I’ve been working on something new lately. These are small origami tessellations, 10-12 cm. wide, folded from hexagons of simple bond-weight colored paper. The difference is in the finishing. After they’re folded, I saturate the paper with a one to one mix of melted beeswax and damar resin. This is a traditional basis for encaustic painting, but without pigments it makes the the paper translucent. The mix also makes the origami rigid and durable. The beeswax keeps the object from becoming too brittle and the damar resin raises the melting point of the wax so the suncatcher doesn’t go soft in the sun. I’ve created a new section in my Etsy shop, as well as an album in my Flickr photostream where you can see many more designs.
I’ve spent most of the last month working out the kinks in a particular new mask design. Once I get an idea in my head I tend go over it again and again until I’m either satisfied I’ve found the best solution or I’ve at least exhausted all the possibilities I can think of. That usually means a slew of masks representing variations on the same theme, so that I can see which ideas work and which do not.
The latest idea has been rather fruitful, and so far I’ve made three variations that I think came out pretty well:
They are all based on the same design, the most obvious difference is that Neptune and Triton have beards and Constantine does not. I wanted to design a mask that could go either way, so to speak. The eyes and nose of all three are essentially the same and the headdresses have only minor differences.
I’ve still got some more ideas to work out with this design you may see more in this line soon.
The fourth mask is a bit of a break:
This is a design from last year that I wished to develop a little further, and something with a slightly more pleasant expression. Those other three seem a bit cranky for some reason. I don’t know why so many of my masks come out like that, it’s not like I’m trying to make them all look angry.
A tessellation is a pattern of repeating geometric forms that can interlock to fill a space infinitely. In origami tessellation, a discrete unit of folded shapes that can be repeated to make a tessellation is sometimes called a “molecule”.
This molecule is an example of a style of tessellations I started folding almost a decade ago that I took to calling “flagstones”. Combining shapes like rhombus twists and open backed hex twists on the front with triangle and closed hex twists in the back allows the shapes in front to sit right next to each other with only a sort of “grout line” separating them. It reminds me of tiles or paving stones, hence the name.
I’ve made a video of folding a star and hex molecule, consisting of a cluster of rhombus twists in a star formation surrounded by hexagonal twists. This unit can be reiterated to fill as much space as the piece of paper will allow.
By the end of last post, the mask looked like this:
Shiny bronze. I could have stopped here and called it good, but I really wanted a nice, crunchy verdigris patina on this thing to give it some character. I have a technique I’ve been experimenting with to create an effect of age, oxidation, rust or corrosion.
I apply a layer of crackling (or “craquelure” if you want to sound fancy) with a mix of pigments and Kroma Crackle as a medium. I first found out about Kroma Crackle from Joseph Wu’s use of it on his own origami, as you can see here. When I saw what he was doing, I had to try it for myself. There are a lot of crackling glazes out there, but they are usually glossy and work best on hard non-porous surfaces. Kroma Crackle has more of a matte finish and is flexible, not brittle, when it dries.
To prepare my verdigris I will assemble my materials.
Most of the pigment will be in powder form. In the jar is powdered glauconite, a mineral traditionally used to create blue-green paints. I happened to have some around from years ago when I used to play at making my own paints (but that’s another story). If you’re interested in such things, you can find Rublev natural pigments and other traditional artists’ supplies at NaturalPigments.com.
I also have Micaceous Iron Oxide again, some Phthalo Green and Manganese Blue, and of course the tube of Kroma Crackle.
Then mix in the glauconite to make a thick mud. Add a little water if necessary, but I only want enough liquid to disperse the particles of glauconite so that it will mix with the Kroma Crackle more easily and without clumps.
When the pigments are thoroughly incorporated in the crackle medium, I use a broad brush to slather the mixture onto the mask.I want to make sure to get it into all the crevices. After I’ve coated the whole surface evenly I can continue to go over the surface to brush some of the glaze away from the high points so that the bronze underpainting will show through.
