March 8, 2007 at 11:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Susan Orlean : The Origami Lab: The New Yorker

Lang kept folding while earning a master’s in electrical engineering at Stanford and a Ph.D. in applied physics at Caltech. As he worked on his dissertation—“Semiconductor Lasers: New Geo-metries and Spectral Properties”—he designed an origami hermit crab, a mouse in a mousetrap, an ant, a skunk, and more than fifty other pieces. They were dense and crisp and precise but also full of character: his mouse conveys something fundamentally mouse-ish, his ant has an essential ant-ness. His insects were especially beautiful. While in Germany for postdoctoral work, he and Diane were taken with Black Forest cuckoo clocks; the carved casings, pinecone-shaped weights, pendulums, and pop-out birds wouldn’t seem to be a natural for origami, but Lang thought otherwise. He started a job at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, in 1988, shortly after he had finished folding a life-sized cuckoo clock. It had taken him three months to design, and six hours to fold, and it made Lang a sensation in the origami world.

He was using large squares of tweedy-looking mauve Hanji paper from Korea, which is sturdy but still slightly translucent, like the flesh of a fish. It is one of his favorite papers; he buys it in bulk from an online supplier. Other papers he likes, which he gets from art stores in San Francisco and Japan, when he visits, are lokta, from Nepal; unryu, from Thailand; and kozo and gampi, from Japan. When he makes his most complex insects, he uses handmade paper from Michael LaFosse’s studio. For a while, in fact, LaFosse had a paper in stock called Robert Lang Insect Paper.

This article made the rounds a couple of weeks ago. I held off reading it because I get put off a little sometimes by the preciousness with which Susan Orlean treats her subjects. I did pick it up a few days ago and it was really interesting. The article follows a former physicist who gave up his hard science career to develop advanced origami pieces, while recounting the history and avant-garde of origami.

Still, as with so many New Yorker pieces (especially on the web) the article suffered for a lack of pictures. And in this case, the descriptions of the pieces are difficult enough to imagine, let alone the pictures.

He put aside the piece he was working on, and took a new sheet of paper from the stack. He creased it, flipped the paper over, creased it again, lined up the edges, smoothed the sides together, pinched it here and there, and tugged on one edge. He did this with quick, meticulous movements, his hands crossing back and forth over the sheet as if they were tracing a melody. Suddenly, the sheet of paper crumpled and then opened into a shape—a tiny violinist, sawing away at a violin.

These are from the site of Robert Lang, the fellow profiled in the article. Each is from a single sheet of paper.


he has posted folding patterns for some of his designs, below is the pattern for the spider above.


Yup, those are circular folds.


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