The Fitful Flog

April 10, 2010

Again with the Smart Waterbomb

Smart Waterbomb in Mesh

Himanshu was asking the other day about how curve folds were made and I did what I usually do, respond with a text description of what I think I’m doing when I fold curves. But I’m always aware, this is not a very satisfactory way to explain it.

The Smart Waterbomb is a simple model, which is not to say easy. A thing may be both simple and difficult. This model has 12 folds in it and no reverses — that’s pretty not complex. And it holds together well. When I try out a new paper, this is one model I always fold, to see how the paper will support a curve. It’s easy to memorize the sequence of folds.

Anyway, I’ve made a video of it, so that you at home can fold along with me:

It probably bears mentioning that Californian folder, Chris Palmer, made a model that bore some similarity to this one, some years previous. Whenever you enclose space with radial symmetry, you will have this issue. As we often say, when we’re affecting wisdom, there’s nothing new under the sun. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share new ways of refracting the light.

March 20, 2010

Origami for the People Challenge

Fire Hydrant Pinwheel

Christiane Bettens, Christine Pape and Philip Chapman-Bell, the administrators of the Origami for the People flickr group…

…cordially invite you to participate in our first annual Feast of All Fools Challenge.

The Origami for the People group page.

From now until 23:59 April 1, 2010, Greenwich Mean Time.

Really, that’s very complicated. Let us say for the glory of it and leave it at that.

In spite of the timing, there is no special theme to this challenge. Origami for the People is a group that encourages and documents the unsanctioned placement of origami in the public sphere. (That is, we leave models in public without asking permission first.) We value the aptness and/or the unlikeliness of the model to the placement.

We require geotagging on the photos submitted to the group, so that we can view the results on a map or on Google Earth. If you’ve never geotagged before, there’s a little tutorial on how to do it — it’s easy.

In order to enter, you should: 1) geotag your photo; 2) attach the tag OPPchallenge2010; 3) and submit it to the group. (You have to have a flickr account and join the group to submit — it’s fine, you can quit later if you don’t like it.)

There is a limit of three entries per person, so choose your installations with care.

The winning entry will become the group avatar until the next challenge. If that’s not glory, we don’t know what is.

Special bonus challenge:
A special, as-yet-undetermined prize will be awarded for the first verifiable photo of an origami penguin in Antarctica or of an origami polar bear above the Arctic circle. (Id est, no Photoshop — you have to be there in the flesh to take the photo.)

The administrators encourage you to spread the word — please feel free to translate this challenge and repost to other forums and/or mailing lists.

(And since you read this far, you can have some sketches I made towards diagramming the model above.)

January 13, 2010

Victoria and Albert

This is the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, London, UK. I can’t say I know much about it, but you can read up on it by clicking the photo above — it will take you to the Wikipedia article. I mention it here because someone who works there recently blogged about this blog and it caught my eye. Mainly, because the author mentions me in the same sentence as Robert Lang, which almost never happens. In fact, there is only one other documented occurrence of it ever happening: a year and some back, through a series of improbable accidents, I was having lunch with a group of famous folders in a ramen restaurant in San Francisco’s Japantown. Famous folder, Joseph Wu leaned across the table and stage-whispered, “Philip, your elbow is in Robert’s soup — it’s considered very rude.” And I thought, “Man, the Japanese got rules for everything.” But as the soup was uncomfortably hot, I did move my elbow and quickly made small talk, to cover my étourderie. Well, that aside, the blog entry is on design and how drawing your ideas affects the finished product. Interesting stuff, recommended to your attention.

Much More Plausible Box Much More Plausible Box

Speaking of finished product, yesterday, I folded this, the Plausible Box, on the bus, while chatting with an old schoolmate about what we’d been up to the last twenty years or so. Martha said, “I’ve seen you folding on the bus — you keep folding things, then take them all apart and fold them again.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s my design method. Take it apart, reconfigure, recollapse. Eventually, it will work.” This one works for me. Give it a try — it’s based on the 3×3 tato. Here’s a crease pattern.

December 3, 2009

I Ought to Be in Pictures

Our subscribers by email will be seeing a whole lot of nothing, here. But if you click on the title link, it will bring you to this post and some cool video instructions for the Iso-Area Double Masu.

Which is a variation on Toshikazu Kawasaki’s Iso-area Cube from Kasahara’s and Takahama’s Origami for the Connoisseur. Not that this model is in that book or that Kawasaki ever folded it. It is, to my knowledge and belief, a new variation. I deem it sufficiently different, both in shape and in folding method, to qualify for status as its own model. Your mileage may vary.

