About the origami

What is origami?

Most people nowadays at least know what the word means: it's "the Japanese art of paper folding." However, what many people have not realized is just how far beyond traditional cranes and flowers origami has advanced as an art form. Origami has branched into many directions, including styles like minimalism or geometric, but the most remarkable growth is in the direction of complex representational designs. Take for example, the famous Ryujin 3.5 designed by Satoshi Kamiya.

What captivates me about origami in this direction is how perfectly it merges art and engineering. On the art side, origami is essentially the process of transforming a 2 dimensional geometric shape into a 3 dimensional figure capable of embodying emotions and movement and character--simply by adding folds. When you really think about it, it's quite magical.

But the other amazing thing is that this transformation is not purely a result of luck or the artist's skill, but there are underlying geometric rules and structures that can be carefully engineered and designed to carry out this transformation. This is where crease patterns come in.

An Origami Journey, 2021. A representation of origami's technical advancement from cranes to ryujins, while in itself being a complex technical piece.

Want to fold the sea turtle? This tutorial will show you how to fold it from the crease pattern.

Crease patterns

What are these complicated sets of red and blue lines placed all over this site? These are called crease patterns, which are diagrams that show what the model would look like if it were unfolded, describing the direction of the creases by representing mountain folds as red lines and valley folds as blue lines. They can get as complex as this, but an easy beginner cp is the one on the left here. At the surface level, crease patterns are an extremely important and useful means of storing and conveying information on how to fold a model, and can be drawn in a fraction of the time it would take to draw step by step diagrams or to make a video tutorial. The downside is that folding from one is like reading a foreign alphabet and requires a lot of practice to become fluent and comfortable.

But on a deeper level, cps allow people to understand the underlying internal structures and patterns--my favorite example is when pythagorean triangles show up. Low complexity models can be folded and designed first and then transcribed as a cp for documentation or sharing, but almost all high complexity models are drawn and planned and rearranged as a crease pattern first, then folded once the designer (who is so comfortable with cps that they can see the outcome of the cp in their head before actually folding it) is confident it will yield a base good enough to be shaped into the figure the designer desires to create. This is done partly to save paper and folding time (easily 10+ hours), but also because the crease pattern shows a layout of every structural fold of the design.

This is what I meant previously about origami being both art and engineering. An electrical engineer will draw circuit diagrams and run simulations before actually building it, a mechanical engineer will create cad models and test them before fabricating the part, and in the same way an origami artist designing at high complexity levels will draw crease patterns, test fold and run simulations for certain areas, and then make countless revisions and improvements before folding the final model.

If you want to learn how to fold from crease patterns, you might find some easy examples in the bottom shelf, or some helpful things in resources. I also recommend the crease pattern course that my friend Boice Wong has put together.

How did I learn origami?

The short and surface level answer is I started young, folded simply for fun and only when I felt like it (which sometimes included during class, oops) and improved over time as is inevitable when you do anything so often for so long. Two influential books for me that I recommend are Genuine Origami by Jun Maekawa for learning how to fold and read diagrams, and Origami Design Secrets by Robert Lang that showed me the fundamentals for methodical origami design. But what is far more important than reading or watching is to actually mess around with paper and explore things for yourself.

Also, slightly unrelated, but it is my opinion (with which some origami artists disagree) that designing original models is far more important than folding the models of others. Folding other people's models is an excellent way to learn folding and shaping techniques and to gain an sharp intuition for what works and what doesn't, but the end goal should be to be able to use those techniques for your own designs. The greatest paintors and sculptors don't just recreate the works of the artists before them, but they create new things that are creative and unique. Origami artists ought to be no different; if all we did was fold models designed by other people, we'd still be limited to cranes.

Smol Brandon, age 8, with a modular firework (not original design)

Why do I continue to fold and design?