Editor’s Note: Two designs from the book, the Orca and the Simple Fish, are available in a separate article.
A new book by Joseph Hwang,“Marine Origami,” is good news. Hwang has already published books on modulars (“The Art of Modular Origami”) and animals (“Natural Origami”), and this one is dedicated to sea life. It follows the same template as the previous two.
As before, we try to be methodical in our reviews and to answer the five major questions you might have about the models.
- Reproducibility - How many times do we believe we will fold this model? Some models are so cute that we will fold them again and again. For others, the test fold will be the first and last time.
- Room for interpretation - Is this a model that will always look exactly as the author made it, or does it give us the flexibility to add something of our own?
- Technical difficulty - How difficult is the folding process? How many advanced techniques, like closed sinks, will the folder encounter? How complex are the precreases for a box-pleated design?
- Artistic difficulty - Once the model is finished, how far is it from having all the small details in place? How tough is it to make it look good?
- Efficiency - How efficient is the folding process? Are there too many layers? Is it too small, given the paper size you started with?
- Number of pages: 289
- Number of diagram pages: 185
- Number of models: 26
- Languages: English and French
- Paper Size: Square (10 by 10 inches)
- Paper Quality: Average
- Difficulty level: Intermediate to high
- Where to find it: Amazon, The Origami Source
The models are grouped into seven chapters. Each represents a class of marine life. In each chapter the difficulty level increases as you advance.
Between the models, there are some tips and extra knowledge bits about shaping, locks, creation, etc. The text is short and to the point.
The average number of steps for the 26 models is 62, with 28 for the Simple Fish and 153 for the Giant Sea Bass. The contents pages do not include images, so in order to see all the models, you must flip through the whole book. Photos are professional-looking, with good-quality reproduction, and they show superb folding.
Diagrams were made by the author.
As Hwang mentions in the section “How to use this Book,” the diagrams are suited for intermediate to high-level folders, so expect exactly that.
In the sequence above, for example, you need to know how to read such a crease pattern and understand the steps using the illustrations alone alone.
Step 39 is missing a crease line (in red, below), which is the only mistake we found in the diagrams we folded from.
The text is added at the side of the page, an unusual approach. This creates a clean and elegant look to the flow of the diagrams, but it slows you down, since you have to check which steps have textual instructions.
The symbols are mostly standard and easy to understand.
This is a straightforward model. The design is simple and includes exactly what is needed to create the body and the tentacles — no wasted paper here. The diagrams are clear, although you do need to glance to the side to see if you missed a written instruction. With the digital version, it's a little annoying, because the zoom-in level I use does not allow me to see if there is any relevant text.
I am not sure I will fold this model again. There is some room for interpretation with the tentacles, mainly.
Technically, the tentacles are box-pleated, and the diagrams explain it well. It was fun folding this part.
I liked the simplicity of the model and the way you have a 5-pointed star from a square (and not a pentagon). The diagrams are clear and easy to follow, (but do not rush to repeat all around when the diagrams say to repeat only on the left side).
There is a satisfactory lock at the end that helps to make the model 3D. I will fold it again, as a nice way to make a 5-pointed star.
There is little room for interpretation, since the animal itself is a simple one. I liked the efficiency of the model — how fast you get the five points and how easy it was to make them pointed. One of the corners is a little too thick, but this does not interfere with the sequence.
Sea Turtle Shell
Although quite challenging, this is probably the “least-difficult,” yet complex-looking, sea turtle with a tessellated shell that I've come across. The sequence was really smooth and enjoyable, based on a preliminary base. The final model is even fully closed. That said, the precreasing was definitely not fun. As you can probably imagine, the shell graft requires its own partial grid.
Hwang’s clear and easy-to-use style of diagramming is different from what we usually see, which was quite refreshing. Each drawing holds just one instruction, and the layout (with text at the sides) is cleaner to the eye.
The final base allows room for interpretation. I felt that Hwang could have given us more detail in the final steps. The head diagrams, especially, lacked details for shaping. Another point you might want to keep in mind is that the shaping requires glue. I’d recommend using a big paper — 35 cm is perfect, as the design is not the most efficient and does get relatively thick in some areas. But overall, this is a well-designed and fun model.
