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Origami Designer's Secrets: Enrique Martinez

Who is Enrique Martinez?? Please tell me in five sentences what I must know about you.

Enrique: Let me light the incense and look deep into the crystal ball… I see a shape, someone tall, but not exceedingly so, and, as a nice shirt shop attendant once told him, someone with a long torso (not fat, mind you). He’s taking the long way to mastering folding, the very long way, maybe even the too long way. He has a hard time taking life seriously (as in mood and in significance, not in depth). He’s the kind of person who’ll answer this question in the third person, notice, and add this sentence here while wondering if the three dots at the beginning started a new one or he just fell short.

What is origami to you? Why are you interested in origami? What was the first model you folded? What was the first model you created? Can you say origami changed your life in anyway, or is it just a hobby?

Here’s a recent picture of him in one
of his rare distinguished moments.
Picture (cropped) by Nicolas Gajardo
Henríquez, used with permission.

Enrique: I try to restrict my origami to one square sheet, no cuts, no glue, no willing crumpling, no water. Only sweat is allowed as a humidifier. That said, I occasionally enjoy moving out of those boundaries, particularly regarding wet folding. I have a much more relaxed view about what origami coming from other people need be; if there are more creases than cuts, and paper is involved (or even cloth) I’ll happily accept calling it origami.

I’m attracted to the challenge of making a shape from paper just by folding, but also, and this is something I didn’t expect at the beginning, by the social aspect of origami. You can fold anywhere and it’s cheap, so you can give it away without creating any obligations. At the same time it’s a show of caring. It’s a great conversation starter. You can also teach it. I find teaching my own origami is one of the most enjoyable experiences there is, second only to actually creating something.

I can’t remember the first model I folded, it was probably a boat or a hat when I was very young. I do remember folding paper airplanes and discussing with my best friend how there must be a way of folding them differently to make new planes, but being unable to find any. I must have been six or seven. That was my first frustration as an origami creator, and I’ve had many more since then, but I’ve also learned to look at them as something temporary which will be overcome.

I also remember when I first became amazed by origami: one day out of the blue, my grandfather folded a flapping bird and an elephant, just once, but it struck a note deep in me. He wouldn’t teach me, he struggled through the night with the elephant, and I think the idea of trying to teach it to the around ten year old me was too much to contemplate at that time. But that experience and the detailed paper elephant stuck in my memory. About ten years later I found my first origami books, by John Montroll, with elephants in them, and soon after there was an origami exhibition at a shopping center where I met some AEP (Asociación Española de Papiroflexia) members. A year later I went to my first origami meeting, and I was hooked. It was at that first origami meeting that I designed my first model, a 3D cross, inspired by seeing Vincent Floderer’s great pyramid and trying to come up with a way to fold it. It’s a geometric model that I designed in my mind before folding it, while lying in bed at night: a rarity for me, both the theme and the design process.

It’s difficult to say whether origami has changed my life, or if I have just changed while doing origami, but the person who first started folding is certainly different from who I am now. And I have made really good friends along the way.

3D cross, my first model. All pictures by Enrique, unless stated otherwise.

What is your muse? What drives your creation process? Do you fold other people's models? If so, do you have a favorite designer? What one origami book will you take with you to an island?

Enrique: I can’t say what starts the creation process. I do have some clues as to what stops it: for me it’s doubt. I have to very consciously tell myself that I have it in me to fold interesting models. It’s not just about ability, although there’s also some of that, but mainly a fight to open up my mind to new ideas. When I get in the correct frame of mind, ideas start pouring in and the problem is choosing a few of them. It’s a pity that I don’t have a good memory, or I would have a large backlog of models, just waiting to be folded.

At present I’m trying to focus more on my own models, so I fold less from others'. Except at conventions or in origami meetings with friends I mostly fold my own origami. I do have some, not just one, favorite designers, but since you asked for one I’ll mention one: Hideo Komatsu. I enjoy everything about his models: the result, the folding process, and the design.

As getting stranded in an island is not something one plans, I don’t think I’d be able to choose a book to take with me. Instead I would try to write my own book while there. I want to write one origami book, at least.

Flamingo, jumping foxes.

Your portfolio is all figurative with a distinguishing look; for me they look like cartoon animals, and I find a lot of humor in them. Can you describe your favorite topics, and why it is so?

Enrique: Thank you, I try to fold happy folds and I find humor makes me the happiest. I’m glad some of it gets transmitted. I aim for an obvious origami look. Also, I try to emphasize a significant feature and not go too much into specific details. I think that is what makes them look cartoonish.

Lately I’m trying to build some confidence and understanding, so I’m designing as much as I can, indiscriminately. I meet with a couple of close friends once every week and we go bar hopping and folding. We take turns setting a challenge for the following week and also accept challenges from people we meet, so the themes vary wildly, it’s not only animals anymore. As an incentive, whoever doesn’t finish the weekly challenge has to buy a round of drinks for everyone. Of course, most of the results are not very interesting, but occasionally we get on a good roll, and several decent models come consecutively.

I want to steadily build up the number of my animals designs. I started folding animals, I enjoy folding animals and I have no strong interest in being original in the concepts. I don’t want to be an artist. In fact I think the concept of art is only relevant as part of philosophical discourse, but completely useless as a pursuit. What really matters is having a message and finding interesting ways to transmit it. Art is for critics.

