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Some notes on Minimal Folding

Folders may have heard the term 'Minimal Folding' and wondered what was meant. It all started with the following item by Paul Jackson which appeared in the British Origami Magazine (BOM) 158 .

"An Elephantine Challenge. In BOM137 (August 1989), 1 wrote in a Letter to the Editor that it would be an interesting challenge for technically adept creators to try to create models that were as simple as possible, perhaps trying to design an elephant with 7 folds instead of 70. The gist of my argument was that "less'' is as hard to achieve as "more" sometimes harder.

Philip Blencowe responded to my comments by creating a 7 fold elephant, which he kindly forwarded to me. The matter might have ended there, had 1 not visited 'The Friends' Convention in New York this year (1992) and spoken at some length to Marc Kirschenbaum. Marc's creations are extremely complex and idiosyncratic, and I was interested to know if he had ever tried "minimal'' folding. He said that he had not, so I gave him the example of Philip's 7 fold elephant and challenged him to create another (Marc had previously said that he liked a challenge)."

Paul included Elephant diagrams for elephants by Blencowe and Kirschenbaum. I was fascinated by this challenge and wrote the following comment which appeared in BOM 159.


I was delighted to read Paul Jackson's contribution An Elephantine Challenge" in BOS 158. Simple models of merit are very difficult to create and yet are needed by teachers particularly where they are helping the disadvantaged, and by beginners. For my part 1 find something satisfying in well thought out but simple models, they have a charm all of their own. I came to the view that one way to keep models simple was to only use mountain and valley folds. In 1978 1 put forward this argument and called the simplifying constraints "Pureland''.

Paul has put forward the idea of constraining the number of steps or folds or seeking to minimise them. This seems to me a fascinating and challenging concept. I think, however, that the idea of limiting the number of steps should be rejected. Thus we could require the sinking of a waterbomb base as a step, but this entails managing 8 folds simultaneously, hardly a simple step. I believe the limit should be on the actual number of folds required for the model. Thus a reverse fold will normally require 3 folds as Paul points out. The great beauty of Paul's idea of limiting the folds is that the creator must necessarily choose the simplest route.

But can we make one more simplification? . . Why not choose a limit to the number of folds irrespective of the model. I would suggest 11 which leaves room for a reverse fold or squash if the creator feels this is necessary. There is something reminiscent in this of Haiku poems which are only 17 syllables long yet many have sublime beauty (so 1 am told)."

Many thanks Paul for beginning this movement long may it prosper."

Many more models appeared in the BOM in the following months and the movement came to be known as Minimal folding. In all at least 40 creations were sent to Paul Jackson.

In BOM 162 I tried to summarise the ideas and benefits of minimal folding.

"I have discussed in previous papers the ideas of seeking constraints and then seeing what happened if these were broken. In general constraints are of two kinds.

1 Those which are beyond our control: for example, the fact that a node of straight folds must follow certain conditions to be able to flatten it.

2 Those which we choose to follow: for example - not cutting the paper, or in the case of Pureland not requiring more than one fold to be created or manipulated at a time and the use of landmarks.

The adoption of a new set of constraints necessarily leads to a new approach and possibly a rich new harvest of technical and artistic possibilities. This has certainly happened many times in painting for example, and indeed in music. The idea of seeking the minimum number of folds to achieve a representation of a given form has a remarkable impact on one's thinking and technique and the way in which other people may be encouraged to try Origami. I have found the following to be of particular importance.

a. Since the folds are to minimised, every fold needs to play its full part. This means getting the most out of a move, for example, by folding off- centre one can suggest 4 legs straight away. This need to think about every move has been a revelation to me.

b. In many cases the folds cannot be located easily by reference to equal divisions of an edge or crease line. At first glance this seems to mean that it will be very hard for children to fold a particular model, but in fact I think the reverse is true. Every minimal fold of this type is a unique event, in fact it is almost impossible to fold exactly the same model. But why try to follow exactly what the first creator has done. In many cases, with faces and animals, the variations possible are enormous and can encourage a creative approach. With regard to folding faces a very slight change in the angle of a fold can lead to a remarkable change in appearance or expression. For children this should provide endless opportunities for creativity (and amusement).

c. Where folds can be located exactly then the models are usually simpler than the normal classical material as there are fewer folds and each fold is very simple.

d. Since the result we are trying to secure in Minimal folding will not employ complex folding to obtain the right number of legs, etc., it must achieve its results by suggesting the final form in a powerful way. It requires the appreciation of the very essence of structure and form.

e Simplicity seems to be a highly desirable goal in paper folding. I think minimal folding is an important help in seeing our art in a new light.

To sum up: the adoption of minimal folding opens up a rich and important field in Paper Folding. It may in due time add a great deal to the more usual approach of achieving an effect irrespective of the sheer number of moves required and the complexity."

 I have included some of my own minimal folds.


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