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Origami Challenge #15: Doodle

The final challenge: a wide open road.

There’s a drawing exercise where the artist starts by randomly scribbling, looks within the scribbles for hints of shapes or images, and fleshes out the image from there. It’s a great way to break out of habitual creative patterns and find new shapes to play with, similar to the One Subject, Different Bases challenge. But instead of picking a subject to aim for or a context to focus in, this challenge starts without any preconception and asks you to dive into the unknown. 

I purposefully save this to be the last challenge. You may already be used to origami doodling – folding intuitively without a specific goal or intention until you see a shape emerge. This would be an equally valuable and valid first challenge since you’d come into it without any bias of what origami has been, is, or can be. You wouldn’t have developed strategies and techniques to solve design questions – how to make a bird head with a beak, how to thin the tail, how to make an animal with more than four legs, etc. You start with the paper and go. However, I save this challenge for the end because having a wide open road can be daunting, and your experience and toolbox will ultimately help and provide confidence that you’ll eventually figure something out while you float around in the nebula. If you take the doodle far enough to see a glimpse of something recognizable, you can then use your chisels and saws to craft it into existence. I love the quote attributed to Michelangelo, “I saw the angel in the marble, and carved until I set him free.”

Some people can look at an open sheet of paper and know what they want to do with it. I personally would never have designed a single origami model without experiencing other artists’ designs and a foundation of the classic structures and maneuvers. I don’t find that foundation restrictive. I find it invaluable for when I have to work quickly. It also helps fill in gaps when I’m close to the finish line. You still have to practice spotting possibilities and letting your creative intuition spur you forward, but inspiration can be fleeting and come in bursts; like a gust of wind rather than an ever-flowing river. My hope is that the Origami Toolbox and the previous challenges help to propel you forward while you wait for the next great gust of wind. 

Perhaps the hardest part of this challenge is allowing yourself the quiet moment of being with the paper before the first idea comes to you. What will the first fold be? If I fold the paper in half, is it as a Diagonal Fold (corner to corner) or a Book Fold (edge to edge). Once you’ve made that first crease, you’re off to the races. 

When I doodle, the phrase most often running through my mind is, “What if I did this?” Look for the left turns. Then take them. Until I’ve identified a subject to pursue, I like taking unfamiliar pathways as often as I can. For me, doodling tends to be a balance of the familiar and unfamiliar. I might doodle my way into a Square Base and wonder, “What if I folded this flap in this direction?” “What if I Petal Folded one side like a Bird Base and folded the other like a Frog Base?” I wound up with a Swan (above) from that exploration.

Eventually, your doodle may start to resemble a specific subject. When people ask me how I design origami, my cheeky answer is, “I fold paper until it kind of looks like a thing, then add more folds to make it look more like the thing.” The moment of recognition – finding a potential subject – can be a huge creative gust of wind, but just because it starts to resemble the thing doesn’t mean it will end up the thing. You may hit a dead end. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s quite common. One possibility is to put your first draft aside, start with a clean sheet of paper, retrace your steps, and see if there’s a left turn you didn’t notice before to get to that same subject. Or, you might retrace your steps and discover a completely different model. At first I thought this Wolf (above) was going to be an Elephant, then a Mouse, then a Lion before I found the Wolf. If you hit a dead end, just keep tinkering. There’s no obligation here…

… Except to finish. Wherever this challenge takes you, emerge from it with something to show. It doesn’t have to be your favorite model. It doesn’t have to be teachable or repeatable (though you can always go back and finesse the sequence). It might take a bunch of drafts and a slew of unprofitable explorations, but keep going until you find something with integrity. If you’re looking for a boundary to work within, since subject and structure are open, you might try a time limit. Set your timer for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour – however long you might need – and challenge yourself to have a completed model by the end of the time. It’s better to finish a project with a less-than-ideal result than not to finish it at all because you’re concerned it won’t be perfect. Every trip through the creative process is worthwhile to maintain the practice of creativity, no matter the outcome.

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