Top image – Silver Gull. Ink, water colour, archival cotton paper, cotton thread, copper pipe, timber block. Bottom images – Pigeons in Jars. Sewn paper, ink, wood block, brass rod, glass bell jar.


Galah – Ink, watercolours, archival cotton paper, cotton thread, brass rod, timber plinth.


Black Angus – cotton paper, thread, copper pipe frame. Isn’t he just stunning?


Horse in a Timber Box – archival cotton paper and cotton thread.


All you paper lovers out there – rejoice! I have a little treat for you today. Anna-Wili Highfield is a Sydney based artist who makes absolutely stunning sculptures of animals using torn paper and copper pipe. Anna-Wili grew up in Sydney and, as the daughter of a puppeteer, she spent her childhood surrounded by theatre. She was taught at an early age the art of making puppets. In 2007 Anna-Wili turned her attention to sculpture. Since then, her work has been featured in numerous Australian publications and her paper sculptures have travelled to the homes of people in Sydney, Melbourne, Paris, London and Toronto.

Anna-Wili’s delicate paper creations are sculpted from archival cotton paper which she tares then patiently saws together. Her lovely copper pipe sculptures are reminiscent of line drawings and sketches. Anna-Wili told me that she doesn’t have a sketch book – she never draws her pieces first. Instead, she simply feels her way through the process and allows the materials to guide her towards the final product. Before she starts her work, she simply has no idea how it will look until the material is in her hands and before she can see relationships between the pieces. I find this way of working absolutely fascinating. As you can imagine, interior designer’s process is entirely different – our days are spent sketching, developing and documenting the exact details of the end product, and leaving almost nothing to chance. It would be just incredible to be able to create by simply feeling materials and the space. Perhaps we will be able to do it one day with all the changes that are happening in 3D technology.

Thank you so much for your time Anna-Wili, and for sharing your story and your incredible talent with yellowtrace readers.

x dana

Some shots from Anna-Wili’s gorgeous Sydney studio.


Superb Fairy Wren – ink, water colour, archival cotton paper, cotton thread, brass rod, timber block.


Ann-Wili, welcome to yellowtrace and thank you for taking the time to share your story with us. Can you tell us about how you got to become an artist?

As a kid I thought I’d be an artist. I was encouraged because it came naturally. I was hopeless at everything else in school. After school I went to The National Art School, wondered if I really wanted to be an artist, then I painted for Opera Australia. And then finally developed an art practice that made me confident and excited and I think that that was when people began to notice my work.

What you are seeking to portray in your work? How do you describe your art?

I guess that I am seeking to portray a portrait of a creature and the spirit that animal embodies. I’m a figurative artist but I’m not interested in depicting people. I’m inspired by nature and the materials I use.

Can you describe your typical day of work?

I have a three year old, so can’t be in the studio all the time. Having her has made me really diligent and productive with the time I do have. I go to the studio. I play some music (Nick Cave, Will Oldham, or some piano music),  I look at images, stain the paper, tear paper, and then I start to sew a creature together. I don’t do any drawings or planning. The materials are what inspire me. My sculptures work by my looking at the relationship between pieces.


More shots from the studio showing Anna-Wili’s tools of trade.


Creative people often find it really difficult to network and promote themselves – how do you approach this side of your work?

I’ve found that having a website is an amazing tool for showing my work without having to use too much self promotion. It is much easier for someone to visit a website than a gallery. People are wonderfully curious. Then you can let the work speak for itself.

What are some of your main sources of inspiration?

Bird books, art books, nature, even google images.

What other artists/ creative people/ peers do you admire?

Nick Strike’s studio installations. Tania Castaing’s floral paintings, Simon Yates’s mechanical people, Simon Cavanough’s clouds, Agatha Gothe-Snape’s posters, Bianca Spender’s attention to line and detail, Sibella Court’s extension of nature in her aesthetics.


Left – Magpie. Ink, archival cotton paper, cotton thread, brass rod, timber block. Right – Jacky Winter in Jar. Ink, Water colour, archival cotton paper, cotton thread, brass rod, painted wooden base, glass bell jar.


Barn Owl – Ink, water colour, archival cotton paper, cotton thread.


What advice do you have for young artist who want to follow your path? What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting out?

To make more than think. Ideas come from making. To have a website so that you can independently have your work seen.

