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Origami Challenge #14: One Subject, Different Bases

There are many ways to skin a cat. Or fold one, for that matter.

To get the job done, sometimes it’s more helpful to be flexible than definitive. We’ve already practiced flexibility in these challenges. Customizing and morphing traditional models, starting with traditional or blintzed bases, and using another model’s crease pattern are all about considering known structures in a new way. A Bird Base can become a Crane, but it can also become a Hummingbird, a Crow, a Dragon, and so on. Look at the Katsuhisa Yamada books for proof of how flexible one base can be. Rather than looking for flexibility in known structures, the challenge here is to practice flexibility in translating a subject into origami. 

The prompt is to pick a subject (check out the Recommended Subject List for ideas) and create multiple versions using different bases. They don’t have to be traditional bases – you could figure out a custom Base, or work without References (or with References if your first pass doesn’t have them). The point is to look at a subject and find ways to make recognizable models from different starting points.

The Three Iconic Features and Initial Concept challenges may be helpful here. You may have an immediate idea of how to create your subject – using a certain base to get certain features, building off of a shape you saw in a prior challenge, an initial idea for an overall shape, etc. Perhaps your first model for this challenge has been percolating in the back of your mind for a while. Yes, you could work with a subject you’ve already used in another challenge, but why not start fresh and approach this one with a blank slate? Alternatively, you could arbitrarily pick a Subject and a Base and make it your job to figure out getting to one from the other. Either way, your first model comes from a drive down the open road with your whole playbook available to you. 

Once you’ve created the first model, start again from the beginning. You already know your subject, but you have to find a new path to get there. If your first model was from Bird Base, maybe the second starts with Pig Base. If your first model’s Base used mostly halves and quarters, maybe the second starts with a 5X5 grid. You could also choose to focus on different features. If you chose an Elephant for your subject, and your first model doesn’t have tusks, maybe the second one does. Or, you could focus on making the same subject at a different level of complexity. I once had to design a Polar Bear for a corporate event. I loved the first one I came up with (#1), but the sequence was too long to be useful on the day. I started with a new base and found a simpler one (#2). One way to activate new possibilities is to deprive yourself of the old ones. 

What then becomes interesting is discovering what you consider to be the essential qualities of your subject. There are countless origami Pigs out there. What elements have to be present for the model to be undeniably recognizable as a Pig? Whether the model is simple and expressionist or complex and hyper-realistic, when does the model cross over from being vague to specific? And, if there are specific essential elements, can you achieve them in different ways from different structures? I imagine it would be hard to design a Skunk without accounting for a Color Change stripe (or multiple stripes depending on what Skunk you’re drawing inspiration from). In the above Skunks, I solved the question of the stripe in a similar-but-not-identical way, one starting from a Fish Base Variant and the other from a Cabinet Base. 

You may also discover a sense of aesthetic preference and style by forcing yourself down unfamiliar roads. I’d made Mice/Rats before from Parakeet Base (#1, #2), finding that particular structure well-suited for the subject. But when I forced myself to make one from Dinosaur Base (#3), I discovered a slightly more cartoony Rat, which I enjoy in its own unique way. I usually prefer models that have some photorealistic resonance to them in terms of features or proportions, but I think I discovered something about my imagination and artistic vision by allowing myself to make a less realistic model. 

The four Cardinals here range from super simple without a color change to intermediate with color change. What is true for all of these models: they’re songbirds with a crest. Like the stripe with the Skunk, I don’t think a Cardinal would be recognizable without its crest. The color change around the eyes is ideal, and satisfying to achieve when possible, but most of these models were designed around solving the question of creating or suggesting the crest. Cardinal 1 was designed to be beginner level teachable (and it’s one of my favorites to teach), particularly as a way to introduce Rabbit-Ear Fold. It comes from Helmet Base, and is all Valley and Mountain Folds aside from the one Rabbit-Ear that, to me, distinguishes it as a Cardinal. Cardinal 2 uses Kite Base references and was designed with a focus on the face’s color change. Once I figured out the face, I shaped the rest of the model around it making sure to get the crest, body, and tail. Cardinal 3 came about from me forcing myself to quickly design a Cardinal from an unfamiliar structure. I started from a Square Base, figuring I could make the crest in a similar way as Cardinal 1 but have more flexibility given the Square Base to create as many features as possible (I may actually have designed Cardinal 3 first…). Cardinal 4 is one of my Variations on a Kookaburra – technically from a Helmet Base, but my familiarity with the evolved structure I’d found allowed me to find a more intricate model that includes the color change, the legs, and the wings in addition to the crest, body, and tail. Of these, Cardinals 1 and 4 are my favorites, but 2 and 3 were worthwhile exercises in flexibility that may serve a useful purpose down the road. I’ve had people specifically compliment and request diagrams for Cardinal 2. No diagrams yet. Maybe one day. 

Developing flexibility is a huge asset for creativity. It can be easy to get fixed on finding a single, definitive solution for a question. But the more you practice finding alternative routes to your destination, the more possibilities you’ll start to see on a regular basis. And if the alternate route doesn’t ultimately get you where you hoped to go, it may lead you to something you never expected to find.

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