November 24, 2009

O or Non-O?

This is Vincent Floderer demonstrating his crimp method of folding a mushroom. It came to my attention on the that directory of wonderful things, bOING-bOING, where it was posted under the heading, Perfect mushroom origami. I’ve never seen Floderer fold before, though I’ve admired his work for some years. This is brilliant stuff and well worth investigating.

The reason I’m posting it here is that the post was followed by a flurry of comments by people saying, very nice, but it’s not origami — it’s papercraft or paper sculpture or maybe something like papier maché. When it was objected that this kind of folding was widely accepted within the origami community, there were comments about modern origami and how it’s not classical origami and so on.  Classical? We had a classical period? Does he mean the Tokugawa?

What these well-meaning folks meant and could not articulate was that Floderer’s folding did not fit with their concept of origami.  The Internet was made for such opinions — nothing slips through the tubes faster than informal fallacy. I sympathize: I am full of opinion. Half the time, I’m not even aware I have an opinion on something until people ask me and then it just comes out. Once, I was at this bus station and a Nestorian bishop walked up and asked me how I felt about the filioque controversy. So I told him. We went ten rounds before he won on points. Yeah, that’s right, defining terms and kicking ass. But afterwards, I’m on the bus to the next town and I’m thinking, “I have an opinion on this?” I found I did — it was informed and not badly set out. Well, opinions are free and we’re all free to have them. Doesn’t mean they’re right.

There are some things that are origami and some things that are not. I’ll grant you, the border can be fuzzy and I tell you this because I live in the marchlands: oschene knows from fuzzy. Papercraft, for instance, definitely not origami. Why not? Not because it has cuts — a lot of origami involves cuts, particularly that from the Tokugawa period. Not because there’s glue — yes, some origami has glue in it. No, it’s because papercraft, when it refers to this kind of papercraft, finds its shape in cutting and gluing and folding. This is its essence and that’s okay. I understand that people who practice papercraft pay their taxes, mostly, and are kind to their mothers. Relatively few of them are Nestorians.

On the other hand, Floderer’s work seeks its shape in creases and the creases are induced by folding. When he folds, he wears his intention on his sleeve and folds with authority. He maintains a sense of humor while he works. The man’s a genius — what he practices is origami. Yes, that’s my opinion, but I speak it with vatic certainty. As a fuzzy fringe-dweller, I have leapfrogged Time and return to tell you that this is O and that the non-O people will simply have to come to terms with it.

If you are an O person and disagree with me, you should certainly feel free to say so. But I insist that you define your terms and guard your left ear.

Update: It occurs to me that this post is missing something in a major way: a link to Vincent Floderer’s site and in particular, to an excellent article on this kind of origami in art and nature.

August 8, 2009

Origami for the People

Wilhelmine with origami

This is Wilhelmine, quondam Princess of Prussia and Margravine of Bayreuth, holding one of Kalami‘s models — and this works for me in a number of ways. One, the color is dead on, really on. Two, Wilhelmine would have totally dug it — she was a bluestocking, a lady polymath, and the mathematics and beauty of Kalami‘s folding would have warmed the cockles of her somewhat complicated heart. And thirdly, putting origami out in the world, out in front of people, is so very cool.

(Cockles, here, are ventricles — that doesn’t show up in most dictionaries and I’d give up looking for it, if I were you.)

It is true that origami is art. But so are so many things. You can place your models in a frame, hang them on the wall, put them in galleries — yes, this is the way we treat art in the world, we curate it. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se: it’s a good way to present the work and a good way to say to the world, “Hey, this is some serious art going on!” But for me, this is to lose an important aspect of origami. A lot of origami is its ephemeral nature and a lot of it is the sharing.

Lately, I’ve been sticking my afternoon commute work in alleyways in my city and watching what happens to it. Some of it disappears, but I can tell from the patterns in the dust, it’s been removed with care, someone is taking it home. So, I replace the model. And it disappears again. This is a conversation of sorts. Not a very intelligent one — reminds me of trading for tin with the red paint people — but a real one, nevertheless.

Mélisande* and I did some guerrilla origami in New York — she writes about it here. It was a hell of a lot of fun. And when I read on Kalami’s blog about how she’s been unleashing her work, I know exactly what she means. There needs to be more of this.

And there can be — want to play? We’ve started a new group on Flickr — because we’re convinced there are simply not enough groups on Flickr — and you can join. Joining Flickr is free (mostly) and the only rule we have (so far) is that you geotag your photo before you add it to the group. This will allow us to see the contributions on a map. We have dreams of seeing little origami installations all over this globe.