Is there something professionally you would like to try that you haven’t done yet?

I think I’d like to try ceramics.

What are you working on at the moment?

Australian birds for a show in the Anthropologie Gallery in the Rockefeller Centre. I think that the next one I make will be a cockatoo.

What’s next – can you share with us your vision and some of your goals?

If things keep on going the way they are now, then I’d be happy. I’m pretty excited to be receiving a little international attention. A French publisher just asked to include my work in an art book. That is pretty exciting. Who could ask for anything more?


Left – Sewn Horse. Sewn paper, pins, wood block. Right – Run Away Carnival Horse. Sewn egg carton, brass rod, wooden stand.


White Breasted Robin – Ink, watercolour, archival cotton paper, cotton thread, brass.


Let’s Get Personal:

What is the thing you most like about yourself?

A sense of humour and honesty.

What is the thing you most like in others?

As above.

Apart from your work, what other interests or hobbies do you have?

Making things, anything – sewing, ceramics. Swimming in the surf.


Left – Brahminy Kite. Ink, water colour, sewn water colour paper, copper rod, timber block. Right – Willie Wagtail. ink, archival cotton paper, cotton thread, brass rod, timber block.


Night Mare – Ink, archival cotton paper, cotton thread, copper pipe, timber block.


What are some of your favorite shops {fashion, home wares, stationery, collectables, antique etc} and galleries?

Mitchell Rd Auction house and the antiques & collectables emporium upstairs.

Your favourite cafes/ restaurants/ bars?

I just went to New York. I can’t forget the margheritas at Barrio Chino.

What is your most treasured belonging?

A beautiful sculpture of a cloud that my husband Simon Cavanough made for me. It is my most favourite object.


Cloud sculpture is Anna-Wili’s most treasured belonging.


Left to right – Horse in a Box, Turtle & Deer {Copper pipe, palm bark, driftwood and enamel}.


It’s not very cool, but I really like…

The things I like seem cool to me – piano music, birds, natural fibres, russian writers, aging musicains, the once romentic poets that are still rockers but laugh at themselves now – Nick Cave, Leonhard Cohen, Will Oldham (maybe he’s not that old), Warren Ellis.

How would you like to be remembered?

I wouldn’t entertain the idea of immortality through art, but I’d like to be remembered as an artist. As a mother, wife, friend, personality. I hope my archival cotton paper lasts longer than me. Or maybe I hope that I last longer than archival cotton paper. That’s confusing.


Flight Over Block – ink, water colour, cotton paper, thread, brass rod, timber block.


Giraffe & Unicorn – copper pipe.

About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

14 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Melissa de la Fuente

    Oh wow….I am in love. These pieces are absolutely incredible and so up my alley. Such gorgeous work…I love this interview and anyone who prizes honesty and a sense of humor is a-ok by me! Also, the cloud piece by Anna’s husband is beautiful, I can see why she treasures it. Thank you so much for this ladies! It is my fave.

  2. Avatar

    Gorgeous interview. So much depth and insight. I love Anna-Wili’s work and yours too Dana ;) Congrats on an awesome post. xx

  3. Avatar

    Now, you see, this is the kind of blogger I want to be when I grow up – what a super post! You’re adding something of value to the internet and that is something.

    My god, this woman is talented! Her work is beautiful. Thank you for sharing her.

  4. yellowtrace

    Thank you so much for your comments Melissa, Justine and Heather. I really appreciate your encouragement, and I am sure that Anna-Wili will love reading your feedback.
    x dana

  5. Avatar

    Beautiful post and excellent interview. I especially like the Barn owl and horse (Night Mare and Unicorn–copper pipe) Thanks for posting!

    • yellowtrace

      Hi Robert,
      Amazing work, isn’t it? Please get in touch with Anna-Wili through her website (the link is in the post) and she will be able to help you.
      Cheers, Dana.

  6. Avatar
    Miss Heliotrope

    Love her work – it is so beautiful, especially the birds, which seem fragile & strong, as real ones do –

    & surely it is fairy wren, not fiery?

  7. Avatar
    Deborah Kommalan

    I ran across this website while looking for bell jars. You never know! I am an artist, a painter. I admire this work greatly. I’ll visit Anna-Wili’s website for sure.


Leave a Reply