Rules for the Creative Folder

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This article originally appeared in British Origami Magazine, June, 1985.

If you ask a paperfolder, he will tell you that the reason he goes to the annual origami convention in Britain (or New York, or Pago Pago, wherever) is to share the fellowship of other folders; to improve his own craftsmanship; to boldly go where no man has gone…well, you get the picture. Very few will admit to the real reason; namely to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are les plus ultra of their field. (This goal is not unattainable to the modern folder, as one still must scour a major metropolis to find competition). Folders who go to conventions (or who long to, but are too cheap to buy a plane ticket) are not content to merely inform the legions of uninformed humanity that he/she (the folder, not the humanity) is a votary of the ancient mystical art of Origami (and be greeted by the response “yeah, I used to do that as a kid but I grew out of it”). No, conventiongoers must prove their machismo in the arena of their peers, the other folders, the only folk who can appreciate that they, and only they possess the “right stuff.” Consequently, when a hundred assorted inferiority complexes of this sort converge on a single room for a convention, the result is carnage. By the end of a fold-filled weekend, the toll is visible to even the untrained eye, as folders, their egos as crumpled and tattered as their unsuccessful folds, lay sprawled where they were stricken, collapsed over their papers, while the few survivors hungrily eye each other. It’s not a pretty sight. In the interest of evening the odds among the various combatants, I present the following tips on conventionsmanship—the art of making yourself look good (or equivalently, everyone else look bad) without looking like you are trying to.

Creative folders have honed this to a fine art. They are the ones you see lugging around boxes and cases stuffed with models, conspicuously labeled with a date in the past month, quick to say “oh, I just invented these 50 folds last week and simply have not the time to draw up directions,” when in actuality they are carrying every paperwad thy have made since 1958. Creative folders (it’s a self-coined name, and automatically carries with it the implication that everyone else is an uncreative folder—clever, huh?) spend hours in front of the mirror perfecting the Vulcan raised eyebrow that accompanies a disdainful “you mean you haven’t invented anything?” or “is that all you’ve invented?” Either of those phrases is often enough to send the non-inventing folder scuttling away; but among the circles of creative folders, more powerful forces and strange and arcane weaponry must be brought to bear.

Marvelous things can be accomplished with the inflection and tone of the voice, and in fact some of the top folders in the world attribute their exalted status to voice training they had as a child. For example, when examining an opponent’s work (I mean, “another folder’s work”), one can deliver the perfectly innocuous phrase “gee, that’s really nice…I bet you worked a long time on it, huh?” with the tone usually reserved for commenting on your neighbor’s egotistical six-year-old brat’s finger paintings. This attacks the folder subconsciously; without realizing it, he automatically assumes the position of servile apprentice, and elevates the opposition to that of lord and master.

A popular subgenre of conventionsmanship is insectsmanship, the practitioners of which you see huddled in a corner discussing the anatomical accuracy of their respective buggy creations. This requires a quick mind, a supple tongue, and the ability to string scientific-sounding phrases together on the spur of the moment. (Folding ability, while useful, is not strictly necessary). Typical conversations run “hey, how do you like my Brown Fiddleback Spider?” “Aren’t the maxillary labia a bit large?” “No, this is the Patagonian variant—didn’t you notice the atrophied chelicerae?” Such discussions usually dissolve at the approach of a real entomologist, however.

One need not actually invent many different types of insects to impress people. A common procedure is to fold 8 or 10 versions of the same insect, put them each in its own little box, the box in a box, and then when exhibiting, keep up a running chatter along the lines of “and this (open box, remove box) is my (open box, remove insect) Green Pubescent Ground Beetle (return insect, close box) which (return box, close box) is somewhat like (put down box, fetch new box) but quite different from (open new box, remove box) my (open box, remove insect) Thespian Root Beetle (return insect, close box) which I made from (return box, close box)…and so it goes. Naturally, the observer never sees any one insect long enough to discern that you are showing him the same thing over and over again.

Then there are those folders who arrive with drawings of their folds actually drawn up and copied. They are already at a disadvantage, for everyone knows that if they were truly prolific, they wouldn’t have time to draw anything up; such a folder can, however, turn the situation to his advantage by writing on the original (in pencil, so it barely comes through preproduction and requires much strain to read) “Memo—Yoshizawa wants two copies of this.”

I need not delve into such obvious ploys as misinterpretation (“oyster? No, it’s supposed to be a Koala Bear”), or even the ever-popular paper snobbery (“You know, that might look okay if you used some of the handmade T’ang Dynasty paper I have”). My personal favorite is the 3-punch precedent ploy, which can be quite devastating in the hands of a trained professional (kids, don’t try this in your living room!). It should be saved (for best effect) until your opponent brings out his pride and joy, the fold he worked for five years to perfect; his magnum opus. You begins with a casual “oh yeah, Feldstein showed me that exact fold a month or so ago.” Pow! There goes originality. Before he can recover, “one of his five-year-olds invented it, I think.” Then while he is reeling, you administer the coup de grace; “he also improved the head…it’s really obvious, I’ll have to show you sometime;” then you walk away leaving him demoralized, deflated, despised and humiliated. If you are lucky, he is near suicidal, but at the very least he will go home and burn every copy he has folded so far.