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Interview With Chris Alexander

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Millennium Falcon

Millennium Falcon origami

By Chris Alexander

Many people find the transformative nature of origami to be fascinating. A single sheet of paper can be turned into pretty much anything if you understand the right origami folds. For Chris Alexander, origami has been the perfect medium for expressing his love of Star Wars.

Star Wars Origami: 36 Amazing Paper-folding Projects from a Galaxy Far, Far Away.... , published on August 7, 2012, is an extension of Alexander's website StarWars Origami.com The book features Star Wars themed characters and spacecraft, as well as the paper you need to fold each model. You can learn more about this great origami guide by reading About Origami's review.

Recently, Alexander took the time to answer a few questions for the readers of About Origami.

When did you first become interested in origami?

I was 4 years old. My mom introduced me to origami by accident. She would take my brother, my sister and I to the library and read to us. She would grab a few books from the kids section and we'd listen and look at the pictures. One day she picked up an origami book thinking it was a story about Japan. Inside were diagrams showing how to make some simple animals and a paper cup. I loved that cup and it started me down the path to fame and glory as an origami artist. (I'm not famous or reveling in glory yet.)

What is your favorite type of model to fold?

I prefer to make models of animals, birds, fish, dinosaurs...things like that. There are a lot of different expressions of origami. You can make boxes, flowers, geometric shapes, planes, and boats. Just about anything that can be imagined can be represented in origami. I'm an animal lover, so they're my favorite things to make.

What is your favorite origami book or website?

My two favorite books are Origami Omnibus by Kunihiko Kasahara and John Montroll's African Animals in Origami. Kasahara's book has over 250 models covering the full range of the origami spectrum. Montroll's books hows you ow to make some spectacular traditional origami models.

What is your favorite type of material to fold?

I don't have a specific favorite material. I usually use standard 6 inch kami (origami) paper, which comes in 6 inch squares and has color on one side and is usually white on the other.

If I'm doing a special project, I might use something else. For instance, when I make the life sized origami models I've found that photography backdrop paper works well. It comes in rolls 12 feet wide and 100 feet long. That takes a bit of preparation.

When I'm making something organic like plants or flowers, I like to use tracing paper and wash it with water color first. It gives the paper a more natural appearance. I've folded cloth for blankets, wax paper for boats, and even plastic sheets for jewelry.

What tips would you give to someone who is just learning how to fold origami models?

There are three secrets to origami.

The first is patience and accuracy. Beginners tend to fold the paper close to where it needs to be and then crease the paper. For very simple models it might not make a difference. For fancy models, a misaligned step early in the process becomes exponentially harder to correct in the later steps, sometimes making the model impossible to finish. Making sure the edges and corners of a step are as aligned as you can makes the whole process much easier.

The second secret is to crease the paper. Another beginner mistake is to pat the paper into place. Instead, take your fingernail and crease each step as flat as you can. The model will be cleaner and later steps will be much easier to line up.

Lastly, practice. Even a master origami artist's first attempts at a model aren't the best. Folding a model a few times will yield better results each time.

During a typical week, how much time do you devote to practicing origami?

I make models a few times a week. I enjoy making models when I’m in a restaurant for the waiter or waitress. I’ll ask them what their favorite animal is then make one during the meal and present it with the check. Most of the time people react with wonder and a smile.

Maybe once a month, I get inspired to invent a new model or experiment with a way of displaying the models. I once made a clock by replacing the numbers on the face with each step of the crane. Does that count as practice?

In your opinion, what is the relationship between origami as an art form and the scientific/mathematical implications of paper folding?

There is a whole field of mathematics devoted to that relationship. I’ve even heard of college courses on the subject. I know of a few origami artists, like Robert Lang, who specialize in the science of origami. I’ve never spent much time exploring this part of origami, but there are a few concepts I find very interesting, like trisecting an angle or dividing a square into fifths just using creases.

Another thing I get a kick out of is how the same model folded from two different size squares end up with exactly the same proportions. That’s a property of geometry I learned back in high school.

Is there any other special information you'd like to share with the readers of About Origami?

Origami is a wonderful art form. Like any art form, the more you practice and experiment the more skilled you’ll become. Unlike other art forms, you can do it anyplace with any paper on hand. If the model is embarrassingly wrong, you can just crumple it up and disguise it in the trash. No one has to know.

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