As special guest of this year’s German Origami Convention, I was interviewed for German Origami Society’s magazine, Der Falter. I do speak German, but since communication with special guests was in English, I gave the interview in English, and Der Falter published a translation into German. Today, I have the pleasure of publishing (with permission from Der Falter’s editors) the original English version of the interview. I added some links, which was not possible in the paper edition. Enjoy!
Der Falter: Please write five lines about yourself:
Michał Kosmulski: I’m an origami creator from Warsaw, Poland. Currently, most of my designs are tessellations, boxes, and other geometric designs, but I also appreciate (and sometimes design) other types of origami. Apart from designing and folding, I enjoy other aspects of origami, such as giving workshops, thinking about the theory of origami, and trying out different kinds of paper. On my web page at origami.kosmulski.org, I publish my models as well as blog posts on topics such as paper reviews, origami classification or the impact of Artificial Intelligence on origami. In my day job, I’m a software engineer.
When did you start doing Origami?
My interest in origami has had three starts, or restarts, so far. I folded models such as the paper boat as a child, but only got into “serious” origami around age eleven. When I started university, I discovered modular origami on the internet, and this became my main origami interest for the next few years. Then, in 2015, I attended an origami convention for the first time, and got interested in tessellations, which invigorated my creativity and interest in origami very much.
Was there a special occasion that caught your interest in Origami?
It was pure coincidence. I was a big fan of dinosaurs, and stumbled upon John Montroll’s “Prehistoric Origami: Dinosaurs and Other Creatures”. My parents bought me this book, and I set out to fold all models. I had no other help than the short introduction to folding at the start of the book, so these models were quite challenging at first. Still, I had great fun folding them, and since I had no access to other origami books of comparable complexity, I kept folding these models all the time. I knew every design from the book by heart, and made literally hundreds of pieces over a few years.
What is fascinating for you about Origami?
The diversity of styles, subjects, and techniques. At a convention, there may be dozens of exhibition tables, each of them displaying origami, and yet each so different.
Do you have a role model?
Not really. There are lots of people doing great things, and it’s hard to pick a single one. I wouldn’t call him a role model, but I certainly feel certain affinity to the work of Shuzo Fujimoto. His tessellations were among the first I ever folded, and then several times I came up with designs I liked, only to find out he had had the same ideas many years before. He was much ahead of his time and many of his designs are very elegant.
When did you start designing your own models?
My first origami design I can remember was a diatryma terror bird, folded from a square cut in half diagonally. I must have designed it somewhere around the mid 1990-s. I designed a few modulars (the first being Oxi unit) in the early 2000-s, but I was not happy with them. It was only in 2015, after I got interested in tessellations, that I really got into designing my own models, and this is when both the quantity and the quality of those designs really improved.
Who or what is inspiring your models?
Everything! Other folders’ work. Decorative arts. Nature. Literature. Some inspiration is about technique, some about the subject, some about the form. I like experimenting. At this point, I focus mostly on tessellations and similar models, but I’ve already gone through several rapid changes to the way I fold origami, so who knows: maybe some day I will move on to a completely different style yet.
What kind of paper do you prefer?
I prefer thicker types of paper, such as Tant or Elephant Hide. They give some bulk even to flat-folded designs, making them look like relief sculpture. Such papers are also usually quite rigid, which facilitates the collapsing step. I’ve gotten so used to thick papers that I almost feel awkward when I get to fold Kami or something thinner once in a while. High quality hand-made papers, both thick and thin, can be great for folding, and can be selected according to the model’s needs, but they are harder to come by and more expensive than machine-made papers. Since for each design, different folding properties are optimal, and a different look is suitable, despite having some favorites, I like trying out different types of paper. I have published a number of paper reviews on my web page.
Do you also fold with other materials?
Yes. Since I like experimenting with different kinds of paper, by extension I have also tried various non-paper folding materials. Some were composites, for example paper glued together with foil and fabric, others included sandpaper, paper money, plastic foil, slices of ham, and an RFID chip. Most of these materials were very poor for folding, but checking that was a lot of fun.
Are your models influenced by other fine arts?
Some are inspired directly by works of art. Long Story Short, my book model, was inspired by a particular sculpture I saw, while Christ Pantokrator is based on Byzantine icons. Some geometric patterns are directly based on tile patterns I spotted in old buildings. When I designed Two Swords, I took a bit of time to study medieval swords in order to make my origami realistic rather than just a mashup of random features as is often found in video games or even high-budget movies. There is also the less direct inspiration whose impact is harder to describe. I think dealing with beauty, whether it be in fine arts or in nature, or in the form of a beautiful equation or a piece of code, develops certain sensibility which can then be applied to other areas, including origami. I enjoy museums, and like to visit art galleries when I travel, and I’m sure it affects my origami designs in some way, even if the influence is subtle, such as developing a better feeling for proportion.
