Edited by Scott Summers

I first saw Jose’s work on Facebook. I love modulars, and hers are extremely joyful and colorful. I consider myself quite familiar with the international community, and this name was new to me. Just a few clicks later via Messenger, we started to talk, and this interview came to life. We live in wonderful times! And now I, as well as you, can get to know how she works, and what she loves to do!

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

José Meeusen Born Oct. 22, 1948, I find my body is getting some creases and everything is slowing down a bit. I’m young at heart and still full of new ideas, and a mother of three wonderful sons. In the origami community, I am also known as José Krooshoop (till 1996, before my divorce).

I am interested in art (M.C. Escher is my favourite artist), craft, music, reading books, documentaries, a good movie and last but not least, origami and drawing.

I am eager to learn. When I am interested in a subject I want to know as much as possible about it. Creativity is the angel on my shoulder: Sitting at my work table folding, drawing, diagramming and making something new and beautiful makes me happy and keeps me going. Origami gives me the opportunity to get in touch with other people: Is there any other art or craft that is so easy to share and to do together?

José in front of her awards.

Q What is origami to you? Why are you interested in origami? What was the first model you folded? And when? What was the first model you created? What drove you to start and create your own work? Can you say origami changed your life in any way, or is it just a hobby?

A When I was younger, I used to try every new craft that came along, but nothing proved as challenging to me as origami. That’s why I’ve already been doing origami for almost 40 years!

The way I was involved with origami changed (roughly) every decade. Like most kids, I learned folding in kindergarten (at that time called Fröbelschool). When I was about 10, my dad taught me how to fold a wallet and a box. I remember folding lots of them from scribbling paper. While working as a kindergarten teacher, folding was a regular subject in my class.

In 1981, I came across a lovely picture book by Amarins de Jong about a piece of paper that turned into a swan. The folding instructions were in the book. I folded the swan and was hooked! Origami was a new craft in my country, and I definitely had to have a go at it. There were not many books and papers available at that time; we were a kind of pioneers! I spread the joy of origami in the area where I lived by means of teaching, exhibitions and demonstrations.

My first original creation was Snow White, designed in 1983 for a competition. This design already had a collapse, although I didn’t realize it! Designing comes naturally.

Snow White, José Meussen’s first design, 1983. All images by José Meeusen.

In the beginning, I made variations of traditional models. Gradually, I developed an interest in geometric models. The first time I experienced the “thrill of creating” was in 1991 when I was folding with circular paper. I discovered one variation after another and could not stop, it felt like an explosion! The last model of that series was a beautiful box.

In the early ’90s, a publishing firm asked me to make an origami book containing simple, useful models for everyone. I published six books in total.

After 10 years of folding, I began to lose interest, but not for long. In 1991 I attended the convention of Origami Deutschland at the Fröbel Museum in Bad Blankenburg. Meeting folders and designers from all over the world had a big impact on me and gave my designing a boost. I went home with a long list of names and addresses, and this was the beginning of a worldwide correspondence.

Gift Box, the final result of my first burst of creation. I folded it from two sheets of circular paper This model was folded in 1991, still holding its shape!

I gave up teaching in favor of designing and started to send my models to origami societies abroad. My models were published in magazines and convention books. Some of my models were also included in books by Tomoko Fuse, Makoto Yamaguchi, Vicente Palacios and David Petty.

Twice I won an award for my contribution to the Origami World Exhibition in Japan: In 1993, my work was qualified as “excellent” and belonged to the five best by designers from outside Japan. In 1996 it was the Encouragement Prize.

In the 2000s origami was simmering. Diagramming my modulars inspired me to start drawing mandalas. I saw so many similarities. I’ve also made mandalas based on my origami models.

Once I got a computer and searched for origami on the internet, I was surprised how much it had evolved! Again, there was a lot to explore and learn. I felt that I had to regain my place in the origami world and decided to show my work on social media. Due to the positive response, I soon found myself designing again. Currently, I try to document my work.

There are so many models still waiting for diagrams. It is my dream to make a book.

Q What is your muse? What drives your creation process? Do you fold other people’s models? If so, do you have a favorite designer? A favorite artist? What brings you to the table to find a new model?

A I cannot talk about origami without mentioning Jeff Beynon.

I met him for the first time in Bad Blankenburg. I created a model that I could not diagram, because “it all happens [collapses] at the same time!” I asked David Petty (whom I already knew) for help. He said there was someone who was an expert in this kind of folding and introduced me to Jeff. It was the beginning of a long friendship.

Jeff taught me a lot about collapse folding, modulars and geometric origami, and he helped with diagramming. His influence on my work was, and still is, huge. Suffice it to say that he is my favorite designer.

Another person to whom I owe a lot is Vicente Palacios, a correspondent and friend since the early ’90s. He even continued his correspondence with me at the times I was folding less, so I always made sure to have a new model to send to him. He diagrammed a lot of my models and included several of them in his books.

