DIY Origami Swan Tutorial

Just the other day I did something fun and new. I taught tiny humans how to fold paper and make origami models. There were two classes consisting of 10 preschoolers each. I hadn’t ever taught origami to anyone so young before so I wasn’t sure how things would go. I did a lot of research to look for simple, beginner level, origami model instructions that 4 and 5 year olds would be able to master in 15 minutes. LOL. I wanted two so that if they breezed through the first one we could try a second.

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All I can say is they were ADORABLE! I don’t usually spend time around children this young, especially so many at one time, so it was a lot of fun. First of all, their little voices are so cute. They were happy, curious, and very creative. When I asked if anyone had any questions after showing them my work no one said anything. All of a sudden one little girl walked up to me and hugged me *melt*. SO SWEET!

I laid out 6″ squares of origami paper for them and invited them to each choose two they liked. Fortunately there were plenty of grown ups on the field trip with the class so they were my impromptu assistants.

The kids really loved making the swan. I made this photo tutorial so that if they wanted to continue they would have a reference guide to fall back on.

You can try to if you want to just for fun. You can use any size and really, any kind of paper keeping in mind that thicker papers are harder to fold.

origami-swan-instructions-31. Begin with a square piece of paper. Here I’m using a 3″ square of origami paper.
2. Face front (printed) side of paper towards tabletop and fold in half at center to create a guideline fold.
3. You’ll end up with a large triangle shape. Then unfold.

origami-swan-instructions-44. You’ll use the center crease as a guideline and fold the right outer edge towards the center guideline.

origami-swan-instructions-55. Now fold the let outer edge towards the center as well.

origami-swan-instructions-66. Your model should look like this.

origami-swan-instructions-77. Turn over your model and repeat the same two folds to narrow the shape. Pictured above fold the right outer edge towards the center line.

origami-swan-instructions-88. Now fold the left outer edge towards the center.

origami-swan-instructions-99. Your model should look like this. Note the dashed line at the center of the model. Fold the model in half taking the point on the bottom and folding up to the point at the top.

origami-swan-instructions-1010. After the model is folded in half it’s time to fold the head. I like to visualize an imaginary line from the edge of the top corner of the white triangle (the backside of the paper) and fold the paper downward.

origami-swan-instructions-1111. This is what your model should look like. Layered upon itself accordion style is the body, then neck, then head.

origami-swan-instructions-1212. Now lift up the model and holding it accordioned  together you’ll fold the model in half following the arrows so the left edge and right edge meet together creating the base of the swan.

origami-swan-instructions-1313. Hold the base with your fingers and use your other hand to gently pull the neck upright away from the body.

Folding Tip: Do not set the neck at a 90º angle from the base, it will be top heavy and have a tendency to tip over. If you fold the neck just before it reaches 90º(pictured with the dotted line at the back of the neck above) or even sooner the weight of the head and neck will rest over the body and will be more stable. Aim for 11 O’Clock or just a bit more instead of all the way to 12 O’Clock. 

origami-swan-instructions-1414. Once the neck is pulled upright be sure to pinch along the base to set the fold in place.

15. Then use the same process holding the neck with one hand and using your other hand to lift the head away from the neck.

origami-swan-instructions-1516. Then pinch the top of the head to hold the fold in place.

origami-swan-instructions-16

17. Gently push the body apart to create the base the swan sits upon and set on tabletop.

18. Woo hoo! You just made an origami swan!

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Tinygami Origami FAQ’s

These are the questions I am asked hundreds of times a day during the three weeks of ArtPrize. Since they are pretty consistent I thought I’d compile them together into an FAQ post. If you don’t see the origami related question you may have wondered about feel free to leave a comment and I’ll reply there or add it to the post if it’s a popular question I’d forgotten about.

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Question: Do you use tweezers or tools to fold the cranes?
Answer: No. I only use my fingers. Seriously! 🙂

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Question: How long does it take to make a mobile of 1000 cranes?
Answer: In a perfect world I’d have 3 months for each mobile. But on deadlines I can finish them faster. Steps involved include:

  • Concept development
  • Sourcing materials for structures
  • Shopping for paper
  • Cutting paper into 1000 tiny pieces with a metal straight edge and X-acto knife on a self healing cutting mat
  • Folding cranes
  • Building mobile structure
  • Hanging mobile structures
  • Dividing cranes
  • Hanging cranes
  • Finishing details

Question: How long does it take to fold one crane?
Answer: Just a few (2-3) minutes. But some of the thicker, softer, more fibrous papers will strain the tendon in my right forearm very quickly requiring me to take breaks every 20 minutes or so for at least that long or longer.

origami-papers-imported-japan

Question: What kind of paper do you use to make your mobiles?

