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Origami Design Challenges

Here is some broad advice to consider as you embark upon these challenges:

  • Simplicity and economy are key. Complex origami is just a bunch of simple origami put together. So to start, keep it simple. 
  • Look for the left turns as you’re folding – the places that make you wonder, “What if I did this instead?” Then, take them. That’s where you’ll find new possibilities.
  • You’ll likely hit dead ends as you explore. That’s okay. More than okay. It’s an essential part of the creative process. You often discover what you want by confirming what you don’t want. Plus, you’ll discover useful ideas that will pay off later on. 
  • Allow yourself multiple drafts of the model you’re working on. Sometimes it helps to complete a draft and leave it finished in its current state before you start a new draft, applying what you learned, what you like, and what you want to adjust.
  • Embrace imperfection. Don’t wait for your model to be “perfect” before setting it down and moving on to another challenge (or another exploration of the same challenge). Take pride in every one of your creations, trusting that you’ve learned something to apply to the next one.
  • I designed most of my original models to be easily teachable. I find that to be a good litmus test for completing a challenge: Have I drafted the model enough times and found enough references that I can clearly guide another folder through its sequence? 
  • Draw inspiration from the outside world. If you’re designing a specific animal, look at pictures, watch videos, and/or observe it in real life. Observe its shapes, its distinguishing features, the way it moves, and its essential qualities. 
  • Creativity is a practice, not an elusive gift people either possess or lack. The hardest part about being creative isn’t coming up with the ideas. It’s following through on manifesting whatever ideas come to you, no matter how infantile, novice, naive, uninformed, or unseasoned they may be. It’s about allowing yourself to start at the beginning, and origami is a great medium to practice starting at the beginning.
15 Origami Design Challenges (click the link for corresponding blog post):
  1. Customize a Traditional Model
    Start with a traditional model and add your own spin to the same subject. 
  2. Morph a Traditional Model
    Start with a traditional model (finished or in process) and turn it into a different subject. 
  3. Start with a Traditional Base
    Start with one of the Traditional Bases and see what you can make from it. 
  4. Start with a Blintzed Base
    Start with a Blintzed version of one of the Traditional Bases and see what you can make from it. 
  5. Start with Another Model’s Crease Pattern
    Unfold a completed model to reveal its Crease Pattern, and use those creases as references for a new model. 
  6. Limit Complexity of the Folds
    Design a model only using certain folds, intended for folders of a specific skill level. 
  7. Pedagogical Intention
    Imagine having to teach a particular fold/base, and create a model that would effectively demonstrate it. For example, you could do a large version of the fold or repeat the fold numerous times. 
  8. Initial Concept
    Start your design with an artistic or structural notion/idea/concept for how to create the subject. 
  9. Three Iconic Features
    Determine three features of your subject that clearly identify it as that subject. Start designing your subject focused on figuring out those three features. 
  10. Incorporate Color Change
    Many artists work with paper that has different colors on each side. Standard “kami” paper has color on one side and white on the other. Design a model intentionally using both colors. 
  11. Find a Reference for Every Step
    A reference can be an edge, a crease, a point, an intersection, a measurement, etc. In the process of identifying references, the model often becomes more aesthetically pleasing while making it easier to share/teach. 
  12. No References
    Some artists don’t design models using specific references. See what happens if you abandon the obligation to determine references for every step (or even intentionally avoid them). 
  13. Beyond Halves/Quarters
    Experiment with folds that aren’t halves and quarters and angles beyond 90 degrees, 45 degrees, 22.5 degrees, etc. For example, start with a 3X3 grid, or divide points into thirds rather than in half. 
  14. One Subject, Different Bases 
    Select one subject and choose two (or more) different bases to design that subject from. 
  15. Doodle 
    Start folding without a specific subject in mind, and see what emerges. As your doodle begins to resemble a subject, pursue that possibility. (I purposefully introduce this design at the end, after you’ve filled your toolbox.)
Some Specific Challenges: 
  • 10-Step Animal Face: Design an animal face with a maximum of ten steps. 
  • Kite Base Swan: Design a Swan from a Kite Base. Put your own spin on the traditional Swan, or come up with your own Swan variation starting with a Kite Base. 
  • Bird from a Bird Base: Pick a specific species of bird and design it from a Bird Base. Start by asking whether it’ll have legs (Crow) or wings (Crane). 
  • Cabinet Base: Fold a model from Cabinet Base without going into Pig Base or Double Boat Base, or using it as a 1X2 rectangle.
  • Froebel Variation: Fold a Pinwheel Base and design your own Pattern. (click link for information about Froebel Variations)
Recommended Subjects:

These are popular origami subjects that may be useful inspirations for these challenges:

  • Animal Face
  • Bird
  • Box/Container
  • Butterfly
  • Car
  • Chicken/Rooster
  • Dinosaur
  • Dog
  • Dolphin
  • Dragon
  • Elephant
  • Fish
  • Flower
  • Fox
  • Frog
  • House
  • Mouse/Rat
  • Penguin
  • Pig
  • Rabbit
  • Squirrel
  • Swan/Duck
  • Tree
  • Whale