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Origami Designer's Secrets: Michał Kosmulski

Edited by Jason Ku and Scott Summers

Managing editor's note: Michał Kosmulski is a gifted designer of tessellations and a thoughtful individual. He has a lot to say about origami and life, and I hope you will be as intrigued as I was by this interview by Ilan Garibi, also a tessellation enthusiast. If you have folded tessellations before, you will want to try Michał’s Houstonia Box at the end of this article. It is a bit challenging for a first attempt. – Jane Rosemarin

How rare it is to find a fellow tessellator! The Extreme Pineapple molecule (found in the thumbnail of this article), designed by Michał Kosmulski, is one of only two models in my book, Origami Tessellations for Everyone, that was designed by another artist. It is a variation that symbolizes Michał's way of thinking — creative, yet very logical. In the sharing spirit of origami, he reveals to us his philosophy and his design secrets.

Who is Michał Kosmulski? Please tell me in five sentences what I should know about you.

Michał: I have many different interests and like learning new things. I create origami, but I also have a small collection of meteorites, and I enjoy cycling. Professionally, I’m a software engineer, but working with modern technology doesn’t prevent me from enjoying Polish 19th-century poetry. I’d rather be a Renaissance man than a specialist in one narrow field. I’m also an introvert who likes sharing his knowledge, even if it means going in front of a crowd.


Michał Kosmulski


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; was it a tessellation? What drove you to start and create your work? Can you say origami changed your life in any way, or is it just a hobby?

Michał: The first model I folded was probably a paper boat or a paper airplane — the things most kids fold. Around age 11, I stumbled upon John Montroll’s Prehistoric Origami: Dinosaurs and Other Creatures. Dinosaurs fascinated me at the time, so being able to make them out of plain paper was very exciting. I learned all the models by heart and folded several hundred pieces over the following few years. I designed my first model during this time: a moa (extinct giant flightless bird).

Around the time I started my studies, I learned about modular origami, and for the next 15 years, this was my main style. I used just a few favorite modules most of the time but always tried to connect them in new ways. I also designed a few units of my own, but was only moderately happy about the results and did not consider myself an origami designer yet.

In 2015, thanks to a lucky coincidence, I attended my first origami convention. This had far-reaching consequences. One was meeting other origami enthusiasts. The other was seeing the great diversity of origami styles, of which I was not aware before. I think this is one of origami’s great strengths — everyone can find a style that matches their character and skills. I wanted to try something new, and after folding modulars, tessellations were the obvious choice. Halina Rościszewska-Narloch (who uses the handle Haligami) helped me get started, and when I came back home, I folded a few simple tessellations using YouTube videos for instruction. I then tried modifying these models a little. Soon, I realized I could come up with new designs, and soon I found myself completely hooked on tessellations.

Origami is my main hobby now. It’s a lot of fun to create something new; sometimes it’s also a way to challenge myself. Designing, improving, folding and diagramming models all take significant time. Clearly, each moment I’m doing origami, I’m not doing something else. So yes, it does affect my life.

What makes origami stand apart from many other activities is, in my opinion, its mostly non-commercial and non-competitive nature. I think the fact that there is no big money to be made from origami makes the community so pleasant and so willing to share ideas. It’s also nice that origami is not very practical — most people pursue origami just for the sake of it, which brings a kind of unconstrained, childish joy. I think when we meet at conventions, and we can fold and have fun together despite differences in age, education or worldview, we may be doing more for sane international relations than many official programs. Of course, let’s not overestimate origami: We remain just a small group, and relations based only on a common hobby may be quite shallow. Nonetheless, I do believe origami has the power to bring people together. It also helps us spend time away from our screens and our phones.


Chevron Corrugation (UD-UU-DU-DD) All images by Michał Kosmulski

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? Do you look for an igniter to bring a spark or just wait and let inspiration happen by itself?

Michał: For me, origami design is about creating something new and aesthetically pleasing. In most cases, it’s hard to find a direct inspiration. Ideas just come to my mind, and those I like, I improve further. I look for elegance and balance, whether the model is abstract or not. Even for abstract models, I try to find interesting names (an idea taken from Melina Hermsen) since they make the model easier to relate to, both for others and for myself.