The crackle glaze takes a long time to dry, but I can accelerate it a bit with a hot air gun. Getting the drying started will at least keep the goo from dripping of the mask before it is dry.
When it dries, it will lighten in color and become opaque. Added a final coat of shellac will make the crackle somewhat more transparent where it is thinnest, so the bronze can come through more. But I have to wait until the crackle is absolutely, completely dry, through and through before I can apply the shellac. That will take no less than 24 hours. Usually it is best to wait a couple of days at least.
When it is dry, I get out the clear shellac, thinned at with at least 50% alcohol. The crackle glaze drinks up the shellac so I make it very thin and apply it generously. The crackle becomes very transparent when it first absorbs the shellac, but it will become more opaque as it dries.
All told, it took about a week to complete this piece but a lot of time is spent waiting for something or another to dry before going to the next step. Usually I have more than one project going on so I always have something to work on.
The mask looked like this by the end of the last post.
This will help hold the shape as well as provide a means to hang the piece for display.
Then comes the first shellacking. There are fancy shellacs that you get from the art supply shop, but I have found that the stuff you get from the hardware store works just fine. I cut it 50/50 with denatured alcohol to get a thin consistency. The shellac needs to soak into the paper, not sit on top.
You can see the paper looks blotchy from some unevenness of saturation. I thin the shellac out with a bit more alcohol and work on the front of the mask to get into places I couldn’t soak from the back.
I’ll have to wait a while for the shellac to dry – a few hours at least but preferably 24 – before I can begin painting. Water is the enemy of shellac. You cannot shellac the paper if it the slightest bit damp or the shellac will get gummy and not cure properly. You also don’t want to start applying water-based paint (which is what I’ll be using) until the shellac is completely dry.
I’ve decided to go with a bronze look for this piece. There are a lot of faux-bronze finishes you can find at craft stores (and I will use some of them, but for highlighting only). I find that many of them have a flat, cheap or unconvinvingly glittery appearance. Especially when creating an old metal effect, I prefer to use layers of color and texture, with just a highlight of metallic paint and the final shellacking to provide the gleam of metal.
Having said that, I will start with a metallic bronze paint and micaceous iron oxide for the underpainting. The colors will be obscured by later layers however – what I want is a dark layer with a bit of shimmer underneath to give the surface some depth.
I’ve watered down the bronze and iron paints to make a wash and I’m using a broad, soft bristled brush to lay it on quickly. The Golden brand Micaceous Iron Oxide, by the way, has been a great addition to my palette. It is an unassuming charcoal gray color but it is infused with coarse mica so it provides texture as well as sparkle. By itself it has the appearance of cast iron.
While stil wet, I begin setting the stage for the bronze color.
These colors are a part of any artist’s palette so they are not difficult to find. I’m using Golden brand again but you can use any kind you prefer.
The beard has almost completely unfolded from all the wet paint. The previous shellacking keeps it from coming apart entirely so any part of the mask that has come undone can be pushed back into shape when the paint has dried.
The Sienna and Crimson layer is dry and the mask has been reshaped. The mask has become much stronger after shellacking, wetting, re-molding and drying, and will be able to hold up to the rest of the painting without coming apart.
The underpainting is done, so now I’m preparing the primary color. I use Burnt Sienna again as the base color, lightened up with a little yellow (I’m using Arylide Yellow because it is less bright than the other yellows I have) and tinted with Yellow Iron Oxide and Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold.
Burnt Sienna is the most opaque paint in this mix, so it will be the base color. It needs to be lighter and more “orangey” to look like bronze, so the Arylide Yellow (I think it’s the same as Hansa Yellow, for what it’s worth). Yellow Ochre would have been my first choice since the Arylide is a little too transparent to hold it’s own against a dark background, but I couldn’t find my ochre. The Yellow Iron Oxide and Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold (which I’ll refer to as QNAG so I don’t have to type that whole thing out each time) are the most transparent and act more like a stain.