Answer: Almost all of the paper is imported origami paper from Japan. There are exceptions such as the white paper in the Mochibana piece which is tracing paper because I wanted a translucent quality that evoked the translucence of mochi, the dessert made of pounded sweet rice.

When I lived in California I was able to shop at a multitude of Japanese and art paper stores to find my origami paper.

Here in MI I’ve been to Hollander’s paper store in Ann Arbor twice and have resorted to ordering online.

I also receive very generous and thoughtful gifts of paper from time to time (thank you EmiInk!). They are always the most special papers of all.

Question: Where do you buy your paper?

Answer: I’ve been collecting paper since 1995 and have accumulated what I call my “stash” that I add to whenever I see beautiful paper for sale. Craft stores (think Michaels, Hobby Lobby, etc.) often have a nice selection but this is a list of my favorite specialty paper sources listed by state:

California

Nikaku Japanese Arts
Address: 615 N 6th St, San Jose, CA 95112
Phone: (408) 971-2822
You’ll find squares of paper in the center island display and rolls of larger paper along the same wall as the stairwell after you enter.

Nichi Bei Busan
Address: 140 Jackson St, San Jose, CA 95112
Phone: (408) 294-8048

Maido (There is more than one location)
Address: Santana Row, 378 Santana Row #1125, San Jose, CA 95128
Phone: (408) 213-1985

Kinokuniya (There is more than one location)
Address: 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129
Phone: (408) 252-1300

Miki’s Paper
Address: 1801 Fourth St, Berkeley, CA 94710
Phone:(510) 845-9530

Michigan

Hollanders
Address: 410 N 4th Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(Next door to the Ann Arbor Farmers Market)
Phone: (734) 741-7531

Washington

Spokane Art Supply
Address: 1303 N Monroe St, Spokane, WA 99201
Phone: (509) 327-6628

Question: Where did you learn how to fold cranes?
Answer: My maternal grandma from Japan taught me as a child.

hanging-origami-crane-needle

Question: How do you hang the cranes?

Answer: I use very small sewing needles to string the cranes. Usually they are “sharps” or “betweens.” For the smallest 1/4″ high cranes I use the thinnest beading needles I can find. I like to thread the cranes from the top to bottom of both each crane and each strand. This allows me to make certain no two matching papers are next to each other, meaning above or below vertically or side by side horizontally in neighboring strands.

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Question: What kind of thread do you use to hang them from?

Answer: My favorite is Madeira’s Supertwist metallic blend embroidery thread. It is more soft, flexible, delicate and shimmering than other metallic threads I’ve found at most fabric and craft stores. I order it online and have it shipped out to me.

how-to-hang-origami-cranes

Question: How are the cranes suspended on the thread?

Answer: In 2016 while preparing my ArtPrize entry I discovered a new way to hang cranes (and frogs and rabbbits) using no glue. Going forward I will use this technique whenever possible including for the individual strands I offer in my Etsy shop. The process may take longer but I love that it allows me to hang strands even when there is no electricity (that I used to need to run a mini glue gun).

Previously I used a low-melt temperature glue gun to hang each crane to the thread. High-melt will burn straight through the thread. The seam allowance tool in the lower left corner is to make sure each crane has the same amount of space between them to keep the length of each strand uniform. The tweezers I use to pull glue off/out of a crane that didn’t attach to the thread in the correct direction, meaning no two cranes hang facing the same direction as the cranes above or below them. I also try to set them at different angles to the cranes that surround them on each side.

color-sorting-1000-origami-paper-cranes

Question: How do you decide where the colors go?

Answer: It takes far longer to prepare the cranes for hanging than most people realize. The process begins by dividing out the 1000 cranes into piles of matching patterns and solid colors. Once that’s done I divide the cranes by pattern and color into equal piles. Each pile represents one strand. There are never even numbers of anything so after following simple division it becomes more intuitive dividing them out in a way where colors or patterns are as evenly dispersed as possible so the overall color scheme will be balanced from strand to strand.

dividing-hanging-origami-cranes

Once the cranes are divided into equal piles of mixed colors and patterns I drop them into small circles made of paper to keep them from mixing together until they’re hung.

headlamp-folding-origami-cranes-tinygami

Question: How is your vision?

Answer: Honestly? Not as good as it used to be. I now need reading glasses and good light. They’re both crucial when working in miniature formats whether using a swing arm lamp, natural light or sometimes at night I often use my camping headlamp in the house. Clear, bright light is imperative for me to be able to see as clearly as possible when folding the tiniest of cranes. For the headlamp I do use rechargeable batteries in an effort to be as eco-friendly as possible.

Question: Are you worried about arthritis? Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Do your fingers hurt? Do your hands hurt?

