There are enough fabulous origami models out in the world, already exquisitely designed and diagramed to keep a fanatic folder occupied for years. Many folders would rather spend their time folding these ready-to-fold, guaranteed-to-delight models than labor for hours trying to design something that might not turn out at all. But while these folders get joy from folding already-designed models, the creators of the models get tremendous joy, knowing that their models are being folded by many people and are making many people happy.
Imagine what joy and what origami progress would result if all folders started designing origami models. I believe that anyone who has had any experience folding origami has the ability to design their own models. With this in mind, I present to you some tips and techniques that I use which might help make the path of designing a little more clear. However, keep in mind, that no matter how much one has been explained origami designing techniques the most effective way to learn is simply by sitting down with a piece of paper and going for it.
For me, creating an origami design involves three major stages: Deciding what to design, actually designing it and finally, refining and perfecting the design until I'm satisfied with the final outcome.
To decide what to fold, one must come up with an idea and assess whether it's practical. An important factor governing my decision whether or not to fold a given idea is whether I feel that the idea is original enough. Since most animal forms have already been designed and designed over again by numerous experts, I shy away from them, for why put so much effort into designing a model that someone else has already painfully labored on and managed to design successfully?
Some origami designers will say that the fact that there are so many origami animal designs already out there is no reason for someone not to design animal models, for each person's folding style has its own special qualities and each person's folding design is valuable to origami as a whole. Trying to fold new animal models is good designing practice, for what the final form should look like is usually very clear (at least if you have a picture of the animal), but eventually I think it is important and rewarding to branch out into other folding themes. I feel that it is of more value to the world of origami to expand the pool of new origami ideas than it is to expand the pool of, say, new origami fish designs.
It is not difficult to come up with new folding themes. Even just looking around my room, I see foldable ideas I have never folded or heard of anyone else folding: computer, video camera, TV., , ruler, globe, tooth brush, somebody drinking, window with curtains. Going outside, the foldable world opens up; I have found that there are endless ideas out there that haven't been folded yet, and I think in trying to cultivate some of these ideas rather than struggle with old ones, the process of designing is more satisfying, and also furthers the art of origami. More difficult than coming up with new ideas is actually folding them. Although this requires spatial awareness, a lot of that awareness comes naturally through experimentation, or through experience following diagrams. The more folding experience you have, the easier it will be to make your models look like what you are trying to represent; the less folding experience, the more you might have to use your imagination. When I first started designing (in the 4th grade), I don't think I had much spatial awareness at all, and my models didn't look much like what they were trying to represent, but it was still fun to explore the infinite folsing possiblities.
For actually designing a model once the idea has been chosed, there are certain techniques I find especially useful. One technique is, before making any folds, to try to map out on the square where each appendage will come from when the model is folded. The goal is to plot the points of the appendages on the paper in such a manner that when folded, the model will waste the least paper and come out as large as possible. For instance if you were to try to design a table it would make sense to plot the four legs at the four corners. If you were to try to design an animal, you would probably want the head and the tail to be plotted on the square as far away from each other as possible for most animals have their head furthest from their tail.
In general, it is best to plot the points so that they well correspond to one of the standard bases. If the model is long and skinny, I will usually use a fish base since it maximizes the diagonal of the square. If I don't have a clear idea on which base to use, I will usually start with a square base since it seems to hold the most possibilities.
Once you have a general idea where on the square each appendage of your model will come from, the next important technique is to isolate those points. This involves attaching the points with creases and then using those creases to fold up the model in such a way that the points stick out. The easiest way to go about folding up the model so that the points stick out is to start with a standard origami base and then try to adapt it to fit your model.
After you have achieved the general form of a model, the final step is to refine it so that it can be diagrammed and taught to other people. The more time you spend perfecting the model, the more people will appreciate it and want to spend their time folding it. To get your model into a teachable or diagrammable state, it is important to give each fold clear landmarks, and also important to reduce each fold to a simple folding operation such as, "rabbit ear," "reverse fold", and so on. Sometimes altering a model to make it more foldable will involve compromising your own artistic tastes. But keep in mind that a major part what makes a model aesthetically pleasing is its foldability, and in this sense, simplifying a model is a major plus.
One difficulty that a lot of people seem to have when starting to design their own models is achieving satisfaction with their final product. It might be hard for them to get inspired to design a model when they know that by following diagrams they could fold a better looking model in less time. To get over this pitfall, focus not so much on the final product but rather on the fun of the designing process itself. Origami is like playing competitive sports in that the main fun should not lie in winning but rather just playing the game itself. If you can enjoy origami designing simply for the process itself, then pleasing results will come naturally. Also, try to fold original ideas, for it is easier to fold to one's satisfaction knowing that no one else has folded the same idea better.
Mastering the techniques of origami design is a gradual process which cannot be done overnight. No matter how good someone is at designing, there will still be times of head-banging and frustration. But overall, the rewards of coming up with a new origami model far out-weigh the trials and tribulations.
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