I am mainly focused on my own work, but from time to time I do fold other people’s models. For instance, I’d like to learn more about tessellations.

Jeff Ring, dedicated to Jeff Beynon. I designed this ring when he passed away, 2017.

Q It is very clear what your preferences are. It's all about geometric stars and wreaths. Modular all over. Why do you prefer this field? Did you try your hands with other genres? Do you feel there are new designs waiting out there, or are we all re-finding the same models?

Jooz-Pup, I folded them from duo craft paper (note the color change) and watercolour paper (wet folding, 1997)

A Good question! I often wonder how long I will be interested in designing modulars. Obviously, there is still more to explore, like using other shapes than the usual square (triangles, rectangles, hexagons) or making modulars with a 3D effect.

I have birds, tatos, envelopes and letterfolds, boxes and containers, spinners and modulars. They all are more or less geometric. Only my Geisha and Jooz-Pup are different. Sometimes I get a request to fold a particular model. Once, I was asked to fold a double bike bag. There was no such model, so I designed one myself.

Why do I like geometric origami so much? I just do!

I have no background in math and was bad at it at school, but Thoki Yenn once said that I must have a feeling for math, otherwise I would not be able to create my geometric models.

I love the beauty of geometry, symmetry, shapes, colors, balance and harmony. I love the accuracy you need to make the precreases, the challenge, and the surprise of the collapse. Making geometric models and modulars is systematic and repetitive; that is relaxing to me and gives me peace of mind. There is so much more I want to try, like coloring/painting paper, designing patterned paper and incorporating origami and drawing.

Fleuria, with lots of variations (“snowflakes!”), 2016.

Q Please tell us: What is your creative process? Do you start with a plan in your head to follow a design you envisioned, or is it doodling that helps you find a new pattern? How do you start a new model? Do you try and improve the lock, or the color change, or you just leave it after the first try?

A Usually I just sit down, put some creases in the paper and see what I can do with it. Sometimes I feel like folding a one-piece model; sometimes I want to make a modular.

I challenge myself by investigating certain creases: What happens when I fold this corner to that point? Sometimes it’s a quick design; sometimes it takes a week or more.

A mistake or reverse-engineering an old model can result in a new design. Usually, a model comes with a lot of variations. Jeff used to call them snowflakes: They look similar but are all different. It can even happen that the latest model of a series is a totally new model!

When the result is reasonably satisfying, I unfold it and figure out which creases are needed to get a neat result. It is a challenge to minimize the number of creases. I don’t mind creases inside, but the surface has to be crisp and clean. I want a model to be nice on both sides — no loose flaps at the back. I like models that show both sides of the paper, so I try to make a color change. The lock is also very important: It has to be strong and hold the units perfectly together.

Then I start to develop a satisfying folding sequence. It has to have a nice flow with a surprising move along the way. I like design a scenic route that ends in a collapse. For me, the folding process is as important as the final result. It is part of the design, as well as the diagrams. Vicente Palacios once said to me that one has to fold my models to fully appreciate them.

I like to play with different kinds of paper and color combinations. I work on a model until I am fully content with it. The diagramming is another challenge. I want to stay close to my folding method. My models are not really complicated, and I want the diagrams to be easy to follow. I draw by hand.

Star with Rotor, folded from Pergamenta and backlit, 1992.

Q What papers do you usually use? Why? How do you decide what paper to choose? How do you choose your color combinations? Do you have a favorite Kami brand?

A I use all different kinds of paper, not necessarily origami paper. The paper has to be crisp and hold creases well. I like duo color paper for the models that show both sides of the paper.

My favorite paper is called Pergamenta. It is milk-white and translucent when backlit. It is quite stiff and not easy to fold, but the result is beautiful and immaculate. Sadly, it is not available anymore.

The paper choice depends on the model. Mainly I use plain paper like craft paper, kami, Tant or Elephant Hide. I’m not so keen on patterned paper (too wild!) because it can disturb the beauty of the geometry of the model. I only use it when it supports the design.

C.C. Flower, a 3D modular with a subtle color change in the center, 2018.

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

A “You have to pick the flowers you can reach!”

For me, modulars are symbolic for “connection” (in all senses).

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

A Stella Cecilia, because it is one of my more challenging modulars. It’s dedicated to a friend from art school who is always inspiring and encouraging.

Q Is there one last question I should have asked that you often ask yourself?

A If you are ever going to make that book, what will be the title?

Modular Mandala, this modular shows both sides of the paper and is slightly 3D, 2018.

Name José Meeusen
Place of residence Heesch, The Netherlands
Profession teacher, now retired
Email josemeeusen [at] home.nl
Website https://www.flickr.com/photos/93934961@N05/

In closing, José presents us with diagrams for her Stella Cecilia.

Click on photo to download diagrams.