Fold Along Dotted Line

Since beginning this blog early in 2009, I have been trying to come up with examples in which preparatory sketches have a direct impact on a finished design. But only now, as 2010 is upon us, has it finally occurred to me to write about the activity in which this happens most directly of all: folding. With no tools at all, you can take a piece of paper, marked in all the right places, and turn it into a sculpture.


The most sophisticated type of folding there is, of course, is the East Asian craft of origami. Normally the papers used are either blank or decorative; they don’t have layout lines marked on them, for the simple reason that as the object is being folded you would rapidly lose track of the diagram. It’s more usual for the folding process to be depicted like this:

More recently however, advanced practitioners like Philip Chapman-Bell and Robert J. Lang have developed ‘crease patterns’ to record the process of making their complex origami creations. Chapman-Bell has a terrific blog about experimental work in the medium, while Lang’s story is told in this fine article written for the New Yorker magazine by Susan Orlean. He is a mathematician whose academic interests led him to radically expand the possibilities of paper folding. Here is one of Lang’s amazing beetles, made from a single piece of  folded paper, and the pattern that shows you how to do it.


I’ve enjoyed exploring the world of extreme origami, but it hasn’t really taken me to what I was looking for: a sketch that can itself be folded into an object. For that, I had to turn to the world of art and design. Here is a lovely project by the Dutch designer Chris Kabel – a napkin that carries its own instructions for decorative folding.

Without a doubt though, the best example I have found is this more conceptual project by the wonderful artist Janine Antoni. Made for an exhibition entitled the Paper Sculpture Show in 2003, it is its own set of detailed instructions.

If you follow them exactly, folding along every line, you’ll have a crumpled ball of paper, exactly the same as a crumpled ball that Antoni made herself, and which she used as a model for the work. It took her only a second to do that, of course; she’s asking you to go through a painstaking feat of craftsmanship to get something that looks like rubbish. But at least it will be just like hers. (For those who like their art crumpled, by the way, check out the 1991 project where Tom Friedman produced two exactly identical pieces of wrinkled-up paper – how he did it is anyone’s guess – and at the downbeat end of the spectrum, this work by British artist Martin Creed.)

I love the perversity of Antoni’s DIY project. And in a way it’s exactly what I was looking for in the first place – a way of making the product exactly the same as the sketch. After all, when a designer is done with a preliminary design, she usually tosses it in the bin.

Happy New Year out there, everyone!

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