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Origami Designer's Secrets: Riccardo Foschi

I met Riccardo at several CDO conventions, but it never occurred to me how talented he was until that one model of his, a unique feathered tsuru. His answers, as well as chosen photos, present a very clear image of his creations and creation process as well as his area of interest. Going through them, I realized how many of them we share, from his love of puzzles to admiration for M.C. Escher.

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

Riccardo: Riccardo Foschi is a 27-year-old architect and origami enthusiast who is curiosity addicted. At the moment he is pursuing a Ph.D. focused on origami applied to architecture furniture and manufacturing at the University of Bologna. He also teaches at university: geometry, photo editing, 3D modeling and rendering. He is very curious about everything, especially unusual things, like: exotic food, origami, juggling, yoyoing, archery, Rubik cubing, logic puzzling, 3D rendering, video-gaming, guitar playing, paper crafting etc. He loves traveling, but he doesn’t like flying; he thinks the best memories are made far from home so he tries not to think about his fear of flying.


Riccardo Foschi and Japanese lanterns
Photo by Riccardo Foschi.

What is origami to you? Why are you interested in origami? What was your first model to fold? What was your first model to create? What drove you to start and create your own work? Can you say origami changed your life in anyway, or is it just a hobby??

Riccardo: Lots of people asked me what’s origami for me, and I had lot of occasions to think carefully about that. So, what I think about origami is that any definition of origami ever said fits. Origami is an art, a technique and a science; a puzzle to solve, a language that connects people of different cultures; it’s a bunch of complex mathematical theorems for professors, but it’s also a game for children; it’s a relaxing activity, but it’s also very frustrating sometimes; it needs patience and precision, but try to ask about precision to Victor Coeurjoly and see if he agrees; origami starts from a square sheet, but not always; with origami you fold every subject, but actually you can’t; origami is when you fold paper, but also metal, plastic, wood, rubber, dehydrated seaweeds (I swear I did It once!); in origami you can’t use “cuts”, but in traditional origami they used cuts a lot! Therefore, origami for me is a contradictory kaleidoscope of arts, techniques, materials, constructions, geometric figures and everything, which have only one common factor: the “fold”.

Once defined what’s origami for me, I can say that I have always loved crafting, and make something beautiful from unexpected things, and among all crafting arts I love origami the most because no tools are needed, it’s cheap, and it can be done anywhere without getting floor or furniture dirty. Furthermore, it’s full of surprises because geometry sometimes is magical and mysterious and you can always learn something from even the most trivial origami model. Also, I love the community which is small but super polite, kind and sharing-based. I always thank my mother who introduced me to the art of folding. Everything started when she decided to ask me to test fold the models for her primary school children when I was almost their age. Also, she always says to me that she folded a lot when I still was in her belly, maybe it was during that period that she transmitted to me the passion for origami. I really don’t remember what’s the first model I folded, but for sure I started folding quite early. I started designing original models because I wanted to fold complex models, and I wasn’t able to fold them from CPs, because I’m very lazy instead of studying further the CPs theory. I decided to invent easier CPs with the theories I already knew. After those first attempts, I discovered that I really enjoyed designing new models more than folding someone else’s designs, so I kept doing it and evolving my technique. Then a friend of mine saw my models and suggested for me to “do something with them”, and I sent one to Tadashi Mori who kindly made a tutorial out of it. That model tutorial (the origami seagull) was very popular, and it gave me the motivation to open my own Channel with all the videos I already recorded for myself to remember the folding steps (that’s the reason why the earlier ones are very low-quality, because they weren’t supposed to be published anywhere).

I think origami started as a hobby and became something more. I cannot say it’s my life reason or my main work, but I can say for sure that it changed my life. My professor suggested for me to do research related to origami for my Ph.D. thesis because he saw my earlier origami works, and for this reason I was able to study origami also applied to technical fields and to know many university researchers all over the world, like Thomas Hull, Tomohiro Tachi, Erik Demaine, Jun Mitani and many others.

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? If you were a painter in your previous life, who was it?

Riccardo: My girlfriend forced me to mention her among my muses … who am I to deny it! So, my muses are: Carolina, mother nature, my life experiences and other origami designers, but most of the times random-folding is my main source of inspiration. In my childhood I folded a lot of models by other designers, and sometimes I still fold them, especially at the conventions where you can find the newest ones. I think it’s important to keep folding other designers’ models, because you can always learn something new from others. Among all designers, I think the one that I admire the most is Beth Johnson, who in my opinion throws a bucket of freshness on the origami world, not trying to fold super-complex models to amaze people, but giving them a real personal touch that makes her models recognizable at a first glance. I also love very much Hoang Tien Quyet, who brought the curved-wet-folding to a new level. My favorite artist at the moment is probably Jacob Collier who is an incredible English young jazz musician.

