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               Much of art is concerned with legacy, the tantalizing notion of creating something that will be admired for generations to come. Paintings are framed, sculptures are enshrined and displayed in museums, and works of literature are studied over and over again in classrooms. Origami is much more humble. The crafter takes the paper, nature’s precious offering, and breathes life into its stillness. No artist’s paintbrush will grace this canvas, no signature will be etched into the surface; the material itself is honored as the star of the show. Renewed, rekindled, reborn. Three-dimensional life springs from two-dimensional space. What was once a twig, a branch, a sliver of a trunk, takes on new meaning and purpose as a ship, a plane, a fox. [Or an open-faced box, the first piece of origami I ever attempted to make. My mom learned the steps from someone at work, and taught them to an eager 6-year-old me. My first few boxes were floppy and misshapen, but nevertheless they were my proudest creations and I entrusted them to hold my most prized pencils and erasers.] 

               Part of the beauty of origami lies in the ready availability of its required materials. No need for hundreds of pounds of marble or hundreds of dollars' worth of paint. To begin the journey of creation, the only requirement is a piece of paper, no matter the size or source. A lined page torn from a wirebound notebook, a crinkly leaflet of the newspaper sports section, a dessert menu at a restaurant – all can lend themselves to this noble cause. [In an attempt to entertain myself at a dinner with family friends years ago, I resorted to folding napkins.] Making use of these casual sources of paper is particularly helpful for beginners, as the pressure to “perform” is minimized. 

               Nevertheless, there is something deeply satisfying about purchasing paper specifically dedicated to origami. [Take any other kind of paper, and chances are you will have to cut the paper into a square before using it to make an origami piece. Origami paper comes in squares already, so you can focus wholly on the art. But this convenience is just a small part of its charm.] The specially-made paper often has colorful and intricate designs on one side, which commonly evoke motifs of Japanese art – an homage to the culture of its origin. Some of the most beautiful papers have tasteful golden splashes of color artfully worked into the patterns, from the gleaming outline of a cherry blossom in full bloom, to the flowing whiskers of a dragon as it winds majestically through the air, to the glistening peaks of waves in the ocean. This thematic thread of gold is reminiscent of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending pottery with lacquer and gold in such a way that imperfections are highlighted instead of obscured. Each additional break in the original pottery adds a layer to the narrative and transforms it further away from its starting point. In many ways, this tale of evolution and metamorphosis also applies to origami. With each fold, the crafter takes the piece further away from its pristine origin, but one step closer to its new life. [One Saturday afternoon, my dad and I set out to determine the best design for an origami airplane. In a matter of hours, there were planes scattered all over the coffee table – some thin and long, others small and compact, still others with weirdly bent noses. Lining all the different models up, we had a whole lineage of planes, evolving from the simplest plane achieved in just six folds at one end, to the two-tiered aircraft complete with ailerons that we deemed most desirable at the other.] 

               Unlike Kintsugi, however, the process of origami must be planned from the first fold to the last. Origami is inherently intentional. Purpose lies in every crease, and is squished between every crimp. At the heart of it all is precision and control. The experienced crafter is able to divide a piece of paper diagonally in two such that the ends of the crease find their homes square in the corners, creating clean sharp edges satisfyingly flush with each other in the final product. Beginners are often hesitant to leave permanent marks on wrinkle-free paper, and thus their creases are soft, barely announcing their presence on the resilient paper fibers. On the other hand, apply too much pressure to a fold and the paper becomes fragile and prone to tearing. [Too many times have I poured hours into a piece only to have it heartbreakingly rip during the last few steps.] The experienced crafter demonstrates measured control in the strength behind each fold, and will adroitly vary this strength for different types of folds. For mountain and valley folds, the crafter presses the paper into the smooth surface of a desk, uses their fingers to guide the edges of the paper into position, and with a confident sweep, traverses the length of the fold by pressing down with their thumbnail, creating a clean arrow-sharp line. For squash folds, the crafter carefully reaches under the surface layer of paper, and molds the top flap into its new shape by firmly grasping it between two thumbs, and gently settling the ridges into their new homes. [My girlfriend doesn’t like drawing attention to herself in large crowds. So instead of surprising her with a bouquet of flowers after her concert one night, I pressed a single origami rose into her palm.] 

               The progress from a flat sheet full of potential to a stout frog or a delicate unicorn is an exercise in trust and commitment. For most elaborate creations, the final product is not recognizable until the very last steps. Thus it is crucial to persevere and not lose hope, even in the absence of clear indicators of success. The subtle ridges and grooves of the paper fibers, like veins on the back of a hand, tell a tale of life, of endless possibility. The crafter senses this tale by stroking newly-made edges and vertices with experienced fingertips, and setting free the life from within. Equipped with faith in the process and a dedication to the end goal, the crafter coaxes a beautiful swan from a parade of amorphous intermediates.

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