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Designing a Wren

I was recently inspired by a friend of mine to design a Wren. I thought it would be a nice opportunity to write about the process of designing the model while I was in it. 

On a recent road trip, I stayed with a friend of mine and wanted to thank him and his wife for their hospitality by folding a couple models for them. He mentioned that he liked seeing wrens outside their house, so I decided to fold him a wren. I knew of some nice origami Wrens – Roman Diaz’ Wren from Origami Essence comes immediately to mind – but figured I’d design my own. If nothing else, I was confident I could derive one from a Bird Base. 

I went online to look at photographs of wrens to identify some iconic features. I noticed that they don’t have much of a neck, like a little ball of feathers with a beak and tail on either end. They have roundish bodies (including the head) and sometimes the tail is angled up. I also looked at pictures of other origami Wrens for inspiration. Only pictures of the completed model, not the diagrams. I still wanted to find my own way to it. 

Once I had reference images to work from, I thought about ways I already knew to make birds like this. How could I make the tail, the beak, the legs, etc.? Then I started thinking about the Base. I considered Bird Base and Fish Base, knowing both would give me the number of points I wanted. I decided to start with a Fish Base – I didn’t have a specific reason for that choice – figuring I could always cut bait and switch to a Bird Base if needed. 

Starting with a Fish Base, I started with the concept of using the Rabbit-Ear flaps for the legs and the side corners of the diamond as wingtips (I’m setting the Fish Base on the table vertically long and horizontally short). I then started shaping the longer flap to get the tail and the head/beak. I figured I could use Pleat Folds and Reverse Folds to adjust the paper down to the size/shape/length that looked right. I Crimp Folded the head down so that the back of the head would be closed (an Inside Reverse Fold would have left it open) and kept it close to the body. 

As I played with the shape/size/angle of the tail (while sticking with the notion of the obtuse angle corners as wingtips) the tail got turned downward. I thought this was moving toward becoming a Parakeet rather than a Wren, which would have been fine. As long as it became something, right? I explored the idea of the Parakeet, happy with the body, tail, and legs and wondering what to do for the head. I didn’t find a Parakeet I loved, but I might come back to the notion another day. I Reverse Folded the tail upward and proceeded to shape it into the Wren. I considered adding a color change to the legs and thinning them out, but I wasn’t satisfied with any of my attempts. 

Once I settled on the first draft (which already felt pretty complete), I reverse-engineered the model so I could determine the sequence and look for references that would make the model cleaner and repeatable. I unfolded back to the Fish Base, saw where the creases were, looked for folds that were in relationship to the base itself, and checked if there were any other obvious references. Since I used a recycled piece of paper for my first draft(previously folded into another model), I checked if any of the old creases were references. If so, I’d have to put steps from that other model into the Wren sequence to install those references. I specifically wanted to find references for the neck and tail so I could consistently get the same length/proportions. I connected them to creases and points found in a Kite Base, which was indeed the base of the previous model (and conveniently a step on the way to Fish Base). Once I had that basic structure, the rest of the process was mostly about finding reference points I could use for the smaller details. 

I was able to measure the length of the beak by using folded edges from the tail Pleats as references, which I was quite pleased with. I found a couple rough references for shaping the tail, but ultimately decided to leave most of it to eyeballing. I didn’t feel the need to dictate every shaping step having sculpted many birds like this before. The one tricky maneuver is a Swivel-Fold-like move that thins and angles the legs and so the bird can stand. It might be tricky to articulate if I had to teach the model, but it’s not a hard fold to execute. I looked for other ways to shape the leg, but found that weird fold to be the most efficient option. Oftentimes when I design a model, I’ll think I’ve figured out the most efficient sequence only to go back and find an even more streamlined way to get from Point A to Point B. That happened here with the Wren’s head. I thought the easiest way was to Rabbit-Ear the head flap, then Squash fold the Rabbit-Ear, then adjust the sides to line up the folded edges. Then I figured out I could pre-crease the head with Kite Folds all the way across rather than do the Rabbit-Ear, fold a line through the “X” of those two Kite Folds, and then collapse the flap down directly into the head shape I wanted. Both approaches get the same shape, but I find the second one cleaner and more efficient.  

Spending the time to refine the sequence of a new model leads me to enjoy the process of folding even more than the finished product. There’s something wildly satisfying about figuring out how to elegantly move from paper to model, and I find myself folding the model over and over again. Not that I need to make a bunch of them, or because I want thousands of copies of the same model lying around (I don’t – I try to give them away, but often have to throw them away). I’ve invested time and energy into making something new. Every time I discover and finesse a new model of my own invention, I feel a spark of child-like glee. Origami and magic are historically connected. Quite a few of the famous early origami artists were also magicians (Robert Harbin comes immediately to mind). Perhaps I feel a bit like a magician myself, transmuting a plain sheet of paper into something no one has ever seen before but still resonates with universal recognition. To quote one of my favorite musicals, “Look, I made a hat where there never was a hat.”

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