Speaking of Butterflies

One of the oldest, simplest, and to my mind, most deceptively difficult of all origami subjects is the butterfly. It is so simple, because all you really need are two wings: one can make a quite recognizable one with just two folds. And there are many origami butterfly designs out there, notably Yoshizawa’s iconic creation. I’ve also made a few myself.

But the humble butterfly is also a deceptively difficult subject to capture in origami. Many of them (many of my own) are heavy and ponderous, which may capture physical features – legs, wings, antennae – but capturing the grace, lightness, and delicacy of the real subject is quite the artistic challenge.

The modern master of butterflies is, and has been for a long time, Michael LaFosse, who has developed a basic structure and approach that he has used for tens, if not hundreds, of distinct creations. In one sense, you could say that these are all variations of a single design, but I think that is a great oversimplification, and the versatility of the approach is better described by Michael’s own words, wherein he describes a “system” for creating butterflies. Because the changes from one form to another give rise to very different appearances, different species, and different characters from one to the next. When you add in the additional design space that comes from Michael’s ability to create his own paper for each design, you get a remarkable lepidopteran zoo.

Many of Michael’s designs are inspired by individual species; many others are inspired by individuals. I was absolutely tickled pink to learn from a recent expedition to Haverhill that Michael now has named one of his butterflies for me! You can see it here:


“A butterfly for Robert Lang” is a double-swallowtailed butterfly, a bit of extra complexity that echoes my own interest in complex designing, but is folded with a grace, elegance, and simplicity that I could never match.

Best of all, I, and you, will have a chance to get to fold it. It is one of a host of new designs in Michael and Richard Alexander’s new book, “Michael LaFosse’s Origami Butterflies,” published by Tuttle, and available from fine booksellers everywhere.