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Origami Design Toolbox

Whether you’re designing your own models or folding models designed by other artists, you’ll develop a toolbox of the common origami maneuvers (folds) and structures (bases). Once you master those fundamentals, you can tackle any model out there given time, diligence, and patience.

I recommend starting with (if not memorizing) many of the famous traditional models. Once you’ve mastered the classic origami crane, you’ve added Preliminary Base, Bird Base, Inside Reverse Fold, and Petal Fold to your toolbox, and seen how the four corners of the paper can become four points to shape into recognizable features of the subject (two wings, a head, and a tail). You’ve seen how a single Reverse Fold of two mirroring points can distinguish a head from a tail. That frees you to wonder, “What else can I distinguish with a single Reverse Fold?” 

There are many diagrams in published books and online videos that teach these folds, bases, and models. I’ve also included a list of Recommended Resources, including where to find diagrams for classic models by influential artists, explanations of the fundamental folds and bases, artists I’m inspired by, and books/articles that discuss origami design from a more technical perspective. I’m also available for Private Lessons and Workshops to teach these.

Fundamental Folds

A fold in origami is a maneuver that changes the shape of the paper. Folds typically involve creating creases or using creases you’ve already installed. Here are some of the fundamental folds in traditional origami:

  • Mountain/Valley Fold
  • Kite Fold
  • Cabinet Fold
  • Blintz Fold
  • Pleat Fold
  • Squash Fold
  • Reverse Fold (Inside, Outside)
  • Rabbit-Ear Fold
  • Petal Fold
  • Crimp Fold (Inside, Outside)
  • Sink Fold, (Open, Closed)
  • Double Sink Fold (Open, Closed)
  • Spread Squash Fold
  • Swivel Fold
  • Double Rabbit-Ear Fold

Common Bases

There are two chapters of folding an origami model. The first is organizing the paper into the model’s base. The second is shaping the base, adding detail and specificity to get the final look of the model. Imagine building a house. First, you make the structural frame of the house, then you add the aesthetic details. In origami, the base is the structural frame of the model. There are classic bases, and designers create new bases all the time, depending on what shape they need and how many points the model requires. Here are some of the classic bases that you’ll find in traditional origami:

*Blintzed Bases: When you fold a Blintz Base, the model is still shaped like a square. You can treat the Blintz Base as if it were an open square of paper, and fold it into another base. As a result, you’ll have a familiar base with more points to play with. 

Recommended Traditional Models

Many of the challenges ask you to select a traditional model to start with. Here are a few classics that could work well for those challenges, and that every origami folder (in my opinion) ought to know:

Recommended Resources

Taro’s Origami Studio. I began working at Taro’s Origami Studio in 2014. I’ve been folding since I was a kid, working out of books (some of which I mention below), but I wasn’t aware of the scope of what was possible. I’d never seen Satoshi Kamiya’s Ancient Dragon, intricate origami tessellations, or Eric Joisel’s Pangolin. I learned to teach using Taro’s Origami Method, which focuses on the fundamental folds and bases in a martial arts style progression. The studio offers classes for students of all ages, a Basic Artist Certification Course (which covers all of the fundamental folds and bases), and sells authentic Japanese origami paper (including standard kami, washi, and tant) in a variety of sizes. The studio also sells books, including Elementary Origami, which features the only published diagrams of any of my models. I’d be remiss in talking about the studio without a tip of the cap to my colleagues –  Frank Ling, Ben Friesen, founder Taro Yaguchi, Michi Kanno, Joe Adia, Yuzu, Mandy Fong, and others – for their camaraderie, guidance, and support. 

Origami Design Secrets – Mathematical Methods for an Ancient Art by Robert J. Lang. The most comprehensive book on origami design currently available. Includes in-depth discussion of everything from some of the concepts I talk about to techniques like Circle Packing and Box Pleating to advanced mathematical approaches. Also includes a bunch of great model diagrams that demonstrate the concepts.

Akira Yoshizawa, Japan’s Greatest Origami Master by Akira Yoshizawa et al. Akira Yoshizawa was the master of modern origami, who elevated paper folding from a pastime to an art form. This book has diagrams of some of his classic models, and photos that show how the figures from the diagram can be shaped into exquisite works of art. I highly recommend any Yoshizawa books you can find.

Teach Yourself Origami by John Montroll. Includes clear explanations of fundamental folds and bases with diagrams of a wide range of models, from beginner to intermediate. John Montroll is one of the most prolific origami designers out there. I recommend any and all of his books to expand your toolbox. His Easy Origami books include diagrams for many of the above recommended models. 

Genuine Origami by Jun Maekawa. Unfortunately out of print, an excellent book that describes origami folding and design concepts along with models to demonstrate. One of my personal favorite books both for the information and the models. His Viva! Origami! is also great.

Origami Omnibus by Kunihiko Kasahara. Also unfortunately out of print, the Omnibus includes a treasure trove of models and information. Kasahara also published a number of great books including Origami for the Connoisseur, Happy Origami, Origami El Mondo Nuevo, and Origami La Era Neuva.

Realistic Animals in Origami by Fumiaki Kawahata. Another favorite artist of mine, this collection of animals ranges from simple to complex, using some classic bases and some custom bases. Each diagram includes a crease pattern (CP) at the beginning, so you can see how the sequence of the model matches the CP.

Origamix by Tetsuya Gotani. Includes clear explanations of design concepts, including molecules and rivers. Each concept is accompanied by an original model, most of which are intermediate to complex level. Excellent book for anyone interested in designing more advanced models. Also includes molecule puzzles to practice imagining molecules with a square.

Origami from Angelfish to Zen by Peter Engel. Includes a thorough introduction including information about the history of origami and the theories behind it. Models in the book range from simple to complex.

Origami Aquarium by Katsuhisa Yamada. Every model in this book starts from a Bird Base. Great way to see how one base can be taken in many different directions. Other books that employ the same principle include Origami Petting Zoo and Origami Zoo.

Zsebe Jozsef by Zsebe Jozsef. His models are great examples of sculptural, essential models. Good inspiration for the “No References” challenge. He has other books as well. Giang Dinh also has good examples of models in this style.

Some of my other favorite artists include Quentin Trollip, Roman Diaz, Michael LaFosse, and Muneji Fuchimoto.