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Jeff McCann is contemporary product designer, illustrator and maker based in Sydney. He believes strongly in the handmade approach to art and design with recycled cardboard featuring heavily in his work. We love Jeff's work because he uses cardboard in unimaginable ways and his cardboard bag has lasted him almost a year!


How did you come about your creative practice using recycled items?

I first used cardboard at university for a set design in my second year. The director did not want to see the brick walls in the space, so I constructed a twenty-two metre wall from cardboard I sourced from skip bins. It was then that I realised how great cardboard is to work with. It was also free and there was lots of it. 

You are known for re-using cardboard in particular, how do you make the cardboard durable enough to last?

It's a combination of design, varnish and understanding the material. There are a lot of different types of cardboard, you need to understand that it is the corrugations (flutes) that give cardboard its strength. You can then choose to utilise or exploit this when making objects. Cardboard is an extremely resilient material and often it isn't until you start to play around with it that you realise this. I also use a varnish that makes my work water resistant.

I've used my cardboard bag for the past twelve months, everyday. I walk to work, its been rained on, dropped, sat in spilt drinks at pubs and even stabbed with a fork. It's still going strong and showing no signed of being retired. 

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Tell us about the cardboard wallets and bags? These are more than artworks, they are practical too! 

Yes, totally practical. I started working on them about 3 years ago. They are made from recycled cardboard and are definitely statement pieces. For some I will hand draw an illustration onto its exterior, while others I will leave it to the cardboard and any incidental printing to decorate them. They are all one-of-kind and showcase cardboard and sustainable design.I love their versatility. They can be an everyday bag or used for those special occasions. For red carpet functions, fashion shows or a night out .

What other recyclable objects do you like working with in your creations? 

I also like to use found papers, postage envelopes I have received, lunch bags and other discarded objects that I usually find left on the street. Anything I can draw or paint on is perfect. I will often collect the object or material not knowing what I will do with it. Waiting for the right project to come along. 



What are 3 every day items that people use at home that they could re-use creatively & how do you suggest they upcycle/creatively use them?

Jars and bottles are great. I am forever collecting them and using them as vases around the house, as stationary holders or to drink from. The big pasta sauce jars are perfect.

I also use a lot of milk-crates. They can be used as plant pots, seats and little bed side tables. Most recently I have used them to make a free standing wardrobe in my flat. Just think of them as giant building blocks, there is so much modular furniture you could make.  

If they cant be bothered upcycling themselves – where do you suggest people ‘drop off’ these items besides putting them in the recycling bin so they can be upcycled instead? Are there places which accept these things? 

Yes there are places, it just depends on where you live. It might mean you have to doing a but more research. I know in Sydney there are places that rely on donations of materials like Reverse Garbage. It could also be worth wild advertising your unwanted goods/materials on Gumtree. Even just putting a sign out the front of your house could be enough.

“I find it much more satisfying to take something that was considered rubbish & turning it into something of use and/or value again”

How does your creative sustainability practice carry through in your every day life? What changes have you made to your lifestyle whilst on your journey? 

For me it has been a slow progression, but I think over time my creative practice has made me realise how we can often waste lots of money on things we don't need.

Before I go out and buy something new I will think to myself, "could I use/alter something I already have?" I find it much more satisfying to take something that was considered rubbish and turning it into something of use and/or value again. Plus if I am saving money at the same time that an added bonus.

Finally are there some creative upcycle websites you recommend to give people ideas for what to do with items they can use at home?

I sometimes look at sites like inhabitat.com and upcyclethat.com to get inspiration and see what other creatives are doing. 



Photos + interview produced by thebharanieffect - our talented photographer is Maclay Heriot.