10 Things I have Learned So Far

1. Paper is not paper

This may seem obvious but it is really not. I started this challenge determined to see what I could get copy paper to do and to my surprise it can be coaxed through many a torture.

Wood-pulp based papers are damaged each time you crease them – the crease breaks the fibers and hence weakens the paper at that point. Given most folds have common fold axes and vertices, after repeated manipulation the paper disintegrates at those points first – often just before you finish the model.

I have discovered that large format does not obviate the problem, actually it makes it worse. 80GSM copy paper is pretty fragile, the torsion of a large piece actually stresses common folds and vertices more.

I have folded with tissue foil (well, origami shop’s tissue foil which is different to laminated tissue+foil) which has a lot of cotton in it, and lithography paper – both take creases well, do not disintegrate easily and hold their shape after folding also which is a good thing. I am always on the look out for nie folding paper. Surprisingly, brown paper (as used for kitchen cooking etc) also takes folds well and is remarkably strong. I have also folded vellum (plasticised tracing paper) and it is strange – it is really hard to crease but once creased it stays creased. All papers vary in their re-foldability (the ability to take a crease and reverse it’s direction).

Most papers are hygroscopic meaning they absorb water – oddly copy paper is milled on one side which means it uptakes moisture unevenly causing it to curl and unfold. I have taken to storing my finished models in an airtight box with silica gel sachets to keep them dry.

2. Simple is complicated

This needs explaining. I once thought that the more folds, the better the model and this is often far from the truth – simple forms are often the most challenging to make. Folds that have a lot of landmark reference points are easier – those that require you to decide how big/far to fold are another thing all together.

All too often the simpler the form, the more elegant the model – it all takes discipline though. Techniques like box pleating seem almost like cheating – dividing (or breaking) the paper into tiny grids then collapsing along the folds seems easy in comparison to some of the free-form models.

Making the presentation layers (the outer, visible ones) lovely whilst taking care of internal layers also makes a model look easy, when there is much skill getting the waste paper out of view leaving nice outer surfaces.

3. Time is relative

Investing time in complicated origami seems, to some, pretty extravagant. I would actually agree, sometimes. Had I known how much time this 365 challenge would actually consume I am sure I would have balked at it. In retrospect the time taken for each model has been interesting.

I find that losing yourself in a hobby is therapeutic – losing yourself is just how it feels, when not rushed you concentrate on the task at hand and for a little while at least the rest of the world goes away. I like that. the “wow” moment at the end when you have achieved something is the payoff – albeit a fleeting warm fuzzy. With something like origami, the end product can be mesmerizing and almost belie the effort it took to get there.

I have often asked myself why I do this sort of stuff. Most recently I am fairly sure I am over-compensating for the fact that I nearly lost the use of my hands and arms due to neurological degeneration – a few years back I had my neck re-built (some titanium used to screw my head back on and fuse neck vertebrae) and ever since I have found myself drawn to ambitious tests of dexterity, almost proving to myself that I am no longer broken. Nerve pain, cramps and residual neurological damage are things I have to get used to. I figure keeping active is much better than vegetating.

4. Design Matters

Great design takes into account the media and scale/proportions of the subject. I like things that come from an uncut square but have also made models with all shapes of paper as starters (rectangles, strips, triangles, pentagons, hexagons etc). It is neither lazy nor regular to start with something other than a square, it is just different.

I am constantly amazed with the rearranging of edges to form stickey-outy parts that can be fashioned into a myriad of legs, antennae, wheels and propellers. It is the ultimate application of maths and geometry to understand the circle-packing algorithms that can be used to design even the most complex of figures. Having designed a couple of models in this challenge myself, I can only marvel at those who are more published than me – the care and attention to detail necessary in coming up with a great design is matched only by the complexity of then communicating that design to others,

Great design is all about making the model look simple, and taking care of all the waste paper whilst taking into account the actual media. What is possible and what actually works are often entirely different things when viewing the diagrammed solution and the paper implementation.

5. Mythbusters Were Wrong

I am sure I was told that paper cannot be folded beyond 7 layers. Experience has shown me that is far from the case. Most of the super-complex models assume a density of folding that would seem impossible. Pleating to expose a section that will be fashioned into a leg, for instance, necessitates multiple thicknesses that are then, in turn thinned and shaped. Keeping the layers together is another battle.

