And if that doesn’t work and you get frustrated, walk away for an hour, eat a snack, and try it again a different way. Paper is such a magical thing that there is never only one way of doing something, and more important, there is no “right” way.