- Reproducibility - Personally I wouldn’t fold it again. I liked folding it a lot, but I don’t tend to fold complicated models more than once.
- Room for interpretation - There are quite a lot of shaping opportunities with this one. Get creative!
- Technical difficulty - Complex. Confusing precreasing, complicated folds and sinks.
- Artistic difficulty - Difficult as well. There’s a gap between the end of the diagrams and the finished model. Shaping was not easy.
- Efficiency - Good use of layers. It doesn’t get super thick anywhere, but a big paper is required for a good result.
This was a surprising box-pleated model that was easier to fold than expected. There were no complex sinks at all but rather a straightforward sequence without any sophisticated folds. If it wasn’t for the tedious precreasing, I could definitely see folding this one over and over, and maybe even memorizing it. Most of the steps had precise reference points that would result in an identical model every time, except for the tail, which is where you can get creative. Do you want it to be straight? Curled? Tight or loose layers? It’s up to you. Other than that, there isn’t much room for interpretation. However, this could be a good thing: Once you finish the diagrams, your model is basically finished, and you don’t need to spend hours shaping it. It is quite an efficient model as well. A paper of around 20 cm would be more than enough.
- Reproducibility - Not a model I would fold more than twice, solely because of the precreasing, which wasn’t difficult at all, just long and unenjoyable.
- Room for interpretation - mostly in the tail.
- Technical difficulty - I would say this is an intermediate model. Not for beginners, but it didn’t include any extremely complex folds.
- Artistic difficulty - Once the diagrams are over, the model is finished. It requires only a minimal amount of shaping.
- Efficiency - Very efficient model. Only the tail gets a little thick, but in the rest of the model, there is a good use of layers.
What a cool model: extremely minimalistic with a geometric shape. It is elegant, simple and fun to fold. It has just 45 steps, which will take you probably no longer than 15 minutes. Since it’s a completely 2D model, there’s basically zero room for creative shaping. I can imagine that designing a model so simple yet so appealing is not an easy task, and Hwang absolutely succeeded.
- Reproducibility - A model you can fold infinitely.
- Room for interpretation - None. your model will most likely always turn out the same.
- Technical difficulty - Very simple.
- Artistic difficulty - No shaping required.
- Efficiency - From a starting paper of 15 cm, the final model ends up 12.5 cm long. It’s efficient.
If you love sea-life origami, this is a must-have book. It covers the many families of marine life, and it does it in a straightforward way.
For other people, it may have too much of the same type of model, although I did find the different interpretations and styles of the fish chapter highly interesting: Some are flat and some are 3D. Some are anatomically accurate and challenging, and some are simplified and fun to fold.
You do need to know advanced techniques and be able to read (relatively) complex diagrams, because the book is not meant for beginners.
Bottom line: an excellent book for fish lovers, and a good book for all the rest.
Author Interview - The 5 Essential Questions
Q Tell me a little about yourself.
A I am a paperfolding artist based in San Diego. My work focuses on modulars and designs inspired by nature. I am the author of three books: “Marine Origami” (2023), “The Art of Modular Origami” (2021), and “Natural Origami” (2020).
Q What is the essence of the book? (What makes it stand out, who was your target audience, etc.?)
A The theme of the book is sea life inspired by my encounters with the local marine biodiversity in California. It contains a series of some of my first figurative designs. The book is intended for figurative folders from intermediate to expert level.
Q If I could fold only one model from your book, which should it be, and why?
A That’s a hard question. I do not have a preference for any one model. I have noticed that the models I like or think are good are not always the ones that other people think are good. However, some of my favorite models from the book are the green sea turtle hatchling, cuttlefish, bull shark and giant sea bass.
Q Which is the hardest model in the book? What makes it hard to fold?
A I don’t consider any of the models to be difficult, but the Octopus requires the most shaping, and the Dungeness Crab the most time to fold.
Q What was most enjoyable in the process of making this book?
A The most enjoyable process was getting to share and fold the new designs with members of the origami club back in college.
Note from Ilan Garibi: I collaborated with Noah Konopny, a young and talented folder from Israel, to fold a few of the models and review this book.