Answer: No. No. No. No. But, I do worry about tendonitis as my right forearm will get sore if I fold thick or soft paper or very tiny small folds (think frog legs and feet) for too long. Then I have to take frequent breaks and stretch out the tendon that gets stressed by putting my art out to my side at a 90º angle to my body and bending my wrist upward so that my hand is at a 90º angle to the arm (now parallel to my body). It’s a little trick a Physical Therapist told me about at ArtPrize that has done wonders to reduce the strain in my forearm.

transporting-art-installation-origami-artprize

Question: How do you transport the cranes from your home to a venue?

Answer: It isn’t terribly elegant but to protect them from light, dust, weather, and general damage I use customized cardboard boxes. The trick is adding a cardboard tube at the top to roll the monofilament they hang from onto to keep it from tangling during transport. The strands of cranes can puddle in the bottom of the boxes. My main goal is to keep the structure from crushing the paper cranes. This protects the structure from damage as well and is how I store the mobiles when they aren’t on display.

In 2015 I came up with an alternative, but similar, method to transport the mobiles to my ArtPrize venue using plastic garbage cans. If it rains I can simply pop a plastic kitchen garbage bag over the entire container. It’s not as protective but is easier and faster to get the mobiles in and take them out and allows the strands to hang longer during transport.

transporting-miniature-origami-mobile

Question: How long have you been folding tiny cranes into mobiles this way?

Answer: Since 1995 but for the first 19 years they were pretty much a hidden hobby. ArtPrize in 2014 changed all of that and I am now busy creating a business model that will allow me to pursue my art as my full-time career both while at home and on the road traveling in my tiny trailer 🙂

#OrigamiInMyHand

tinygami-miniature-origami-frog-hearts-shrimp-flower

A fun thing I was participating in before my dad got sick was an invitation by another one of my favorite Instagram origami artists white_onrice. Ross Symons started the hashtag #origamiinmyhand and asked people to fold something, photograph it in your hand, then tag and share it.

Of course in keeping with my Tinygami name I had to fold things miniaturized. That is the smallest frog, heart, and shrimp I had ever folded.

tinygami-miniature-origami-crane

The crane in the lower image is only 1/4″ high. I’ve decided to call this size “Micro” because it is my smallest. It goes along with “Itty Bitty” my medium size at 3/8″ high, and my large “Tiny” size at 3/4″ high.

If you’re also a folder I invite you to join in the fun 🙂

Miniature origami: A unique entry at ArtPrize 2015

I spent the better part of yesterday in Grand Rapids and the better part of this year working on my latest entry for ArtPrize 2015. You can view my ArtPrize profile at this link.

postcard-2015-low-res

You may recall that I entered the same competition in 2014. I’ve found it’s the one thing that has motivated me to not only begin producing art but to focus on becoming a full-time working artist able to support myself by earning a living wage.

Last year many ArtPrize visitors encouraged me to make larger cranes if I want to be a serious contender to win the $200,000 cash Grand Prize by receiving the most public votes (large scale works have historically been more successful at this particular competition), but tiny is my thing so I’m sticking with it. Call me a rebel 🙂

artprize-2015-origami-stacie-tamaki-grand-central-market

This year my entry is titled “4000 Culture Cranes.” I created 4 mobiles ranging in size from 1/4″ to 3/4″ high. The finished mobiles range from 7″-8″ in diameter and from 24″-36″ in length. Three are comprised of 1000 cranes each while one set (Sadako) ended up with 2000 cranes. LOL Last year the first thing people asked was “How many are there?” so I incorporated the number 4000 into the title. Then, 48 hours before the opening day I decided to deconstruct a set of cranes I’d made years ago and incorporate them into this year’s entry increasing the total but too late to change the title of the piece to 5000 Culture Cranes.

The series is hanging in the front window at the Grand Central Market and Deli.

grand-central-market-and-deli-grand-rapids-michigan

It’s located at 57 Monroe Center NW right in the heart of Downtown Grand Rapids and less than a block and a half past the Grand Rapids Art Museum (aka The GRAM) heading east down Monroe Center NW.

Stacie-Tamaki-2015-ArtPrize-Entry-blog

Each mobile is themed after a different Japanese cultural tradition. Two are more readily recognizable and two are less well known. From left to right they are:

  1. Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes: World peace
  2. Maneki-neko: Prosperity and good luck cat
  3. Daruma: Goal setting (aka Wish Doll)
  4. Mochibana and Kagami Mochi: New Year decorations both made from the sweet confection mochi

tamaki-artprize-build-journal-maneki-neko

I’ve created brief photo journals of the build process for each mobile. To challenge myself I decided to try working with air dry clay for the first time. For the larger pieces like the Maneki-cat and the Daruma I used styrofoam to carve base forms then covered them with a thin layer of clay which then had to be painted.

tamaki-artprize-build-journal-neko-sushi

Other elements were made of paper, wire, and beads. Some of the sushi that surrounds the cat are made of origami and other pieces are sculpted/formed with paper but not technically origami. A lot of prototyping and pattern making was involved for both the sushi and the washi paper doll of Sadako.

tamaki-artprize-build-journal-daruma

The Daruma and Maneki-cat also required hand-painting fine detail work to the finished sculptures. I don’think I’ve done that type of painting in well over a decade. Was relieved to know it’s (apparently) like riding a bike.

tamaki-artprize-build-journal-sadako

The 3-D washi paper doll of Sadako was a challenge because I could only find one tutorial online that kind-of showed how it’s done. The designer was generous to share photos of each step but didn’t include size or dimensions of each element so it took a day or two of mocking up the prototype testing each piece over and over until I figured it all out.