Sometimes, I start from a topic and try to design a model to match, but if I can’t create anything easily, I give up and work on something else instead. New ideas come into my mind even if I’m not asking for them. It’s a self-propelling process: The more I design, the more new ideas I get. I already have a few dozen drafts in my drawer, and I’m adding more all the time. I don’t know how long this is going to last. I may run out of ideas, or have to move away from origami for one reason or another.

Having many different ideas gives me something to choose from. Some ideas take lots of time to ripen. My Epiphany Tessellation spent almost a year as a gridded sheet before collapsing. In the meantime, I rethought the model and ended up folding an improved version.

Due to the large number of ideas I want to try out, I rarely fold other people’s models, which is a pity since there are many great designs out there. If I had to point out one artist who inspires me, it would probably be Shuzo Fujimoto. His work was groundbreaking, and it’s hard to beat the simplicity and elegance of designs such as his Hydrangea. Several times I accidentally reinvented models which he had designed years earlier. Robert Lang is an inspiration due to his theoretical work on the mathematics of origami. I admire wet-folded origami by artists such as Giang Dinh, Hoang Tien Quyet and Daniel Chang. I try to follow many different artists pursuing different styles.

In order to make up for rarely folding other people’s models, I use my time at conventions to fold models in as many different styles as I can. This is quite refreshing and a great way to learn something new. I try to incorporate elements from different styles into my own models, e.g. box pleating or wet folding. I also find some simple models to be very clever. I’d like my own designs to be simple — not lacking in complexity, but not unnecessarily complex.


Shamrock-1.1-Box Flagstone-Paneling.

Going through your flickr account, I cannot ignore the similarities between your work and mine. We are a rare species, those who make new tessellation designs. Why do you prefer to tessellate? You did try to make a mask once, but only one. Will you try to design figurative models as well?


Two-Sword Tessellation (Single Molecule)

Michał: Apart from tessellations, I often design boxes as a way of demonstrating a tessellation molecule without having to fold so much. I have also designed a few simple animals.

Tessellations pose a fun challenge due to the additional constraints they enforce. Geometric models, modulars and tessellations, seem to fit my way of thinking well. It may also be a kind of feedback loop: My serious design work started with tessellations, so I folded more and became better at this style of folding, which led me to use this style even more. I admire people who can shape their animals to be lifelike and full of expression, but unfortunately, I’m not one of them. I’d love to learn to shape some time and to design models in different styles, but I’m afraid it won’t happen any time soon since I can commit only so much time to origami.

The similarity between my work and yours is indeed strong, and it is no accident. I became familiar with your models quickly after getting into tessellations, and I certainly picked up some things that I liked about them. The two most important, probably, were working on a square grid and looking for patterns with relatively small molecules.

When I got interested in tessellations, I often ran into pictures online of models folded on huge triangular grids. They are impressive (for example, the work of Robin Scholz), but for a beginner like me, they were overwhelming. The square grid is easier to fold, making it better for a beginner. It’s easier to follow what’s going on inside a molecule and how the folds correspond to the crease pattern. There also seems to be less competition. It’s easier to check existing models and to find out if a design is likely new or just a reinvention of an older model.


Nativity

One area that I think has lots of potential is origami reliefs — tessellations that are not abstract, repeating patterns, but which can be associated with some real-world subject. This style resembles Melina Hermsen’s earlier work. I’ve already made a few models like this, and I think I will make more (see Nativity and Two Sword tessellations, above).

Please tell us about your creative process. Do you start with a crease pattern, or is it doodling that helps you find a new pattern? Do you know in advance how the result will look? Do you challenge yourself and try to achieve a certain pattern you saw somewhere?

Michał: My design process is a mix of different techniques. Sometimes I do start with a subject and consciously work to express that subject in origami. Most of the time, however, the first draft of a model comes by itself or while I doodle using one of the small sheets of paper I carry around at all times. Often, these ideas arise as modifications of earlier designs. Many of my models can be connected to families, where each consecutive model was born as a modification of the previous one. Modification of others’ models is also how I started designing my models.

An interesting thing about tessellations is that a small modification to the molecule can greatly affect the look of the completed model. Usually, I design a single molecule and I can imagine what the completed model will look like, but there were cases where I was genuinely surprised once I folded the whole thing.

Sometimes, I doodle, then realize that what I produced slightly resembles some concrete subject, and from there on I start working towards that subject. I’d call that opportunistic design. If I set out to design a tessellation and end up with an elephant, then why not? That’s how my Simple Elephant came to be.