If I were a painter in my previous life I probably would have been Escher, because he loved geometry as much as I do, and he was curious about a lot of things and enthusiastic about everything he did.



Riccardo and Beth at Tanteidan Convention 2017
photo by Gen Hagiwara


You are a figurative creator, as most of your work is animals. None tries to be realistic, but you give it your own flavor. How do you choose your subjects? Will you try your hands with other genres, like modulars or tessellations?

Riccardo:Usually I choose to design a particular subject because I simply like it. I love to fold insects, birds and reptiles, because the size of the folded model can be quite similar to the real one even without using giant pieces of paper. Sometimes I also choose the subjects from experiences that I want to fix in paper, for example the “young deer”, which is the last model I designed, is inspired by the deer that my girlfriend and I saw at Nara, a wonderful city in Japan, which remained in my heart. Lastly, sometimes I take commissions, and the subject is chosen by the committee, but it is less poetic, so I keep it for the last. Sometimes I like also to fold abstract figures or tessellations, but I’m not patient enough to go into tessellations regularly.



Young Deer
Fold and photo by Riccardo Foschi



Baby Lizard
Fold and photo by Sabrina Rivagli

Please tell us what is your creative process? Your flickr site is full of CPs that you are delighted to share. Do you start with a CP? Do you use any software in your work? Do you know in advance how the result will look like? How do you manage to keep a visible style to all of your work?

Riccardo:I don’t like to define the design process like a “creation”, I think that origami designing is more like a “discovering” of something that is already intrinsic in the piece of paper, and the designer is just the one that discovers it first. I think this is true in origami more than in other arts, because it is founded on simple referenced geometric constructions, and sometimes it happens that two origami artists on opposite ends of the world come up with two identical solutions at the same time without even knowing each other!

When I design I don’t follow a single workflow. Most of the time I just fold randomly when I travel by train or when I have a bill or a recipe in my hands (don’t give me important small pieces of paper because I could accidentally fold it irreparably when I’m absent minded!), random folding is my favourite way to discover the hidden possibilities of the paper and interesting construction that otherwise I couldn’t be able to imagine! Once I find an interesting construction which could be a face or a wing or a horn, I try to optimize the pattern and the shaping, and I build the rest of the model around it. The more I random fold, the more I stratify experience, and I can re-use the older discoveries in newer models.

Other times, I experiment with patterns so I imagine the stick figure of the model to understand how long the flaps need to be and how many flaps I need, then I draw a grid on the paper and I arrange circles on the grid, each radius of each circle represent the length of the flaps, and I follow the rules explained in the book Origami Design Secrets by Robert Lang to convert the grid and circles into folds, I usually use the box pleating technique, but sometimes I experiment also with the 22.5 or mixed techniques. Once I collapse the test base, if the flaps are too small, I subdivide the grid more, and I start from the beginning.

Furthermore, sometimes I start from the paper: the model to fold is inspired by its colours, texture and thickness. I don’t know from the beginning how the model will look, it’s the paper that decides when I need to stop overlapping layers or to stop curving and shaping a particular limb. For example, in the gecko design if I used a thinner paper the body of the gecko would have been too skinny, or in the deer design, if I used a square sheet of paper instead of a rectangular one, the legs and the body would have been too thick due to the transition folds generated from the antlers, or in the baby lizard design if I curved the tail in just one direction, instead of giving it an “S” shape, a lot of little crumples would have appeared due to the paper tension. Anyway, even if I have different workflows, I always try to give a personal touch to make the model recognizable. The detail of my style, which I try to keep in every piece, is the tension between the straight-line geometry and the curved shapes, because I love traditional simple flat-foldable models, which, with few straight lines are capable to give the idea of an entire animal or a flower or a face, but I also love the amazing curve-folded masterpieces by artists like Akira Yoshizawa, Giang Dinh, Hoang Tien Quyet. So, in my models I try to keep both styles; the difficult thing is to balance the straight lines and the curves to prevent the model to look unfinished.

Usually I don’t use computer application during the creative process; even when I design starting from the pattern I prefer to design with a pen and a piece of paper. I use computer applications only to post-produce and color-correct the photos and to present the CPs. I think that the photo is important as much as the origami design, if you make an interesting design but you don’t choose the correct angle or lights, the whole model will appear much uglier.

