For the October 187 Convention, Richard Hallman, convention organiser asked for a few words on the subject of “Creativity.” Forthwith, I set pen to paper, and forthwith, drew an instant blank. After about ten pages of false starts’ I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really have anything to say about the general topic of creativity, but I did have a few thoughts on the topic of creation — namely, how a folder comes up with a design for a new model.
Different folders approach it different ways. Some talk about their folding “inspiration.” Some merely play with a base, twisting it this way and that until it begins to resemble something. Others follow their intuition. An American colleague says he dreams new designs. And some, of course, invent totally new symmetries and techniques to accomplish their goal. Alas, my own method is quite mundane. Most of my models are the result of plugging away at a subject, using systematic folding and geometric techniques. Where I part company with the giants of geometric folding is that most of “my” techniques are not even home-grown, but are either lifted from other models or continuations of published techniques.
The secret, I think, to adapting other people’s techniques without finding yourself simply duplicating their work is to look beyond the finished model and sequence, and to figure out why each step was done the way it was. I try to figure out the thought process the inventor used to develop his or her model; if I am successful, I can draw not only on his folding technique, but on his line of thinking as well. Often this necessitates pulling a model apart to discover the symmetries that went into it. The symmetries and dimensions are not always clear from the folding sequence, which is usually developed with the goal of simplicity and sequentiality in mind rather than as a guide to the structure of the model. In fact, a good simple folding sequence often obscures the instrinsic structure more than a more complicated one (“bring these 20 creases together now”) might, since a complicated step usually gives a more global view of the model. It’s often not until I’ve completed a model and unfolded it that 1 can say, “ah ha,so that’s why you made that precrease in Step 2!” I get a pleasurable feeling from inventing a new model of my own, but it’s also a heady feeling to know exactly how someone else invented their model — and it beats inventing something yourself and then finding out you’ve reinvested the wheel.
The other thing I do when I appropriate other techniques is to generalize them. As an example: in the recent Kasahara/Maekawa book Viva Origami, Jun Maekawa developed a technique to get five little points from a single large flap. His secret was to generate a lot of excess paper in the flap that could then be reverse-folded until the five tiny points appeared. It occurred to me that one could get the necessary excess paper from any sort of bird-base-like flap by crimping it and pulling out the excess paper, as in John Montroll’s “wing-fold.” I thought this technique could be used so I got an old hawk I had rattling around in my drawer of rejects, and crimped and reversed the wing flaps. Ta-da! Instant feathers. However, five feathers seemed to be a bit sparse. Then I saw that there was no reason you had to restrict it to five points; you could make six, seven, or any number of points you wanted (I settled on nine). Irregularities prompted some changes in the folding method, but the final result was successful (it was displayed at the Spring 1987 convention, and will appear in Origami Zoo by Robert Lang and Stephen Weiss, published by St. Martin’s Press in late 1988. End advertisement).
Now, I doubt that when Mr. Jun sees that model in print he’s going to say “hey– this bloke nipped my five-fingered reverse fold!” any more than John Montroll will accuse me of stealing his wing-fold. For one thing, the finished sequence bears practically no resemblance to the original structures. Nevertheless, the connection is there, at least in my mind. It is with a long series of small, progressive changes that I (or anyone) can go from an existing technique to one that, to the casual observer, appears to be entirely new.
Fortunately, there has never been a better time than the present to engage in this process of analysis and adaptation, as the origami literature is full of new ideas just waiting to be borrowed. The two Montroll books alone are treasure troves of clever techniques, as are the two Kasahara books Viva Origami and Top Origami (Ed. Top Origami is now called ‘Origami for the Connoiseur’). Plus, John has a third book That will be out by the time this appears (Origami Sculpture); Peter Engel has one that will published by Simon and Schuster in 1988; Eric Kenneway’s (Complete Origami, in America from St. Martin’s Press) is now in press, and you might even find a nugget in my own solo book, The Complete Paperfolder, from Dover (Autumn of 1988). This is not to say that recent books are the only place to look by any means. Ingenuity with a bird Base is unmatched in the Harbin/Randlett books. The point of this all is that folding techniques are readily available. One need not create new ones to be creative.