6. Technique Matters

I am attempting folds now that years ago I would have had no chance of achieving. Having mastered certain skills, I can now assess a diagram sequence and identify those areas I am going to struggle, those areas that are based on techniques successfully used in other models and those things that are new. When I first made the hoodie for example, I had never done an accordion pleat – now I see them everywhere and do not hesitate to dive in there and do it.

I like models that use a wide variety of techniques, not hundreds of the same thing (like the cobra and the hedgehog). I can often preempt the next step and fold accordingly, making allowances for bends to come. the international symbol language of Origami has gotten me out of some seemingly hopeless situations when working with designs in Japanese, Spanish and Russian. I can see what is coming next, and work out ways to get there, generally, when the diagrammed technique is not clear.

Technique matters, you cannot jump straight in to a super complex model without some folding experience. Thinking spatially also helps, being able to visualise a maneuver in 3d greatly helps as well. Coloured folds are all too often easier than all white ones – highly visible creases and obvious front-back are obvious visual cues you compromise when folding all white.

7. Precision Is Not Optional

Near enough is not good enough. I have discovered few papers are actually square – even expensive papers purchased from origami shops. I have a new respect for the humble crease, and am getting better at placing them accurately, I use finger tip pressure, finger nail or bone folder to set a crease and try to measure twice before creasing at all – it is really hard to get rid of unwanted creases.

I have begun to treat thirds, fifths, twelfths and 64ths as standard, folding pleats and pre-folding with these units of measure almost without thinking. Often when casting your eyes ahead in a design you can see a point where congestion is likely – particularly in central creases, so a little micro-adjustment of internal folds can make the difference between a successful fold and a split – paper does not cope well with tension, particularly if it is heavily creased.

I have found, apart from having fat clumsy fingers, my eyes are a problem – physically I can pleat down to a couple of millimeters but find that I have trouble seeing that small, even in well-lit situations. Some of the most challenging models have fine detail at this scale and it presents problems that old eyes and fat-clumsy fingers struggle with.

8. Paper Can Do Nearly Anything

I am constantly amazed what flat paper can be bent into. If you take the time to look through this collection of models, you would be forced to agree that the simple plane can be transformed into a symphony of shapes limited but only a few things – the thickness of the paper, the resilience of the paper and the skill of the designer in communicating their ideas.

More broadly, as I began the year focusing on origami, I have also found applications for it that go way beyond decoration and include airbag technology, stents for artery surgery, delivery of superstructures in space and as a method of low cost housing.

As art, origami harnesses imagination, takes figurative shapes and lets you imagine around them. Getting to the art is something I am just beginning to experience and the jump from merely copying to creating is a wonderful thing indeed.

9. Anywhere, Anytime

Few crafts are so portable or flexible as Origami. Leaving paper anywhere near me is an occupational hazard. I have always bent it, often into shapes that are binned almost straight away, often practicing a technique or model I really like, sometimes because I can.

Anyone can bend paper, you can start and stop at will. You do not need special equipment, there are models to suit all skill levels, all types of paper and all time durations.

10. Modular is Not a Dirty Word

Up until this 365 challenge, I have not experimented with modular origami. The branch of the art that requires you to fold lots of pieces that interlock into bigger structures is fascinating (if time consuming). I am sure I will explore this field further as I have become quite obsessed with geometric spheres and polyhedra – a direct application of the latent maths teacher inside me.

Although the 365 Origami challenge has been a huge undertaking so far, and there is still a lot ahead, I am really glad I chose to do it. I have learned a lot about me in the process of folding and blogging. I full intend to keep folding (although I doubt I will put myself through the one a day schedule again) and blogging.

If YOU have enjoyed the journey, even a little, then that is an added bonus. If you have managed to read to this point then that is also a good thing – thanks.

2 thoughts on “10 Things I have Learned So Far

  1. It’s been an amazing journey so far. I don’t think it is something I would want to try myself but I’ve enjoyed watching. It’s amazing what can be done with paper and patience.

  2. Wonko
    I have totally enjoyed your journey as have my family here in the USA. I feel extra special since you did fold 100 for our wedding day and we have the second copy of the happy couple in pride of place here. Thanks for taking us on this journey with you and delighting us daily with your wonderful art works.
    I always knew you were a little bent but now I know you are bent in all the best ways!!

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