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Origami Designer's Secrets: Ilan Garibi

Edited by Linda Yau

Ilan Garibi. Image by Yoav Garibi

All uncredited images by Ilan Garibi

PowerPuff Modular, 30 units of Tant paper.

Templar Garden, from Elephant Hide.

This series of interviews came to fill two needs of mine - Showing and knowing. Writing my own story, I wanted to show other folders how to step out of only passively folding and into the creators circle. The second reason was simply getting to know other folders and creators. Even though I personally met all the creators I interviewed, I was always surprised to read their answers, and to see how little I really knew about them.

For my last interview, I chose myself.

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

Ilan: I am an origami artist, following my heart. I am also a puzzler, a designer, a father and a husband. I am a teacher, a maker, an atheist, and a chocolate lover. I like to challenge myself, and respond to challenges. I am highly competitive, determined and disciplined in nature, and if asked to do it in five, I will use only four.

What is origami to you? Why are you interested in origami? What was your first model to fold? Can you say origami changed your life in any way, or is it just a hobby?

Ilan: I was an intelligence officer for 25 years. Becoming an artist was not a role that went through my mind when I thought about my future. Origami totally changed my life. To be precise, it was the creation process; the magic of creating something original. Six years ago, while I posted my first models online, nothing really mattered but the number of favorites stars I got on by flickr. I started to fold at age twelve, 38 years ago. All we had then was four origami books, by Robert Harbin. I was folding alone, so there was no one to share my excitement from the simple magic of the square flat paper turning into a Jack Stone. Now I can surely say origami changed me, and my life, dramatically. As an origami artist, I travel all around the world, and my works are presented internationally now. Every unidentified phone call brings the excitement of a new adventure. As an officer in the army, you never actually do anything by yourself; you have squads of soldiers to carry out your orders. As an artist, though, you are all alone - if you do, it is done. If you only talk - nothing happens. The success, and the failures, are all yours.

What ignited your creation process? What happened that turned you from a passive folder into a creator?

Ralf Konrad`s StarPuff tess, vs. My version.

Ilan: I made my first steps as a creator thanks to Gila Oren, Ralf Konrad, Froeble and David Lister. Gila taught me how to fold the Starpuff tessellation created by Ralf, and there was no one happier than me at that moment. I saw tessellations exhibited in Tikotin, a few years back, and I couldn't understand, how is it done? From a single sheet of paper? impossible! It felt so good to be able to make it myself, so when I got home, I immediately tried to fold it again, but I made a mistake. I didn't get the stars puffed, instead I got hexagon towers. When I called Gila to ask where I failed, she said, "Well done! you invented a new model". I was struck! It truly was an original model, as it originated from me! I took the time to analyze what I did, and understanding the way a tessellation is built from molecules, I studied the properties of the molecules and started to invent (or find) more and more of them.

Escher-Froeble-garibi Font

Just before this tessellation experience, I found folds of beauty in Konihiki Kasahara`s book. Again, I was struck with the endless possibilities and I started to find my own variations. Having my creative spirit kindled, I wanted to do something special with it, so I combined the Escher fonts with the Folds of Beauty, to create my own origami version font. As it happened, just at that time an email about cultivating lists and origami spread on the O-list, David responded with a confession that he collects alphabetical lists. I immediately sent him my Escher-Froeble-Garibi font, and I was amazed to read about it in his next email to the O-list, praising my asymmetric version.
In retrospective, I didn't need much to believe in myself, to see that I am capable of creating something new. All you need is to try, and a little encouragement.
Most of your paper creations are tessellations. Then, it is Modulars. I can see very little figurative models. Why is that? Nowadays I see you work more with other materials, and less with paper. Are you going to return to paper? What will be your next field of creation?