Quite a few kids had asked me last year if I was familiar with the story of Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes. They had read the book about her so they knew she was a 12 year old girl who suffered radiation poisoning when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Several years later she developed cancer and attempted to fold 1000 cranes so the Gods would grant her single wish to be healthy again. The crane is a symbol of longevity in Japan as a legend says the cranes live for 1000 years. Sadly, Sadako passed away before completing her cranes. The school children of Japan took up a collection to raise money to have a sculpture made of her that stands today in Hiroshima’s Peace Park. I wanted to create a mobile that reflected her story, something with resonance to connect visitors to the cranes in a small way.

tamaki-artprize-build-journal-mochibana

One of the biggest and kind of funny challenges was for the mochibana mobile. A New Year’s decoration the sweet sticky rice confection known as “mochi” is left in its natural white color and some is dyed pink. Small portions are wrapped around willow branches to represent flower blossoms in the winter when there are none. My dilemma? Where to get willow branches. There are MANY huge weeping willow trees all around Western Michigan, but I felt weird knocking on a stranger’s door and asking for some of the tree in their front yard. For months I drove around with willow-envy and was working up my nerve to ask a stranger for some of theirs when a chance visit solved my problem. It turned out my friends have a gigantic weeping willow on their property! Problem solved. The both the kagami and mochibana mochi are also also made of air dry clay.

I can’t convey how happy I am to be creating again. That pushing my limits, trying new things, being able to attend ArtPrize each day to talk to people about my work, it’s all like that Mastercard commerical: Priceless.

I love ArtPrize so much I’m already planning next year’s entry! If you’ve never been to ArtPrize it’s well worth visiting. It’s a fun, and imaginative art experience where you can wander around 3 square miles of Downtown Grand Rapids and view an incredible array of creativity all in public spaces and venues.

ArtPrize 2015 Japanese Culture

Washi Origami Squares

For ArtPrize 2015 I will again create four thousand tiny origami cranes.

Because the many visitors to the Grand Central Deli & Market in downtown Grand Rapids were so enchanted by the tiny crane mobiles representing the four seasons last year, I decided to do another series this year introducing visitors to elements of Japanese culture they may be unfamiliar with.

The first set I am working on represent the Daruma (pronounced Dah-roo-mah with a rolled “r”).

Daruma

That’s him painted on a utility box in San Jose, California’s Japantown. Considered a sign of perseverance and good luck the Daruma doll represents Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. When you purchase a Daruma doll they are usually made of paper mache and one (or both) eyes are painted white and left blank. The idea is for the recipient to create a goal. Once the goal is created you color in one eye with a black dot. When the goal is accomplished, you color in the other eye.

Washi Origami Paper

The color palette I’m using is predominately red and black, the traditional colors of the Daruma doll’s robe and beard. Now, where to get red and black origami paper in Greenville, Michigan?

Washi Origami Paper

My inspiration for the “good luck” a Daruma doll represents has already occurred. I can’t tell you how touched and appreciative I am that Stacey, Owner + Principle Designer at Emi Ink, a custom invitation + stationary store in Honolulu, Hawaii sent me an incredible gift: A care package of scraps of fancy washi paper, leftover from projects for her clients, to use in my ArtPrize entry this year! If you’d like to see the work she does just visit her website by clicking here or using the ad I’ve placed for her company on the blog sidebar under “Companies I Love.”

Miniature Origami Crane

I don’t recall exactly how and when Stacey and I connected online other than it was years ago and through a mutual friend. I think. We began interacting more last year via Instagram. It was there, when I saw the photo below , that I inquired if I could purchase her scraps. Instead of messaging me a price she insisted on giving them to me. I will do my best to give her paper a new life worthy of her kind gesture.

Emi Ink on Instagram

After spending a day hand-trimming all of the remnants to 1.5″ squares using an X-acto knife, self healing cutting mat, and a metal straight edge I ended up with 222 sheets of paper for the Daruma mobile. I’m not sure how many cranes I have folded so far. I’d gues I’m about halfway there. I’ll reveal the other three themes in upcoming posts as well as how I will be creating the structures the cranes will hang from.

There will definitely be more updates in the very near future.