FAQ part deux

More than one person has asked if I had ever gotten a papercut from folding. The people who ask this, I can only assume, have never folded paper before. No, I have never received a papercut from origami, and I don’t know anyone who has. I am reminded of this question which arose at the exhibition in Long Island, by an injury sustained today at work. I get papercuts all the time where I work at the library, I have three such cuts on my fingers right now: one above each thumbnail and one on the side of my left pinky finger. And no, although I work at the library, they weren’t from handling books. I work in acquisitions and the cuts came from opening boxes the books came in. Cardboard boxes have little pity for sensitive fingers.

I’ve been asked also if repetitive folding causes carpal tunnel syndrome. I suppose it could aggravate this condition if done improperly, but I find the stresses occur mostly in the fingers, not in the wrist. I get sore wrists the same way most office workers do, at the keyboard. I guess people like to imagine that the pursuit of art may be fraught with risk of physical harm – like papercuts and carpal tunnel syndrome. Origami is admittedly a rather tame art, one of the few that can be practiced on a bus ride or in the waiting room at a doctor’s office (ventriloquism and interpretive dance are others. Bronzecasting, stonecarving and pottery are not recommended). It requires little equipment beyond the medium itself (generally speaking, paper) and the digital appendages most were born with. And the origami muse seldom requires a blood offering from her supplicant.

These are occasionally asked questions (OAQ), back to the FAQ.

Q: Do you use special paper?

A: Yes and No. I use “elephant hide” – what is marketed in the U.S. as Wyndstone Marble – for almost all of my masks and many of my tessellations. I’ve been using it for maybe three years now and I’ve gotten rather comfortable with it. It has certain properties that I like: it is strong, flexible, creases sharply, responds well to wet-folding and it is pH-neutral. It’s not “special paper” though, at least not especially made for folding masks. It’s actually produced as endpaper and flyleaf stock for book manufacturers and for use in printing certificates and such. It just happens to work well for folding too. Any paper with similar characteristics will do. I’ve used banner paper and brown postal wrap which come in rolls and can be cut to any size. Wyndstone marble is becoming increasingly difficult to find in the States, however, and any alternative would be desirable. But when many people ask about “special paper”, they are looking at all the lines in the paper that I’m using making a tight triangular grid and they really want to know, is there special paper with those grids already in it. No, there isn’t. Those are creases and you gotta fold ’em yourself. Period.

Now you don’t have to fold tessellations from paper that has been prefolded with a grid, but for most tessellations, including the sort that I like to do, it sure makes things easier. It takes some time to fold a grid, but the investment is worth it later on. There are no satisfactory means I know of for making the grid mechanically: scoring damages the paper where it needs to be strong, impressing or embossing lines would only allow the paper to “hinge” in one direction, whereas a creased line can be reverse folded to make it neutral. But you don’t need a mechanical means anyway. Folding a grid is not all that bad. It takes time, sure. But it isn’t difficult and once you get the hang of it, it can be a restful, meditative activity. And it’s a good way to get to know your paper.

Q: You must be very patient

A: Again, that’s not a question, it’s an assumption.

It’s like many activities that people do for enjoyment: crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, knitting, and such. To someone who doesn’t share your interest, these things may seem tedious and boring. But if it’s something you enjoy, you do it. Patience is only necessary if you aren’t having fun. And if you’re not having fun, why are you doing it in the first place?

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