What papers do you usually use? Why? Do you prepare them yourself? How do you decide what paper to choose?

Riccardo: I usually fold only paper, but maybe in the future I will feel the need to try different materials, who knows! I like to fold medium or thick paper, contrariwise I hate folding very thin paper like tissue foil. My favourite commercialized papers are the Tant paper and the Craft paper, the first one for the easier curve folded models or for the test models, and the second one for more complex models. I especially like craft, because it’s sold in long rolls which I love because I often fold starting from rectangular sheets of paper. But my real favorite paper to fold is the pre-treated Unryo paper, because it’s the easiest one to shape, and it keeps the curved shape even without wet folding or glue fixing after folding. Also, it doesn’t lose colours or stiffness after years, because the glue protects it, unfortunately no one sells it already prepared, so I need to prepare it myself. To prepare it I spread a layer of one part of Vinylic or MC glue (I prefer the vinylic) mixed with two parts of water on one side of one or two sheets of rice paper placed on a big glass or mirror, and when the glue is well distributed I hang it on a wire and I dry it with a hairdryer. Unfortunately, I don’t prepare it very often because the process is so boring and time consuming, and I prefer folding instead of preparing paper when I have some spare time (which is very rare nowadays).



Riccardo and Carolina in Shibuya; photo by Riccardo

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

Riccardo: I never had a motto in my life, but I like a lot Carolina’s, which is “be conscious about your talent, but don’t take yourself too seriously.” I like it because I think false modesty is even worse than selfishness, and taking everything with a smile is how I like to live. I think my origami could be related to this philosophy because they always look happy and easy, and I never fold scary or depressed subjects. I don’t think my works have a message to transmit, sometimes they remind me of some personal memories, but they would be impossible to be transmitted to anyone else.

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?

Riccardo: Every time someone asks me which is my favorite model, I always say the last one I designed, because it’s the one related to my closest memories still fresh in my mind, and also the last model is the result of the origami experience stratified until that moment. But today is the first time that I can finally say that my favorite origami is not the last one but it’s actually the last but one, which is the feathered tsuru. I have chosen this design because I think it synthesizes my origami style, which tries to be as simple as possible but look complex at the same time, also, it doesn’t strictly follow the “one single square sheet” rule which often happens in my works, also it combines curves and straight lines, and last but not least, it starts from the tradition and from other artists' references, like Staro and Cristian Marianciuc (also known as “Icarus mid-air”) works. Furthermore, it reminds me of my research trip to Japan this summer which changed my life.

The history of this model is quite funny, because it was born from a spontaneous challenge between me and my colleague and dear friend Kai. One day I left a traditional tsuru on Kai’s desk as a gift, and the day after when I came back to the office I found a tsuru with two heads on my desk, so I dropped a tsuru with bigger wings on his desk, and the day after I found a tsuru with hands instead of wings on mine, so I folded for him a tsuru with a long phoenix tail, and he folded for me a 4-winged tsuru, and the challenge kept going for many days and a big collection of strange original tsuru was born. Kai and I never met during that period, because we worked in the office at different hours. The last day I designed the feathered tsuru and right after we met again, we laughed, and we discussed the different designs. I learned a lot from his style, and I think he learned something from mine. The feathered tsuru was the last one of the list of strange variations, and also ended the funny game. The collection of tsuru remained on the shelf in the Tokyo University office, and I think it’s still there.


Origami “un-traditional” cranes collection

Photo by Riccardo Foschi, folds by Riccardo Foschi and Kai Suto

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

Riccardo: This is the hardest question! I think you have asked everything! But to not leave this question unanswered, I came up with this one: “Origami has experienced a real boom since the 80's-90’s. Before then only a few artists and researches folded things and studied theorems involving origami around the world, but in these last decades, thanks to grant programs, the internet and to the efficient dissemination made by all the origami associations, this art and science has been spread around the world with a large impact, both in the artistic and in the scientific fields. Thus, has the origami landscape reached a saturation point or is still there something new to say and fold?



Feathered Tsuru; fold and photo by Riccardo

Name Riccardo Foschi
Place of residence Imola, Italy
Profession Phd student / Architect / Render artist
Email riccardo.foschi28 [at] gmail.com
Website https://www.flickr.com/photos/125441466@N02/


Parrot; fold and photo by Riccardo Foschi

Diagrams!

To really know a designer, you must fold his models. Here are the CP and instructions for the Parrot.

-Ilan Garibi