Insects Unearthed

Photography by Alex Sedgmond

Papercut, Campaign, Illustration, Infographics

Insects Unearthed

An immersive installation of papercut specimens that aims to captivate imaginations and get the world to care about insects.

"It's the little things that run the world."

E. O. Wilson

The brief

  • From ground beetles to butterflies, moths to stag beetles, insects are disappearing at an alarming rate.
  • In the past two decades 41% of all flying insects have been wiped out from habitat loss, climate breakdown and pesticides.
  • Disheartened by the lack of awareness about the issue, I felt compelled to use my craft to take action and get people to care about the plight of insects.

The idea

  • I programmed a digital papercutter to plot out my insects illustrations, layer-by-layer, and carefully assembled the cutouts into intricate 3D sculptures.
  • Hundreds of the paper specimens were housed in cabinets of curiosities, which were displayed in a coffee shop gallery space, located in the heart of the Welsh capital.
  • Educational infographics were used to communicate hard-hitting facts about the global populations of insects that are in decline.

The Result

  • Hundreds of wildflower seed packs were handed out to visitors to plant themselves, supporting ecosystems for insects in their own backyard.
  • The #insectsunearthed Instagram campaign gained traction throughout the event, allowing people from outside Cardiff to follow the exhibition as it evolved.
  • 10% of all exhibition sales were donated to Butterfly Conservation, a charity dedicated restoring living ecosystems and returning wildlife to its natural state.
A papercut moth and shield bug on a wooden desk with a selection of craft tools
A collection of illustrated insects by designer Ed Harrison.
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Illustrating a wealth of minibeasts

I began by researching the science of insects (known as entomology) and observing their microscopic forms. I created an illustration series of some of the most charismatic minibeasts from my readings, capturing their iconic features in highly stylized, duo-toned designs.

A papercut moth and shield bug on a wooden desk with a selection of craft tools

Bringing flat illustrations to life

I programmed a digital papercutter to plot out each illustration, layer-by-layer, and carefully assembled the cutouts into 3D sculptures. Prototyping was key. Re-working layers, adding and stripping away details, until the delicate paper specimens felt right.

A birds-eye view of a man assembling small  paper insect sculptures.
A desk with a large gridded cutting mat, with a selection of craft tools and paper insects.
Ed Harrison looking down at a papercut insect on his desk in his design studio.
Old wooden draw full of paper insects.
A black and brown papercut death's-head hawkmoth in a picture frame.

An evolving collection

The Insects Unearthed collection continues to evolve, and I am gradually releasing new papercut specimens in my online shop. Framed, packaged and flown to your door.

Ed Harrison installating a typographic exhibition title on an art gallery wall.

A living wall of curiosities

The Insects Unearthed exhibition was on display for a month. Hundreds of visitors were enticed in to inspect the insects and learn about their crucial roles in supporting healthy ecosystems and food production for humans.

A busy art gallery with an art installation showing infographics about insect extinction.

Sowing the seed of an idea

Wildflower seeds were handed out as a small, sustainable memento: an invitation for exhibition visitors to take action for insects in their own backyard.

Shoutout to the photographer

I'd like to thank Alex Sedgmond for his incredible photography. He was there with his camera to capture the project, from the early stages of the making process to the final curation of the exhibition installation.

A woman with a magnifying glass inspecting a cabinet of papercut insects