I have felt increasing dissatisfaction with the continued reliance on traditional
origami geometry by modern creative folders. It seems to me that there are so
many interesting and alternative ways of working which do not employ the familiar
kite and diamond shapes which go hand in had with these familiar procedures. I
would like to remind you of some landmarks on the journey which creative origami
has followed to date, including some important references in origami literature.
Let us compare the advantages and disadvantages of classic styles, and then perhaps
I can suggest some new directions, which deliberately avoid these old ways, which
you may like to explore. En route we will take in some surprises (which may not
necessarily strengthen my arguments), but my aim is that you will in future question
your tried and trusted methods of working, and perhaps you may even feel a little
guilty when you next start to bisect the corner of a square to form the familiar
45/22.5 degree shapes, which in turn form the classic kite or diamond shapes of
the fish, bird and frog bases.
I do not profess to be 'qualified" as a historian of origami, but like most
devotees I have a healthy interest in the achievement of the past, and I acknowledge
a profound debt to the folders of former times, known and unknown, who have helped
formulate the alphabet and language of origami.
I am constantly amazed by the complexity and ingenuity of the Senbazuru Orikata
originally published in 1797, where the basic, classic crane design is manipulated
to staggering degree. How many lessons can a potential creator learn from this
historic work? For example note how a smaller crane is connected to a larger parent
bird by the simple means of blintzing the square which forms the smaller bird.
Look too at the extraordinarily analytical creative achievement of the system
of cutting the paper for the final tour-de-force design of mother and 96 baby
cranes from a single sheet.
In the West we are more familiar with the variation of the crane known as
the flapping bird. Incorporated in the symbol of the British Origami Society,
the flapping bird was my introduction to origami when I was six years old, and
of course I have a particular affection for it.
The Japanese crane and the Western flapping bird share the same starting shape
or base - the Bird base - which has been the genesis for so many traditional and
modern masterpieces. My colleague, John Smith, has examined the history and methods
of folding the bird base in the British Origami Society publication, 'In Praise
of the Bird Base'.
Of course the bird base is the best known traditional starting pint. bin it
is not the simplest. if we return to the square we can see that it is quite natural
to fold it in half diagonally, then to bisect the angles so formed. This gives
rise to the simplest of the classic bases, the Kite base.
The related shapes of the Diamond base, the Fish base and the Frog base follow
naturally and share the same geometry. The technique known as the Blintz, where
the four corners of the square are taken to its centre point, has enabled creative
paper- folders to develop and multiply the traditional forms, effectively doubling
the possibilities of the square.
An article by Gershon Legman entitled "Secrets of the Blintz" published by
Dokuohtei Nakano in 1972, traces the history of this technique, as well as demonstrating
the relationship between fish, bird and frog bases by a blintzing technique.
Categorization of the bases has been a preoccupation of origami authors past
and present, and I draw your attention to the important examples by Akira Yoshizawa
(Origami Dokuhon, volumes I & II); Samuel Randlett (The Art of Origami and The
Best of Origami). Uchiyama (Pure Origami); Dokuotei Nakano (Correspondence Course);
and more recently Peter Engel (Folding the Universe).
Enough of history, the importance of the legacies of these traditional ideas
is evident to us all.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Let us now continue by looking at some of the strengths and weaknesses of
using these traditional ideas as a creative tool.
- They are a convenient means for creating new designs
- They are well tried and tested
- They are reliable
- They make use of the natural geometry of the square
- A potential creator can draw on the experience of past creators
- They contain 'good moves" such as the petal fold
- Certain folders still can use them to achieve masterpieces.
- It is not truly creative to start from a traditional shape
- Their shapes frequently dictate the form of the finished model
- They are 'too safe'
- They lead to repetition and duplication of designs
- You can often recognize the starting point in a completed model.