Go, dream, fold, install.

April 5, 2009



You have to compare. So you can get a little distance from things. Like Laika. She really must have seen things in perspective. It’s important to keep a certain distance.

[audio:PR.mp3|titles=Far jag kan inte få upp min kokosnöt|artists=Povel Ramel]

That’s what Ingemar says in one of my favorite movies, Mitt liv som hund.  It came to mind this past winter when the news reminded me that it was forty years ago, Christmas eve, that Apollo VIII cruised around the moon and sent back photos of our little blue earth. At the time, this seemed perfectly natural to me, that astronauts should be floating around in lunar orbit, reading Bible verses to those of us left crawling on the planet’s face. On the other hand, the clusterfuck in Vietnam also seemed perfectly natural to me — kids normalize things right out of the box and then spend the rest of their lives wondering why the box looks so funny.

It also reminded me of a Christmas eve I spent in København some years back, hanging with this obscure Danish sculptor, Berthel Thorwaldsen. It was crazy cold in Denmark that year, crazy cold and damp in ways that just don’t obtain in the New World and every time one complained about it, one was handed a glass of the medicinal extract of caraway. A dose of that would cause a sensation of warmth for thirty seconds, followed by a couple hours of temporal and spatial distortion and a very vivid delusion that the universe was constructed entirely of stale pumpernickel. Don’t know if one can say this really helps — not in the way, say, that throwing a turf on the fire might.

So, somewhere in the conversation, I said, “Your problem, Berthel, is that you’re Danish and obscure….”

My problem,” he responded with a snarl, “is that I’m surrounded by barbarians.”  It was just me there in the pub — double vision is another side-effect of the medicinal extract of caraway. I was, to be fair, dressed as a barbarian — just the way I dressed in those days.  I tried again.

“An artist should always challenge his medium….”

Berthel slammed his fist on the table and threw me a malevolent sidewise glance. “You presume to speak to me of medium, yankee Visigoth? Let me tell you about medium: clay is the birth; plaster the death; and marble the resurrection.”

“But I work in paper, ” I said, “a developable surface….”

“Clay, life; plaster, death; marble, immortality! That’s it!”

Then he fell asleep, face down in a plate of sauerkraut and I had a hell of a time getting us back to his studio. Pretty freakin’ cold in there, too. Was there a peat shortage that winter? Certainly, there was no shortage of caraway seeds.

It’s so very easy to lose one’s perspective. Berthel, bless him, he’s dead now and presumably has gotten some of his back, but mine comes and goes with the shocking irregularity of a PVTA commuter bus on a Thursday evening. Whenever Eric Gjerde and I talk, after an hour or so, one of us is always sure to say, “For God’s sake, it’s just a piece of paper!” And we will hold that gnostic flash in our consciousness for a New York minute and then immediately return to our wonted obsessions.

Origami is a damned strange way to create art and one must never forget that. Even the odder of the outsider artists will look at origami models and say, “Pshaw, blood, what’s that about?” Origami is outside the mainstream of the art world and beyond the fringes of the backwaters — that’s okay.

A lot of it is medium — however lovely the paper, it remains an aggressively, heroically ephemeral choice. Every piece you fold is, to some extent, condemned to the slow burn of Time as soon as you put the final shaping to it. You can use the best paper and coat it with resins and polymers and put it beneath a bell jar inside a columbarium in a cathedral close, but still, the clock has started. And that’s okay, too — origami is a viral art and depends as much on the transmission of the idea as it does on the medium. The paper will perish — how should it not? — but the idea can live on in a very real and interesting way, not unlike the barbarian concept of immortality through glory.

Which brings me to ellipses. What, you were thinking it was only my prose style that was elliptical? Folding ellipses is like folding circles, but from a slightly different perspective — they force you to focus on the foci and that can be a little disorienting. But give it a try. I like the silver ellipse, myself– it has a ratio of one to the square root of two, just like A4, and this makes finding the foci particularly easy.
Rolling Box
Here is a Rolling Box, which is made from a 2:1 ellipse. This is just a variation of the Box of Rox, which chungdha points out, is not an entirely new shape. (Indeed, shortly after he told me that, I saw an interesting lamp packaging thing, using a similar shape.) I like this one a lot — it’s pretty close to cylindrical, so it rolls nicely, and it also stands up in this slanty way. Here, try it out: a crease pattern.

