1085: Eric Joisel’s “Birth 3”

Eric Joisel was rare in the Origami community – he was a sculptor first, paper folder second. To him, concept was king, technique secondary – saying that however, few breathed more life into paper than him. The “Birth” sculpture series is particularly interesting as the subject is META – arising from the flat sheet , a figure fights to be born – pure genius in his hands.

Joisel's "Birth 3"

“Birth 1” was an abstract humanoid scrambling from the middle of a rectangular sheet, “Birth 1” was a prototype Gnome, and “Birth 3” was one of his signature Dwarves emerging from the edge of a rectangle. I have found no clues as to how Birth 1 or 2 were achieved, but, with some assistance (and a possible CP shared by @fishfolder I was able to have a stab at “Birth 3”.

The journey for this particular fold started in 2019 – our last International travel prior to the pandemic. We travelled to Hanoi in Vietnam. One of the pilgrimages on that trip was to a small outlet store for a village collective who were revitalising the art or making traditional Dó paper by hand. I bought a sheaf of sheets, all natural dyes from Zó Project and carefully shepherded them home in a postal tube safely tucked into our suitcase. I now had a perfect sheet for this model: Natural Dó with leaf inclusions, an almost fabric-like sheet 60x40cm. I needed the shave the deckle edge off one long side to give me a “square” reference, as the sheet was deliciously wonky – this left me with a sheet close to 1.8×1 in proportions.


Next, the protracted and painful process of laying in the creases to allow the base collapse. The first cut and the first fold are the hardest, as there is no room for error. I was determined not to lay in any unnecessary folds, to allow the otherwise untampered paper to shine. I used the 28 grid version of Joisel’s Gnome, because I like the proportion of arm:body:legs you get at this grid, but accurately laying in 28th-based creases was an exercise in measured mister really.

cut, pre-crease and collapse
Cut, pre-crease and collapse

The collapse is an “all in one” affair, the paper made this easy because it remembered all the pre-creasing I had done, and the orientation of the creases, making the collapse to base pretty smooth.

Shaping is the heart of any Joisel model. I must admit to WEEKS of messing with this. At this scale, you do not really get re-dos, so I had to plan a feature, work out how to do it and then implement it in one go. Hand and foot, face and coat all take planning and a little “by the eye” adjustment to get them just right and I am really happy with the personality of this little chap as it emerged from the paper. Certainly no 2 dwarves I have folded is the same – they all assert their personality as you fold them. I used small spots of white glue to close some of the seams, and methyl cellulose to set the paper in the shapes I had created, and the model is now quite stable.

This shy little guy is only half formed – that is the meta genius of this sculpture – he is “pulling himself together” from the sheet he is emerging from. I think I got an innocent/determined expression on his face, and am happy with the posing, I think it makes sense. It does cause you to pause and work out what is happening here – and I suppose that is the genius of the design in the first place: to make you want to invest some time understanding it, and feel something.

I have loved folding this, and would dearly love to give “Birth 1” a go, if there is anyone out there with ANY clues as to how it was folded. Lots of my Joisel work has involved investigating existing photos and notes of the original to try and nut out what was done and how. I am also indebted to @fishfolder for initial assistance and confirmation that the direction I was heading with the CP was workable.

I have no idea what I will do with the finished model, or indeed store/display it. I am, however, enormously pleased with how he turned out, and feel a little more connected to the genius of Eric Joisel in attempting to emulate his masterpiece.

Joisel’s original works for reference: “Birth 1″(1998) and “Birth 3″(2004)

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