I am personally bored of using these overworked ideas. I am disappointed with
myself when I automatically employ 45' of 22.5' geometry at any stage of a design,
and I feel sad when I see others resorting to the same ideas when there are so
many unexplored ideas to try. Sometimes I am pleased that a design may begin in
an original way, but I frequently find that the same traditional ideas emerge
later on in the sequence. What a shame!
My call to modern creators is this:- resist the temptation to fold the side
of a square to its diagonal. avoid this traditional geometry at all costs. The
benefits will be that you will push the limits of creative origami further away
and you will have no need to retrace the steps trodden by your predecessors. Furthermore
you will be working in a truly creative spirit, not limited or influenced by techniques
and prejudices of the past
I would like to cite an example of my own experience. Deeply impressed by
the Elephant of George Rhodes, published in "The Best of Origami" by Samuel Randlett,
I saw the blintzed bird base as a fascinating, door-opening device which seemed
to be the solution to so many technical problems in origami. I created a range
of animals using this starting point.
Later I watched a television programme on Australian wildlife. and was struck
by the bounding stride of a group of kangaroos. I realized that this movement
had never really been captured in an origami kangaroo, which had generally been
portrayed as a static. seated animal. Turning to my beloved blintzed bird base,
I began to work on this subject with the aim of incorporating as much movement
as possible into the finished result. The flaps and points of the base I found
too wide, and in an attempt to alter the underlying geometry of the base, I experimented
with the trisection of the angles to produce more slender graceful limbs. The
problem that I then experienced was that the already thick base became even thicker,
and furthermore when I analysed the crease pattern of the design, I found that
two of the blintz flaps were unreleased. Although the finished form and poise
of my kangaroo was reasonable, I was not prepared to accept the terrible compromises
which it held.
Taking the concept of the revised geometry of 60' and 30' which seemed to
provide the shapes and forms that I wanted, I then applied the same blintzing
principles to an equilateral triangle, which would avoid the wastefulness of the
original attempt, and make use of all the paper rather than hiding a quarter of
it away as before. The revised animal which I subsequently obtained had all the
strength of form of the first attempt, but more importantly it showed me that
the shapes I was using were far more interesting than in the traditional 45',
22.5' kite and diamond shapes which I had previously held so dear. This starting
point led me on to further animals and my creative energies were renewed by this
In response to purist criticisms that only squares should be used, I would
argue that the equilateral triangle presents an even more challenging point of
departure than the square, as it possesses fewer corners to manipulate. The culmination
of this research was the Horse design with which you may be familiar: this took
its present form after a development period of about 3 years. I believe it owes
its success to the new shapes from which it is formed, which are such a change
from the familiar forms which are so over-used.
I accept the comment that the ideas used are merely modifications of traditional
ideas, translated onto a different starting shape, but the lessons I learned from
this experience are important because I realized that the new shapes I had obtained
were sufficiently different from, and far more attractive than, the old basic
forms. I found great inspiration from this research.
Since then, I have examined other non-traditional geometries which have given
me further inspiration, both experimentally and in achieving finished designs.
I would like to share some of these ideas with you.
A logical step from the 30/60 degree style on the triangle is to apply the
same thinking to one corner of a square. This corner is thus trisected to form
a kite shape with different proportions. Obviously shapes similar to those in
the equilateral triangle can be seen. I have obtained a passable Goose (heavily
influenced by a Swan by Akira Yoshizawa) using the trisected corner square technique.
In common with many other folders I acknowledge a huge debt to Akira Yoshizawa.
whose work and 'feel" for paper I aspire towards. Yoshizawa, in his published
work makes it clear that his mastery of technique and familiarity with the capabilities
of the paper overcome the need for complex or radical new bases. He seems to be
able to achieve everything he wants from traditional bases. However Akira Yoshizawa
does not exclusively use the well-known basic forms. His books 'Origami Dokuhon
I' and 'Origami Dokuhon II' carry messages important to my arguments.
'Origami Dokuhon I" gives folding instructions for a Chick from a bird base.