Cube Tessellation from Elephant Hide.
"96 Molecules" lamp for Aqua Creations,
Image by Albi Serfati

Ilan: I once folded a hummingbird, and showed it to my wife. She exclaimed, "Oh, this is truly a lovely elephant head!" I don't own the ability to define the difference between a dog and a wolf. For me, straight lines, right angles, repetitions are more comfortable to handle, than shaping the eyes of the tiger. I am a logical person, and mathematics was always easy for me. I find the rules and work according to them. It is easy for me to understand what makes a tessellation, and what properties single molecule must have. Many of my models are based on asking what if I change the angle of the crease? The spaces between them? Or if I use a curved line instead of a straight one?
I can divide my creation history into two parts: The first was to establish a foundation of original models. The second was to find for them applications in the real world. During my first years of creating, I was on a trance, finding every other day a new model, or a new variation. On the very good days, I found new fields to explore. Three years ago, I met Gal Gaon, an architect, designer, and a gallery owner. He challenged me to make something useful with all those folds. A lamp was my first product, and it was a success! From there, I transferred my focus into the design world, mostly exploring new materials to fold, such as fabric, metal, leather, wood and even glass.
Going back to paper is not the right term, as I never left the paper. It is always there, as a draft, and even as part of my metal work, and with folding jewelries.
Regarding my next field of creation; I was truly afraid you were going to ask me that. As for now, I don't know. I would like to publish a book or to create products to be used in great masses. Time will tell.

The question no one can fully answer - can you describe your creation process?

Quadilic, from Elephant Hide

Ilan: There are some different processes. Doodling for sure is one of them. I take a piece of paper and play with it until the point where it looks close enough to be something. From here it is easy to find the way forward.
Being asked to make a specific model is another starting point for a success. "Make an elephant from a dollar bill" solves most of the problems you have as a designer - the size says little details; the proportions say the trunk must be from the left side, so the hind legs are from the right.For the trunk you need to narrow the edge, and just like that a model is born.
I ask myself a lot - "what if?" what if I change the angle of the pre-creases in this tessellation? what if I use a curved line? What if I duplicate the fold lines? This process gave me most of my designs. Changing from tessellations to modulars, and vice versa. I have a few series of models, each differ from the next with just a tiny change.
The more difficult process to master is the one I try first to imagine the model before I fold it. Sometimes it is harder to imagine a new model than to fold it. Having the ideas is the hardest part. I use a lot of tricks and tools I developed from solving mechanical puzzles and riddles. In a way, solving riddles is just like creating a new origami model.

What papers do you usually use? Why? And, of course, you I can also ask -what is your favorite material to fold? What other material do you plan to research?

Wood Bracelet

Ilan: I tried more than 27 types of papers, all are reported in the Paper Review series. Out of all of them, my favorite is still Elephant Hide. It is the perfect paper for everything I do. Wood indeed is the most fun to fold. I use a Japanese product, a very thin sheet of wood that is pasted on paper. I can use a laser cutter to score the crease pattern, and it becomes very easy to fold after that. I also love the look of it, and the fact I can get really small models out of it. There are many benefits in metal folding. Again, no need to fold the pre-creases, as all are laser cut, and when you fold it and let go, it just stay there. Glass is definitely something I want to explore more. There are many obstacles before I will be able to fold glass, but that is exactly why I want to do it.

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

Ninja Star Tessellation, from Elephant Hide

Ilan: I have quite a few of them. Think differently, mostly differently from yourself. Be consistent. Trust yourself. Share your knowledge, and learn from all around you.
I think my mottos were developed before I became an origami artist; they actually helped me become one. So origami helps sharpen my ideas, and prove to me that they were right.

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?

Hilula Tessellation, from Elephant Hide

Ilan:"Hilula" is the last chapter in the series of the Cubes tessellations. The original model, the Cube tessellation, was found way before me, and for me being first is quite important. What I like about this family of models is the huge variety of paper models and designed works I was able to create out of it. From lamp shades, to wall tiles, and metal art works, all are based on a very simple CP, with four diagonal lines added to the grid. My chosen model looks so different from the source model, but believe me, they are truly related!

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

Ilan: What is your new personal vision for the next decade?

Name Ilan Garibi
Place of residence Binyamina, Israel
Profession origami artist and designer
Email garibiilan [at]
Website Click here

Hilula - detail


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

Click here to download the diagram.

-Ilan Garibi