Do you have a favourite model and/or a model that you are proud of?
It’s not a single model, but a technique. I have developed a number of ways to fold grid-based models such as tessellations without folding the whole grid while using just pure origami (so it’s not about printing or computer-scoring the CP). Folding this way requires more work, but the end result looks so much cleaner than with the grid.
Where do your folded models end up?
First of all, due to time constraints, I am able to make neat folds of only a small fraction of my designs. Most ideas end up as quick folded sketches and are added to the pile on my shelf. The pile is divided into three tiers depending on how promising the idea seems, and once in a while I go over it, moving some models between tiers and throwing away those I deem too bad to waste time on. As for cleanly folded models, I keep a lot of them at home. Tessellations are mostly flat, so I can keep them framed on the walls or in folders. 3D models end up in boxes, and a few of the larger modulars have their place on top of my bookcase. I also give away some of my models to friends and family. Sadly, I had to throw away some of my older modular models which were folded from cheap paper and became very ugly after 10 years or so.
What advice can you give folders that want to start designing their own models?
The way I got into designing origami was by modifying existing designs made by others. At some point, my modifications became significant enough to be called separate models in their own right. This way is probably easier for geometric designs, where, due to their abstract nature, practically any modification makes sense. The modified design may be nice or not, but a modified tessellation is usually still a tessellation. This is not the case with figurative origami where I think there is a larger gap between different designs: a small modification will not be considered a separate design, and making a completely new one may require changing the whole base which means reworking the model from the ground up. I have done very little figurative origami design, but I think it’s harder to get started in this area.
Do you have instructions for your models, and if yes, how do you create them (photo, hand sketched, with software, by yourself or others, …)?
I document all my designs for my own needs. When I just started designing origami, each new design was a big deal, and I thought I would always remember how to fold them all. When their number went into the dozens, I realized I often forget some detail, and sometimes even the major steps of the folding process. So, now I document everything. For my own needs, I take photographs of folding steps and of pre-crease patterns hand-drawn over the folded grid. Such instructions often skim over some steps which I know are documented in a different model. When I prepare instructions meant for publication, I sometimes draw step-by-step instructions in Inkscape, but usually I publish a CP (drawn in Inkscape, sometimes also using Oripa) and a photo-tutorial.
What is special about Origami as an art form?
I think not all origami is art, but origami can be art. Today, it remains outside the mainstream, which, while sometimes disappointing, also has advantages. The community is rather small, and very friendly. Since there is little money and fame involved, and most people do origami just for the fun of it, they are more likely to cooperate than to compete and are usually happy to share their ideas. There is no snobbery, and even the most famous origami creators are very approachable. We try to share the joy of origami with everyone around us, which is good, but if we actually succeeded and origami became a mass phenomenon, we would probably lose much of that.
Did Origami change in the last years and if yes, how?
Origami itself hasn’t changed that much, even though people keep creating new designs and techniques, of course. But origami community certainly has changed. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online workshops: as far as I’m aware, before 2020, only OrigamiUSA organized online workshops on a regular basis. During lock-downs, they became the norm, and we learned how to teach and how to fold in this new environment. Now, we are slowly getting used to face-to-face meetings again. But there were changes even earlier. I think the move from flickr as the main online meeting place of origami enthusiasts to other sites such as instagram changed the character of the community. These other sites put much more emphasis on images compared to text, and in my perception encourage posting shiny pictures much more than interesting discussions. Since these sites have more users, they also offer the thrill of getting many more likes in a short period of time. On the other hand, they don’t offer the archive quality of flickr: data is searchable only to a very limited extent, and any information posted more than a few days ago might as well not exist at all. Fortunately, I also see some people putting up their own websites, but I don’t think the scale is enough to reduce our dependence on social media significantly.
Where to will Origami change in the future?
I have no idea, and that makes it interesting.
What does Origami mean to you?
It’s a hobby that has become an important part of my life. It takes a lot of my time, but it’s also a big joy to create something new, and to be able to share it with others.
What was your funniest experience with Origami?
The first origami convention I attended was Plener Origami (Outdoor Origami Meeting) in Kraków, not very far away from Warsaw, where I live. The funny thing is I learned about this convention accidentally from Meenakshi Mukerji, who lives in California. It was a really crazy coincidence which had a great impact on my origami and the rest of my life.