Recent attempts to define Origami have prompted me to reconsider the problem as one in which the individual’s view of Origami itself constitutes a definition. By showing the individual’s view as a graphic profile one can see how such common ground there is amongst folders. This seems a more fruitful approach than trying to supply an authoritative definition.
The idea is to provide a diagram which shows towards its centre the ‘purest’ form of Origami and indicates ways in which this limited pure form can be changed to increase the range of effects or technical opportunities. On this diagram a line can be drawn within which the acceptable variations for an individual will lie.
The term ‘pure’ is not meant as a judgement but simply to express the restriction of material and techniques to the minimum from which variations are most easily shown. In its most limited form only the technique of folding should appear – without this we should have no Origami. Clearly the material used should be capable of being folded and retaining a fold. Since we wish to choose a minimum we should demand that our material is of a single colour only , i.e.. that all effects must be achieved purely by folding. Of all the shapes we can choose the most fundamental and simplest is to be preferred. A circle does not sees to me really acceptable because Origami involves straight line folding. I prefer a square which is the first fully symmetric even-cornered regular figure and in many ways the most elementary of the perfect figures. Thus I shall use a square of single colour as the centre of my chart – it would not change matters very much to use a circle or triangle but I prefer the simplicity of the square.
Changing from the pure form
We can distinguish 8 ways in which the centred method of folding (the ‘pure’ form) can be varied. These are shown in Diagram 1 and will only be briefly defined here.
Shaping. – the outline of the paper is varied.
Slitting. – cuts are used.
Supporting. – additional materials are used to hold or change the shape of the final model.
Multilayers. – 2 or more sheets of material are folded together; in the final model the separate layers are used to create special effects.
Multi Sheets. – the model consists of 2 or more separate sheets which are each folded and then brought together for the final model.
Lengthening. – the Square is ‘stretched’ in one direction, that is it becomes a rectangle and so on.
Decorating. – the Square is textured or patterned either before or after the creation of the model.
. – this applies to 3D models where the material is held in curves by special techniques.
The changes and the arts and crafts involved
We can now consider in detail the physical changes involved in each of the 8 ways defined and the art concerned. At some point or other an individual will no longer consider that the art involved is Origami and hence that would be a boundary for his or her profile..
Diagram 1 also shows the results graphically of moving away from the ‘purest’ form of Origami in each of the eight directions. In some cases I have marked the art as ‘open-ended’, for example paper-cuts. By this I mean that we no longer have a closed system typical of Origami in which a procedure exists to create a model and can return to the starting point. It is arguable that it is the closed-system through which can some- how break, that is the real characteristic of Origami.
Regular figures such as triangles, pentagons are well established for Origami. Kent du Pre (4) has done such work on Symmetric figures such as stars from which flowers can be folded. Irregular figures have appeared occasionally, but the most extreme form occurs in Paper Magic (1) with Rolf Harris’s models. Silhouettes (2) have no restrictions in the Origami sense and are of course closely related to paper cutting.
In its simplest form cuts are made prior to folding in a symmetric and planned way which will ‘open up’ the material available without the need for excessive thickness. The most recent mention of the techniques is by Toshie Takahama who refers to it as Kirikomi and distinguishes it as typical of very early Japanese Origami. (3). Uchiyama is reported (5) as receiving a patent in 1908 for ‘KOKO’. style origami which appears to be the same in concept. Japanese books are full of slitting to achieve ears or a tail or even legs. Perhaps one of the most celebrated examples of theme ‘slits to avoid folding’ is in Fred Rohm’s Circus pony (6) in which 2 cuts are made, one for the ears and the other to give enough points for the legs. Rohm folded his Circus pony without cuts but the technique is then much more complex. Thus we have 2 motives for cutting appearing here; one to create new opportunities and the other to avoid the complexities of a model achieved solely by folding. The cutting out of holes etc. to indicate eyes and so on is sometimes found in Japanese books and we are obviously dealing with a technique which is becoming open-ended. When we fold in a symmetric way to prepare our paper for cutting the folding has obviously become secondary (2). Honda has called this kind of paper-craft Mon-Kiri (which means crest-making) (7). The last step in the slitting or cutting is paper-cutting, some of the finest examples are probably from China and clearly here we have an open-ended Art form (8).
A way of moving away from the ‘pure’ central form is that of supporting or adding display mechanics to the models. In its simplest form we may use glue , staples or ‘blue tac’ to hold a model in the desired pose and position. Or we may use wiring or card. The most unusual form of ‘display mechanics’ that I am familiar with is by Toyoaki Kawai (9). In a corner of the Livelihood Industry Pavilion at EXPO’ 70, electricity was used to make Origami pigeons flap their wings.
