Homemade Mac: Harnessing the Power of Paper

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The best part of having your own Macworld column is the tremendous fame and prestige that comes with the job. At least that's what my editor told me when I signed up for this gig. But aside from my mother (who is biologically predisposed), I can't say I've developed a following of adoring fans.

So maybe we'll move on to the second perk of having a column: the chance to recapture the magic of my childhood (that is, the years without braces). Which is why, when Andrea of Portland, Oregon, wrote to ask if I knew of good CD-ROMs for origami enthusiasts, I was more than happy to do a little investigating.

Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding. And I'm not just talking about the lopsided, crumpled swans you learned to make in summer camp. Advanced origami designs can be amazingly complex and elaborate. With the right know-how, you can create almost anything out of paper, from a three-headed dragon to a post-modern flower vase.

In addition to the mental challenge of taking scrap paper and turning it into an exotic sculpture, there are plenty of great uses for your finished origami designs. Hang flocks of multicolored cranes from your porch and let them float in the wind. Use origami sculptures as place settings for a dinner party, or attach them to presents in place of bows. In my family, we write our New Year's wishes on sheets of origami paper, then fold them into strange animals and light them on fire at the stroke of midnight.

But, although origami CD-ROMs for the Mac do exist -- such as Casady & Greene's Origami: The Secret Life of Paper, which you can purchase at Amazon.com -- many are out of circulation or contain only basic information. Luckily, Andrea, this is the Internet age. While your Mac can't fold your napkin into a rhinoceros for you, it can be a valuable resource for expanding your origami skills. I found Web sites that show novice origami artists the ropes and also let experts flex their paper-folding muscles.

For the Beginner

If your entire experience with origami consists of folding a sheet of notebook paper into a football and flicking it at your eighth-grade teacher, you could probably use a refresher course.

For background in the art of origami, visit Joseph Wu's Origami Page. Here, you can catch up on the history of origami, as well as read about differences in paper-folding techniques and philosophies. It's not necessarily suspenseful bedtime reading, but it's very thorough.

You can also check out pictures of modern origami luminaries. I won't even hazard a guess as to what is involved in becoming an origami luminary, but the title sounds impressive. Be sure to explore the gallery section for awe-inspiring examples of modern origami from around the world. I highly recommend "The Faces of Eric Joisel;" this artist creates intricate paper masks.

Beginners can quickly brush up on their paper-folding skills at Fascinating Folds, an online origami paper supplier. In the Origami Diagrams section, you can study a visual primer on basic paper-folding techniques and test out some simple designs. But before you try anything complicated, you'll want to spend some time reviewing Peter Budai's key to common origami diagramming symbols. Trust me, it can take a PhD in hieroglyphics to interpret some of the more complex origami diagrams.

Getting to Work

Once you've mastered the intricate language of origami diagrams, you're ready to try your hand at folding your own creations.

Origami.com is a great online resource for finding unusual origami patterns. In the Diagrams portion, you can search through dozens of designs, which are broken down by skill level. When you spot a design you like, you can download a PDF of folding instructions. (This requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader plug-in.) In addition to the origami standards such as cranes and frogs, you can learn how to make African elephants, elaborate biplanes, a Pegasus, or the Eiffel Tower.

If you still haven't found what you want, try joining the origami community through the Origami-l list serve. You can get tips for problems, exchange your favorite paper cut balm ideas, or issue a challenge to see who's the true origami master.

Final Word

If you think of small paper hats and disfigured fowl when you hear the word origami, here's your chance to impress family members and uncover long-hidden paper-folding talents. Whether you plan to use your creations as decorations, characters for your upcoming home-produced sci-fi movies, or as exercise for your brain, there's certainly no cheaper way to create your own 3-D masterpieces.

Do you have ideas you'd like to share? Submit your projects or exchange tips and suggestions on our forum.

Associate Editor KELLY LUNSFORD covers graphics and publishing for Macworld and is currently accepting applications for Fan Club President (no, not you, Mom). Read her past Homemade Mac columns.

Two folded dinosaurs by Fumiaki Kawahata fight it out in the gallery pages of Origami.com.Fascinating Folds offers introductory lessons in the art of paper folding.At Origami.com you can download diagrams for a variety of unusual origami designs, from giant spider crabs to gas pumps.
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