1 Defining Origami
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
2 The method
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.
3 'Pure' Origami
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.
4 Changing from the pure form
Shaping. - the outline of the paper is varied.
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.
Cutting- cuts or slits 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.
Modelling. - this applies to 3D models where the
material is held in curves by special techniques.
5 The changes and the arts and crafts
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
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
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
In flower folding and possible doll-making the multi-layer
technique is exploited for its own sake with little or no folding
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 simplified and presented on the form
above. 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
I do 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
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.
Bibliography. (nb. numbers are those
appearing in the text)
Title & Publisher
(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.