Folding a mask

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.

mask folding 1  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). mask folding 2

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.

mask folding 3   I start at the top, working as if I were folding the “Spirit” model. I don’t have a working model for that design like I do for Goderic, so I’m using pictures as a guide.

A closer view – you can kind of see that I’ve worked down as far as the tops of the eyes here.mask folding 4

mask folding 5The 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. mask folding 6

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.

mask folding 7 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.

mask folding 8  I was able to make the correction to the nose and redesign the cheek to compensate. Then I could proceed to fill out the mouth and jawline. You can see the beginnings of the beard as well.

mask folding 9  I think this design will work, so I can move on to the other side of the face. This is the home stretch!

mask folding 11mask folding 10  The face itself has used up less than half of the long piece of paper. The rest of it will be all beard.

mask folding 12mask folding 13Half of the beard folded and I’m wondering if the paper really needed to be quite this big. This is the monotonous part and it seems to take forever, the same folds over and over again.


mask folding 14

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. mask folding 15This 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.


7 thoughts on “Folding a mask

  1. Thank you for sharing this Joel. You make it sound so easy! I’ve done some folding with elephant hide. Marvelous paper. But it takes a master to do what you do. Thank you for continuing to “push the boundaries” of origami.


  2. Pingback: Finishing a mask (pt. 1) | origamijoel

  3. Pingback: Finishing a mask (pt. 2) | origamijoel

  4. Dear Mr. Joel Cooper!
    My name is Timur, I am 12 years old. I’m from Russia, Yaroslavl. I have been doing origami for 5 years. I really like your masks and tessellations. It’s adorable and perfect!
    I also learn to make masks and have already done 3 masks “Naiad” photo and CP.This is a very interesting and fascinating process.
    Could you help me and show at least one more CP other mask?
    Would be very grateful for your help.
    Or maybe buy CP?
    With respect. Timur.
    P. S. I could show my finished mask, but don’t know how to insert photos here


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