As I paint, I change the proportions of the paints. I start working with mostly Sienna and Yellow to get a baseline color and when most of the mask is covered and the paint is still wet, I add increasing amounts of Iron Oxide and QNAG to tint the color to the right hue. When I’m just about finished and the mix is mostly the transparent colors, I add a little irridescent gold. This is another transparent paint that doesn’t effect the color much, but it does give the whole a metallic sheen.
I use a metallic gold paste (marketed as a “dabber”, it comes with a sponge applicator but I use my brush instead). Any metallic paint would do as long as it’s not too thin or transparent. I’ve added some QNAG to get a coppery color.
Then when everything is dry, I can seal it all with another coat of shellac. This time I’m using amber shellac (It usually comes in clear and amber. I’ve used clear so far since I only wanted to preserve the paper without changing the color). I’ve added a couple drops of red and green alcohol dyes to darken the shellac even more from an amber color to a sepia/brown.
And now it’s bronze. And it could be done, were I the sort to leave well enough alone.
But what I really want is old bronze. Bronze that might have been exposed to the elements for centuries or dredged from the bottom of the ocean. So in my next post I will show how I make a faux-bronze patina. It took several hours to get to this point, and I’ll end up covering up a lot of what I’ve just done. Every mask is different and I learn something new each time, so nothing is really wasted.
A few observations about the process so far:
I really could have used some yellow ochre.
The QNAG was more useful than I thought it would be. It has a nice rusty orange/gold stain to it. I found that it makes a good transparent glaze over a metallic base.
The Yellow Iron Oxide didn’t do much at all. It couldn’t compete with the darker colors. It would probably work better mixing with lighter colors.
I think the bronze paint in the first layer of underpainting was unneccesary too. The Micaceous Iron Oxide set the groundwork with texture and shine and the Burnt Sienna and Alizarin Crimson that came next laid the foundation for the color.
I don’t usually do product endorsements – I certainly don’t get paid to do it, and I think you should just use whatever works for you anyway – but I can’t say enough about Golden paints. I’ve used a lot of paints over the years, from high priced “Fine Arts” paints to cheapo poster paints. Golden, which sort of straddles the unspoken line between “Fine Art” and “Craft” supplies, is one of the best paints I’ve used. Their selection is remarkable. The QNAG, which I admit I only purchased because I had never heard of it before and was intrigued by the name, has actually proven to be one of the more useful paints in my arsenal. They have a variety “novelty” paints like irridescents and interference paints which are consistantly high quality.
I had in mind to do another large bearded mask, based on the “Goderic” design around the nose and mouth and the beard itself, but with a different structure for the eyes and top of the head.
This basic design has been through many permutations, but most of the variations had been in the layout of the beard. I wished to attack this model from another direction. I thought the piece “Spirit” had enough points of similarity around the area of the eyes and upper cheeks that I might manage to graft the top of one design to the bottom of the other.
It wouldn’t necessarily be a clean graft, since there are still many points of divergence that will need to be reconciled, but I wanted to give it a shot. I’ve taken some pictures at various steps of the process.
The first step is the paper. This is a big mask – 96 pleats in width. I want the pleats to be at least 4.5 cm. wide so I’ve begun with a piece of elephant hide paper 45 cm. across. To get 96 pleats, you first divide the paper in thirds longitudinally, and then begin dividing the divisions in half again and again, accordion fold style (3 parts divided by 2 equal 6 parts, divided by 2 equals 12 parts, then 24 parts, 48 parts, 96 parts).
The red mess is a prototype for the Goderic design that I will be using as a guide for most of the folding. It’s been folded and unfolded several times to try out different combinations of creases which is why it looks so rough, but there is enough information in this piece to help me with my new design.
The trick to stitching parts of two different designs together is to identify which elements must be done a certain way, and which can be modified. Then you start with the bits that have to be done exactly, and sort of “fill in the blanks” around them.
