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Origami Challenge #10: Incorporate Color Change

Many kinds of origami paper have a color or pattern on one side and something else (usually solid white) on the other. Whether it’s a simple Penguin with colored wings/head and a white belly, or a super complex Tiger with lots of stripes, purposefully using both sides of the paper can enhance your designs. 

At this stage of my origami designing life, I don’t have a huge toolbox of techniques for intentionally orchestrating color change. I’ll offer here what I can and recommend resources along with the encouragement to learn from what other artists have done by examining their sequences and reverse engineering their models.

There are a few tips I’ve noticed when it comes to incorporating color change: One is it helps to have access to the raw edges of the paper. Folding the raw edge over reveals the second color. Take the traditional Penguin. You start with the white side face-up for the belly, then fold the raw edges over to make the colored wings, fold in half, and Outside Reverse Fold the tip to make the colored head. Similarly, my Skunk starts with the white side face-up and then you Rabbit-Ear the corners toward the middle, leaving space to become the iconic stripe. If you look at Hideo Komatsu’s Tiger, you’ll notice that the stripes are mostly defined by the raw edges of the paper. 

If you have the raw edges meeting in the center of the paper (as in a Cabinet Base or Fish Base), you can peel the raw edges away from the center of the paper, revealing the second color on both the flap you’re folding, and from the center of the paper. That’s what I’ve done with this Penguin (see below): started with a white Fish Base, and folded the edges around to use the color on both the raw edges of the flaps and the center of the paper (Penguins are a great subject for this challenge). You could also reveal the second color in the center by Mountain Folding the raw edges inside. I have a simple Skunk that starts with the Cabinet Base and does this to make the stripe (Skunks are also a good subject for this challenge). 

I mentioned Friedrich Froebel in a previous article – the German educator who invented kindergarten and incorporated paper folding into its curriculum. One of his paper folding activities was to start with a Windmill Base, Squash Fold the four flaps so it looked like four connected Square Bases, and create different geometric patterns from it. I don’t know if they had duo color paper in the mid-1800’s, but when you fold these pattern variations with multi-color paper, the change of color is a big part of the visual appeal. I’ll give the homework assignment of creating your own Froebel Variation – it’s a great way to explore color change and a nice exercise in non-representational origami.   

Wrapping is another common technique for revealing the second color. It usually requires access to the raw edges since you’re flipping that section around to reveal the other color. One version is to untrap a section of paper and fold it up or behind to get the second color. That’s how I get the color change for the tail of this Beaver. It can also involve opening up the entire section and recollapsing it all while reversing the creases, which is how I get the color change for the legs of this Ostrich. Models that start with Blintzed Bases use Wraps to release the blintzed flap and get a color change.  

You can fold corners or edges in at the start of the model to set up structures with color changes built in. The first step of this simple Platypus (diagram on Origami Club) is to fold one of the edges toward the middle, then you proceed with the color change in place to end up as the bill. Blintz Folding the corners in different directions is another way to set up the paper at the start to incorporate color changes. This duo-color crane starts by Blintz Folding opposite corners together (Mountain Fold the top and bottom corners, Valley Fold the side corners), and this Panda Head designed by Kunihiko Kasahara starts with Blintz Folding the top two corners behind and the bottom two corners in front so the top half is one color and the bottom half the other. 

That’s most of what I know about how to incorporate color change in origami. In my own designing journey, finding color change has come from a lot of trial and error, luck, and examining the work of other artists for ways to accomplish specific goals. For example, I have yet to figure out a way to incorporate Tiger/Zebra stripes into my own design. If I had to make a Tiger or Zebra, I’d examine other origami Tigers, Zebras, or similarly striped models. For resources, I recommend…

  • John Montroll’s Origami Inside Out, a book dedicated to color change models which features a Tiger, a Skunk, a Blue Jay, and a full Chess Board, among other subjects. 
  • Ryan Dong’s Origami: One Sheet, Two Colors, which features duo color models including the original starter Pokemon options (Squirtle, Bulbasaur, and Charmander – I usually chose Bulbasaur). 
  • There’s a great article about color change by Michael LaFosse in Origami USA’s Winter 2015 edition of The Paper (Issue 118 – the same one that has Beth Johnson’s Crease Pattern article). 
  • Also, there are so many origami models of subjects that iconically feature color change to examine. Penguins, Pandas (Giant and Red), Tigers, Zebras, Raccoons, Skunks, Orcas, Koi Fish, Clown Fish, Bald Eagles, anything with spots or stripes, and so on. 

When you figure out the best way to make Tiger stripes, please let me know!

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