It is now usual in animal folds to call for a final modelling particularly when foil has been used and one can be sure of the material remaining in place. A modern example of this is in Pat Crawford’s models (10). Neal Elias who probably led the move in the West to 3D insists on any modelling following the folding (11) The technique of wetting the paper appears to be Japanese in origin was demonstrated by Yoshizawa at a Convention in Birmingham (12). Another method of wet moulding using paste in the preparation is discussed by Alice Gray (13) she was shown it by Yoshizawa during a visit to Japan. The folds tend to be soft and we are approaching sculpture rather than Origami. In the most extreme combinations of water and paper we are, of course, in the world of papier-mache which is clearly an open-ended art.
The simplest step from a single colour is one side coloured and one white or plain. A great deal of modern Origami exploits this colour difference. A delightful example is Joan Homewood’s Robin (14). We can use the texture of our material which need not even be foil or paper. Neal Elias collects patterned foil and has shown models in 3 colours which depend upon choosing the right pattern and cutting his material to get the colour exactly where he wants them. A more restricted form of decoration occurs in Japanese papers which are already printed with a design suitable for a special model. The end of this process is evidently the decoration of the final model and thus into the decorative art proper which is open-ended.
By stretching our square we obtain rectangles then ribbon and finally string. The associated arts are Weaving and Macrame which are open-ended. However with string we can have ‘Cats Cradles’ which is a closed-systems game with direct analogies to Origami.
Toshie Takahama has produced some superb examples of this variation of Origami (3). The sheets of paper are folded together but usually opened at the end to show the multi-layers usually with different colours. In flower folding and possible doll-making the multi-layer technique is exploited for its own sake with little or no folding involved.
Isao Honda (15) was probably the first to publish techniques involving 2 separate sheets of paper each folded to represent some part of the animal and then brought together. The idea may well be traditional; if not in the way Honda uses it – see for example the Pagoda in Paper Magic (1). Recently kits have appeared for folding a dragon from a number of squares of different sizes. Probably the next step in this direction involves in collage using Origami objects. See Takahama (15 16) for some beautiful examples. Clearly we are now in an open-ended art.
The previous diagram is condensed and presented on the form on the right. It is on this that we can draw our profiles. To make the profile as clear as possible a circle has been drawn at the centre and this is the minimum value of the particular characteristic and this defines the ‘purest’ form of paper-folding. Here is my profile as an illustration and not with any claim that my view of origami is the ‘right’ one. The line is drawn so that the steps inside the ring are those that I would normally accept as Origami from my point of view.
I not consider cutting to be paper-folding so my profile line goes to the centre boundary. I dislike the artificiality of using non-folding means of supporting or presenting a model so again my line follows the centre boundary. I am willing to accept modelling but prefer it to be induced by folds (Curio) and not made by wetting, so the line is a little way from the centre circle. With regard to shapes I am happy with triangles but very rarely consider polynomials with more than 4 sides.
Rectangles seem sensible to me but I mainly use A4, I am not very happy with using tape. Using the different colours or patterns on the two sides of my paper is wholly acceptable provided these are not specific to a particular model. On the left below I give a profile of Origami in its earlier days in Japan. On the right I suggest a diagram which might be the view of a keen modular folder
Now have some fun and on the diagram provided draw your own profile. I look forward to your comments.
John. S. Smith
(nb. numbers are those appearing in the text)
(1) Paper Magic by Robert Harbin – Oldbourne Press.
(2) Cut Paper Silhouettes & Stencils by Christian Rubi – Kays and Ward.
(3) Creative Life with Creative Origami II. by Toshie Takahama – Tokyo.
(4) The Origamian Vol 6 issue 2 – Origami Centre USA
(5) The Origamian Vol 4 issue 1 – Origami Centre USA
(6) Secrets of Origami by Robert Harbin – Oldbourne Press.
(7) Mon-Kiri by Isao Honda – Japan Trading Pub.
(8) Chinese Paper-Cut pictures by Nancy Kwo – Academy Editions.
(9) Origami by Toyoaki Kawai – Color Books (Hoikusha)
(10) Origami a step-by-step guide by Robert Harbin – Hamlyn.
(11) British Origami No 24 1971 – BOS
(12) British Origami No 37 1972 – BOS
(13) The Origamian Vol l3 issue 2 – Origami Centre USA
(14) More Origami by Robert Harbin – Hodders paperbacks
(15) The World of Origami No2 by Isao Honda – Blanford Press.
(16) Creative life with Creative Origami by Toshie Takahama – Tokyo.
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