I have too many ideas to be able to fully develop them all. Those least promising, I discard. Other drafts end up in a drawer and wait for their turn to be worked on. My drawer is divided into three trays, and when I put a new model there, I perform a quick triage into promising models I want to work on as soon as I get the time, OK models that I want to work on some time later, and models barely too good to throw away. Once in a while, I go through my drawer and reevaluate the models, so priorities change over time.

From the top tray, I take models to work on further. I have several models in the pipeline at the same time. The most time-consuming part of improving a model is finding a way to fold it with few unnecessary creases visible. I like clean folds, so I look for a way of folding the model without precreasing the whole grid. But designing even a perfect model wouldn’t make much sense if it were torture to fold, so it’s always a compromise between perfection and practicality. Optimizing the folding method and then executing it takes attention and time. Most of my models, I only fold once in my life, which is why I care about using good papers.

I document each design by taking pictures of the collapse and drawing a rough crease pattern. These are not publication-quality instructions, but they are enough for me if I want to come back to a model later.


Bracelet and Box with Square Interlace Tessellation

For Sara Adams's video tutorial of the box, click here.
For her tutorial of the bracelet, click here.
What papers do you usually use? Why? Do you prepare them yourself? How do you decide what paper to choose?

Michał: I prefer relatively thick papers. This is because they are usually stronger and collapse better than thin papers. I know a few thin papers with very good collapsing properties but they are expensive and hard to find. Another reason is I prefer my models to be relief-like rather than completely flat, and thicker papers make that possible even for models that in theory collapse to a perfect plane. I use wet folding with some of my tessellations, which allows forming thick papers better than dry folding would, and forces them to stay in shape once dried.

I have painted or glued paper myself a few times to learn it, but usually, I use ready-made papers. After testing some papers at origami conventions, and reading your paper reviews in The Fold, I became interested in exploring new paper types. It’s fascinating how different papers can be. I look for new papers at conventions and wherever I travel.

I have seen people buy large packs of interesting papers and resell them at conventions by the sheet. I think this is a great service for the origami community since it allows people to test new papers without spending lots of money. The paper I use most is probably Tant since it offers a good balance between strength, folding properties, availability of different colors, and price. Elephant Hide, the classic for tessellations, is also high on my list, but the limited choice of colors reduces its appeal. When choosing paper for a model, I first look at the folding properties it requires. Is exact precreasing crucial? If so, I need a hard, crisp paper that folds into sharp, clean lines. If I want to model organic shapes such as flowers, I’ll probably go for some softer paper instead. The choice of thickness depends on the dimensions of the model, how many layers of paper there will be and how much relief I want to have. Then, of course, comes the choice of color and texture, which is important for getting a nice-looking model.

Fortunately, most origami, including most of my models, can be folded from practically any kind of paper. I do have a few models that would be very difficult to fold from copy paper, but this is an extreme. For most designs, using a specific paper is about aesthetics, more convenient folding and going from good to perfect, rather than about being able to fold the model at all.


Sunflower Tessellation

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

Michał: I think a single motto is too little for summing up your whole life. I’m Catholic, so you will find some Christian themes in my work. I’m also interested in science and technology, so you will find models of interesting mathematical structures and other geeky subjects as well. But my origami isn’t supposed to be high art that reveals profound truths about life. It’s about making interesting shapes out of a flat sheet of paper. It’s about creating something beautiful just for the sake of it. Origami may be important to me, but once in a while, I remind myself that it’s just folding little colored pieces of paper and should not be taken too seriously.


Star Interlace Tessellation

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?

Michał: It’s hard to pick just one, but I think Her Majesty’s Tessellation (below) fits the bill. I consider both its style and development history typical of my work. After I had the initial idea, this model waited about a year until I fully developed it, and I finally found the time to do so while on my way back home from the British Origami Society convention, hence the name. I also think it is quite pleasant to fold.

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

Michał: What good could I have done if the time I spend on origami I spent on something else?


Her Majesty’s Tessellation (64×64, diagonally rotated grid)

Name Michał Kosmulski
Place of residence Warsaw, Poland
Profession software engineer
Email michal (the at sign goes here) kosmulski.org
Website https://michal.kosmulski.org/origami/

In closing, Michał presents us with diagrams for his Houstonia Box.


Click on photo to download diagrams.