April 1, 2009

Zhoubi Bowl on Origami Weekly

Zhoubi Bowl on Origami Weekly

Photo and hand by Andrew Hudson

Just a note to alert our readers to another publication well worth a visit and a read: Origami Weekly began publication earlier this year and has been warmly received by the greater folding community. It is the ambitious project of two young men out West, Andrew Hudson and Jared Needle, to publish diagrams on a weekly basis. And we’re not talking six-step penguins and duckies — this ain’t Origami for Eejits. In announcing their intention, Jared said:

Why, you say? Short answer: we’ve grown tired of folding the same “classic” models, and thought we’d spice it up a bit. Long answer: we’re looking for exposure, not only for ourselves, but also for the other folders that we’ll be featuring. We’re trying to freshen up the world of the advanced origami folder, while at the same time giving us a challenge and some extra experience. There is a lot of untapped talent in the amateur origami world, and it’s about time someone took notice!

Of course, it is somewhat lacking in grace for us to point at their blog the same week that they publish diagrams from your sometimes less-than-humble narrator, but if we allowed the knowledge of our native bumptiousness to curb our pen, hell, we’d never say anything at all. We will mention that the week before, the intrepid duo published the first ever (to our knowledge) CP of a Joel Cooper mask — go find that in the mainstream origami press!

Readers there may be who remember the Zhoubi Bowl — a CP appeared in these pages, oh, eons ago and some who saw it wished they had some diagrams to it. This week, Origami Weekly speaks to that desire. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. Then subscribe — we anticipate good things to come.

March 29, 2009

Twist Stars – A Method of Construction


That’s my old friend, Catullus, who often wrote in hendecasyllabics, that is, an eleven syllable line. Here, he’s saying, To whom shall I give this pretty little blog entry? To you, gentle reader…

It occurred to me the other day that twist stars, such as the nine- and ten-pointed models I written about before, probably have an Al Gore Rhythmic method to them. So I thought about it a while and decided that there is.

Briefly, choose a regular polygon. Then choose a regular polygram to fold inside it. (There are very sharp ones and very dull ones — I like the middle ones, myself.) Now, fold another polygram inside the smaller polygon you just created, connecting not the corners, but the midpoints. This forms yet a third polygon in the middle. Make a tato from that smallest polygon, fold in and squash the pleats. That’s it.

Hendecagrammic Twist Star

Can’t quite visualize it? That’s okay, I made a slide show for a hendecagram twist star. (Or the detail view, if you prefer a slower approach.) Before you click over, you might want to print and cut out a hendecagon.

There’s nothing all that profound about these — they’re just pretty and look good in the window when the sun comes through. The method is extensible, but who knows how far? There are lots of regular polygons and a whole lot more polygrams.

March 15, 2009

Claudine’s Tato

Claudine's Ur-tato


I do remember one thing.
It took hours and hours but…
by the time I was done with it,
I was so involved, I didn’t know what to think.
I carried it around with me for days and days…
playing little games
like not looking at it for a whole day
and then… looking at it.
to see if I still liked it.
I did.

I repeat myself when under stress.
I repeat myself when under stress.
I repeat myself when under stress.
I repeat myself when under stress.
I repeat…
The more I look at it,
the more I like it.
I do think it’s good.
The fact is…
no matter how closely I study it,
no matter how I take it apart,
no matter how I break it down,
It remains consistent.
I wish you were here to see it.

I like it!

(That’s a song by King Crimson which I’m tempted to embed here, but do not, for fear of alienating the uninitiated. It’s on Discipline, if you want to check it out.)

This is a tato that Claudine Pisale handed to me at the CDO convention in Verbania. She said it had been given to her by a Japanese neighbor and that she couldn’t see how it was done. (The version she gave me had pencil marks on it, from where she had copied the landmarks over.) She thought it traditional. The tricky part, said Claudine, is that there were no folds across the central square of the design.

Emma, who teaches math at Milano U., figured out a solution, but unfortunately, I don’t remember what it was — I was more than a little jet-lagged.

In the pocket of my wool waistcoat, I’ve carried the model and pulled it out, odd times, to take a whack at solving it. I came up with several solutions, but after a week or so, I’d trash them and start over. For one thing, I kept going at it with a shell on my head. Convinced that the offset was arbitary, I kept trying to mirror arbitrary angles. Got pretty good at it, too. But it wasn’t right. Eventually, I got out a ruler and a calculator and figured out it was done with fractions. Once I had that, I used Fujimoto’s method to mark the fractions on the edge of a square. Eccolo!

This is kind of crazy sophisticated for traditional. If any of you out there in TV land know anything about this model, I’d love to hear it.

Fold one for yourself — diagrams.

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