In the same volume, there is a photograph of a Pelican which is decribed in folding
instructions in 'Origami Dokuhon II.' It's clear that the chick and the pelican
are closely related, the same folding method being applied to different starting
shapes: a square and a rhombus formed from two equilateral triangles. You can
see that quite different, though equally effective, results are obtained. As a
further example of this trend, look at 'Origami Dokuhon II' page 15, where three
dogs can be seen in a photograph. These are variations of a basic design, but
each folded from a different starting shape. The results are dramatically different
The International paper size known in the UK as the Silver Rectangle carries
many seldom explored possibilities. If it is "blintzed' by connecting the centre
points of each side, the resultant rhombus is the shape required to build the
beautiful Rhombic Dodecahedron, a solid which I know carries many new possibilities.
Half of this rhombus can be used to form a neat skeletal cube, and a less accurate
skeletal icosahedron. My Britsh colleague, David Mitchell, has made an excellent
origami version of the 6 piece wooden block puzzle, which uses the first stellation
of the Rhombic Dodecahedron as its basis. Silver rectangles are used to form each
piece of Mitchell's design. This work was in fact the inspiration behind my own
Double Star Flexicube, a 64-piece modular puzzle.
The diagonal of the Silver Rectangle provides the basis for many interesting
Pentagonal shapes. Shuzo Fujimoto's pentangle, and David Collier's simple pentagon
provide openings for this area of research. It is possible to make an effective
regular dodecahedron with 12 pentagons thus formed. If a silver rectangle is cut
into 6 strips which are then each divided into small silver rectangles, and the
diagonals are zigzagged onto the strip, it is possible for these to be woven into
a pierced dodecahedron. This construction has great strength and solidity as well
as making very effective use of all of the sheet.
Very recently I have experimented with diagonals of other rectangles, notably
a 2xl, to form other woven solids, and a curious flexagon which I have called
'Jacob's Rung,' in recognition of its similarity to the well-known toy, Jacob's
Finally you may consider that the Free-Folding approach is the one which repays
most study. In this style no reference points exist at all, and the folder is
required to use his eye to judge the correct position of the folds which he is
making. Eric Kenneway's notebooks of his own designs, which the Britsh Origami
Society is lucky enough to possess, are evidence of the finest examples of this
style, perhaps by definition the most taxing of all. Kenneway's Reclining Nude
and Art-Deco Girl are examples of origami translated into draughtsmanship. Here,
Kenneway is literally drawing with the edges and layers of paper. These designs
are almost impossible to reproduce to the creator's standard. In Kenneway's masterpiece
volume "Folding Faces" another example of free-folding exists, though here tidied
up and given reference points for the benefit of readers who wish to get a good
result. This is the Young Woman profile.
As an afterthought, I feel it appropriate to look at one or two examples of
contemporary designs where established bases and techniques are used to produce
radical, unusual or surprising results. These few examples are, I believe, masterpieces
because the folder will see a completely new development stemming from an unoriginal
I am particularly fond of the "Box with Diagonal Division" by Yoshihide Momotani
for these reasons: this starts from a blintzed fish base, surely the most unlikely
basis for a box! Another design in similar mould is Jun Maekawa's Box with four
divisions,' this from a simple bird base.
I also place the moving-joint Lizard by Tomoko Fuse in this category: this
doesn't use a traditional base, but the joint mechanism relies on kite shapes
and 22.5' angles.
My message to creative folders, present and future, is as follows: Leave your
traditional prejudices behind. It is your responsibility to push the boundaries
of creative origami further and further away. By staying with traditional geometry
which have served us so well in the past, you are not even opening the door of
your house, let alone venturing into exciting , untrodden pastures.
I repeat, I now feel sad or even a little guilty when I find myself laying
the edge of a square onto its diagonal, either at the outset of my design or later
on in the folding sequence. It is my hope that you may begin to feel the same