How Origami Works

Paper cranes are perhaps the most iconic of origami subjects. The crane is a mystical creature in Japanese lore.
Paper cranes are perhaps the most iconic of origami subjects. The crane is a mystical creature in Japanese lore.

It is a delicate art form of the most intricate kind. It requires patience, mental and physical dexterity, and solid math skills are helpful, too. And it's the stuff of dark, wicked nightmares for anyone suffering from pulpuslaceratapohobia (a fear of paper cuts). It's origami, the art of paper folding.

The term origami comes from two Japanese words: oru (to fold) and kami (paper). Origami artists are usually called paperfolders, and their finished creations are called models, but in essence, finely crafted origami might be more accurately described as sculptural art.

In terms of necessary supplies, origami is one of the simplest art forms in human history. It requires only two things: a sheet of paper and some imagination. You can certainly use standard white copy paper to get started in origami, but you can also buy special origami papers designed for the specific demands of skilled paperfolders.

When origami artists begin, the method they use to create their models is called the design. And any sort of printed or drawn instructions that guide the artist is called a diagram. Many simple diagrams help novices make basic models in just a few minutes. However, advanced artists might spend weeks puzzling out the balance of shapes and folds needed for a particularly complicated model.

Like all art forms, origami isn't just about paper folding. Within each artfully folded form lie reams of history, culture and symbols that bridge generations, geography and lifestyle.

Hardcore mathematicians are drawn to origami for its geometrical precision. Psychologists and their patients find value in the meditative qualities of paper folding. Maybe there is some innate component of human nature that drives this basic interplay of mind, fingers and paper. Whatever the draw, there is serious creativity and work involved in the best origami.

Keep reading, and you'll see exactly how origami masterpieces come to life. And rest easy, paper cut fearers -- this story is all digital.