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Origami Challenge #1: Customize a Traditional Model

One of the first models I often teach in workshops is the traditional Swan. It comes from a Kite Base, where the thin end becomes the neck/head and the wider end becomes the body/tail. 

Traditional Swan

Once we’ve folded the simple, traditional version, I encourage people to fold it again (after the session) and add whatever details they think would make it look “more swan-like.” And I offer some examples, like folding the wing-flaps down, crimping the tail, adding a crimp to the head to make a beak, etc. I do this almost immediately in my teaching progression to make sure people know that origami isn’t all about following directions. It is always creative, and the artist’s sensibility always matters. You can find joy both in executing the directions beautifully, or in using pre-existing models as a springboard for your own creativity. 

And I don’t know what “swan-like”  means. Whatever is “swan-like” to me could change day-to-day, moment-to-moment. It’ll mean something a little bit different to everyone. Making the sculpture more “swan-like” might involve adding photo-realistic details, making it look as much like a live swan as possible. Or, it might be about highlighting certain features to create a visual focal point. Or, it might be essentializing the model  down to an expressionistic depiction of a swan. 

Whatever it may be, starting with a traditional model relieves us of the anxiety of whether or not you can make anything at all. You already know you can get the general swan shape from a Kite Base, so the process becomes about building on what you see. 

If you don’t know how to start branching out on your own, revisit the tips I give on the page before I list the challenges. 

You might start with an image of a swan. This could be a realistic image (photo, video, etc.), an artistic rendering (painting, cartoon, etc.), or your own imagined image of a swan. Close your eyes and imagine a swan. What do you see? Then, write down a description of your vision, or draw it (it doesn’t have to be a good drawing).

Sometimes your imagination will create a more interesting swan than you’ll find in a photo or painting. Then, take the traditional swan model or Kite Base and shape it using the image as your guide. Don’t worry about making the model clean yet, with pretty folds or references. You can figure those out later. Mold the paper to your will, as if it were leather or clay. 

You could also start with the model or Base itself, without any reference images, and just start asking, “What if I did this?” Examine the model for opportunities. “What if I reverse folded this point? What if I exposed more of the white side? What if I untrap this bit of paper? What if I lined this up with this? What if I applied the same technique here as in a different model? What if I started with a Blintzed Kite Base rather than a regular Kite Base?” Some of these “what ifs” may be hunches, and others you’ll find by looking at the model and seeing possibilities. 

Remember, not every “what if” will yield a fulfilling result. If this is your first foray into origami design, the value of this challenge may be learning to color outside the lines. That alone is a huge step toward creativity.

Designing your own Kite Base Swan is a great place to start. Then, see if you can customize another traditional model, either one from my recommended list or elsewhere.

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