The eyes from Spirit and the nose from Goderic both have very definite structures. The cheeks of both have more flexibility in how they can be done. So I need to fold the eyes and the nose first and then try to fill in the other areas. Fortunately, the base of the nose and the space between the eyes for both designs are similar, so I can segue from Spirit’s eyes to Goderic’s nose with little difficulty (The eyes are a little closer together in Spirit than in Goderic, but I can make adjustments). I fold the necessary and invariable parts first, then I will have to improvise for the cheekbones and around the outside of the eyes.
Here I’ve filled in the area of the cheek down to where the mouth will begin. I’ve been working on one side only until I figure out the design, Once I’m satisfied that it will work, I can do the same thing on the other side.
You can see here about how much of the paper I’ve worked through by this point. Unfortunately, shortly after I took this picture, I discovered that I had made a small but crucial error in folding the bottom of the nose. I had deviated by a single crease at a point above the nostril. It was a small mistake but at a point in the design that would not tolerate any deviation at all.
Then finally the folding is done! But the work is not. You see in the upper left hand corner of this picture, a spray bottle. The next step may be the trickiest. To get the mask into proper shape I use the sprayer to moisten the paper, then manipulate the form of the mask as the paper dries. The water softens the sizing in the paper. When the paper dries, the sizing resets in the new configuration, holding the shape I give to the paper. This is the idea behind wet-folding, although wet-folding usually involves dampening the paper and then folding it, I fold the paper and then wet it. I would not be able to fold the mask at all if the paper was too soft since the technique requires a certain amount of resistance from the paper.
So I spray the paper just enough to get it damp but not sopping wet. A large mask like this I’ll do only a part of the model at a time. The paper expands and tries to unfold when it gets wet, so I have to keep at it, holding the structure together, refolding creases and molding the shape until the piece is dry again. This part requires constant and uninterrupted attention or the hours of folding I just completed will be undone. This is the result. Looks good, but I’m still not done. There will be shellacking and painting and maybe some other things to make this piece look as good as possible. So stay tuned for the next installment: Finishing a Mask, wherein I will do just that.
The last batch moved pretty fast. I can’t complain, but it sure is making it hard to keep up.
I’ve got four new masks now:
Some old favorites and variations. I’ve mostly been experimenting with surfaces – transparency and textures, mixing pigments with different media to try and get interesting effects.
I’ve got more projects in the pipeline so it shouldn’r be too long before the next batch is ready to share.
After a busy period with various non-origami concerns and not much to blog about, I’ve finally got some new pieces available at my Etsy shop.
Sylvanus and Caliban you might recognize. They are designs that I’ve been tweaking for a while and these are the latest iterations. There will probably be more since I can’t seem to leave these designs alone. Faunus is an all new design. I’ve been working lately on some smaller models; trying to get more expression out of less paper. My models seem to have been getting bigger and bigger and more and more complicated so Faunus is an attempt to downscale a little bit.
Summer is the big season for exhibitions and there are a few coming up that I have the privilege of participating in.
The first is “Surface to Structure”, an origami exhibition at the Cooper Union (no relation) in New York.
Cooper Union was the site of the first origami exhibition in the U.S. back in 1959, featuring some of the greatest origami artists of the time. The exhibition this year promises several big names in contemporary origami and some of the most beautiful origami artwork around. The show will run from June 19th to July 4th and is free and open to the public, so if you’re in New York you should definitely check it out.
I’m currently preparing work for two shows coming up in August.
The Origami Museum of Zaragoza in Spain (the first and as far as I know only museum in Europe dedicated to origami) rotates exhibitions every two months or so (They’ve just wrapped up a retrospective of Akira Yoshizawa). I’m planning on contributing a few pieces for the August exhibition.
Also in August there will be a showing at the Michael Good Gallery in Rockport, Maine. I will be sharing space with jewelry artist Sarah Doremus and sculptor Greg Pinto. This should be an interesting venue for me since it will be the first time since the local art festival more than a decade ago that my work will be shown not as part of an origami exhibition. It should be interesting to see how it is accepted alongside artwork of other media.
So for the next couple of months you won’t be seeing much in my online shop as all my efforts will be directed toward creating new work for these shows.