Koalas, folding in public places.
Drinking koalas by me, dead koala by Oriol Esteve.

Dogs, phase 1 result and final version.

Can you shed some light on your work process? Do you plan in advance, or doodle with the paper? Do you makes sketches first? How long is the process? What type of a designer are you? I am impressed with the fact your models have your 'signature'– I can easily recognize your style – you must tell me, how is it done?

Enrique: I’m still trying to come up with a good process, the current one is too much like what flies do against slightly open glass windows. It has three distinct phases: believe and execute, then understand.

The first phase is where all failures happen: convincing myself that I can do it. On good days I start straight at the second phase, but when I’m not feeling inspired or keep failing I have to go get some conviction. I have two strategies for that, but they are not foolproof:

  1. Find a traditional base with (at least) the required number of flaps and fold a bad and quick version of what I’m trying to fold. The base doesn’t even need to be a good match. The important idea is to finish once.
  2. Just fold a piece of paper any which way until something resembles a piece of what I’m looking for, then try to place it on the paper in a way that will let me fold the rest, using bigger paper as needed. I don’t do any conscious circle packing, I just refold from a corner or a flap in a known base and try to work my way from there or add arbitrarily sized grafts. Again, the end result doesn’t matter as much as getting there.

It is still a wonder to me that this works at all. Most times the result of this first step is such a piece of crap! But it does work often. This first model almost always goes directly in the trash and has nothing to do with the final model. I believe it works because once I’ve managed one result, no matter the quality, I start looking at the possibilities instead of worrying about not going anywhere.

If I can manage, I won’t use any documentation when I’m designing a new model. Instead I try to find something that calls that particular thing (usually an animal) to mind and just start folding with a minimal plan. Anytime I have to look at a picture to get something right I feel the model is less mine. I hope to get to a point where looking at pictures or drawings of what I’m trying to fold will only help bring out what I want to say instead of replacing it, but I’m not there yet, so, for now, I avoid it.

Phase two is the enjoyable part and is basically a repeat of the second strategy from phase one, but with less desperation and a lot more focused. This is where the ideas start pouring in. Here I will stop and figure out the proportions I really need using pencil and paper and math if necessary.

After that I draw the CP, think about the folding process and take pictures and notes of it. It is only really here that I completely understand what I have done and make final corrections. Later I sometimes draw diagrams. I’m trying hard to start diagramming more of my models. I think it’s important to share and you can only reach a few people by teaching directly.

Regarding my 'signature', it’s not a decision, I think it’s unavoidable. If there is a you, and you fold what you want to fold there is no way that there won’t be an easy to follow line joining your models. You can see that with my first model, I had not yet found what I enjoyed doing, so it’s completely separate from everything else I have folded.

What papers do you usually use? Why? Do you prepare them yourself? How do you decide what paper to choose? Do you try to match the paper to the topic of the work?

Enrique: I mostly use kami. For creating I start with a 15x15cm square and go to bigger paper as needed. For folding the final models I prefer the smallest paper possible starting from 15x15cm kami, because I like to carry some paper with me at all times, and 15x15cm I can fold anywhere. Also kami, because I like using color changes. I also enjoy folding with stronger papers like Biotope, Tant or Danshi.

I don’t enjoy preparing the paper in any way. Even cutting is a chore, so I almost always fold from pre-cut squares. I’ve been known to, very, very rarely, when using single colored paper, paint one of the sides white to be able to use color changes.

Only on very special occasions do I choose a specific paper for a model: only for a present or an exhibition or similar, and then it usually is from among what I already have at home. I used to buy lots of nice papers and never used them, so I have plenty of paper lying around.

Tiger, unknown amazing paper, handcut.

Do you have a motto in your life? Is origami part of that motto? Is there a message in your art?

Enrique: Mottos are my life, I’m putting on my guru hat for this one! We are usually self-defeated, so frame of mind is very important in any endeavor. In origami it’s easy to see: sometimes you’re off, or the model you are folding is too complicated for the you right now, and you get to a point where nothing aligns, where all the creases are wobbly and the only sharp ones are the wrong ones. There you will feel a strong urge to give up. That is life, too. My motto for those times: precision is for the weak. Just struggle through it and you will finish with a (probably crappy) model, but surely in a good place, a place where progress has happened. Potentials are nothing until you realize them.

Sea horse, will is everything.

I am sure there is one model of yours that you would like to point out for us. Which one is it, and please tell us why you chose it?

Enrique: I like my lion the best. To me, it’s instantly recognizable as an origami lion, but it doesn’t look like other origami lions. It has a couple of interesting folds and the folding sequence flows well. It’s also the model I have put the most time into, and the model I have learned the most from. It took me two years of occasional revisiting to get to the current model. I hope to draw the diagrams someday. They are already half-way through, but I’m having trouble finishing them.

Is there one last question I should have asked? Ask yourself, but don’t answer. Just let us know what is the question …

Enrique: Here’s one I would not be able to answer if I tried: would any other activity have been as rewarding as origami?

[Left] Elephant, wet folded, very simple model. [Right] Lion.

Name Enrique Martinez
Place of residence Barcelona, Spain
Profession yes, reluctantly, I’d much prefer being rich
Email origami [at]
Website Click here



To really know a designer, you must fold his models. Here are the diagrams for the Monkey.

-Ilan Garibi