Akira Yoshizawa (1911–2005) is widely regarded as the father of the modern origami art form. Over the course of his life, he created tens of thousands of origami works and pioneered many of the artistic techniques used by modern-day origami artists, most notably the technique of wet-folding, which allowed the use of thick papers and created soft curves, gentle shapes and rounded, organic forms. He also developed a notation for origami that has now been the standard for origami instruction for more than 50 years.
Yoshizawa took up Japan's traditional folk art of origami in his 20s, and eventually left his job at a factory to focus full-time on his origami creations. His work came to the attention of the west in 1955, after an exhibition of his works in Amsterdam, and rapidly spread around the world. In his last decades, he received worldwide renown and invitations from all over, culminating in his award in 1983 of the Order of the Rising Sun.
I had the great fortune to meet Yoshizawa several times. In 1988, he came to New York to visit The Friends of the Origami Center of America, and spoke at a panel discussion I attended. There, he addressed a wide range of topics: one's mental attitude, the importance of character, of natural qualities, of having one's "spirit within [the artwork's] folds." Although he was the consummate artist, his work and approach was infused with the mathematical and geometric underpinnings of origami as well as a deep aesthetic sense:
“My origami creations, in accordance with the laws of nature, require the use of geometry, science, and physics. They also encompass religion, philosophy, and biochemistry. Over all, I want you to discover the joy of creation by your own hand…the possibility of creation from paper is infinite.”While there were other Japanese artists who explored their country’s folk art contemporaneously with Yoshizawa, his work inspired the world through a combination of grace, beauty, variety and clarity of presentation. To him, each figure, even if folded from the same basic plan, was a unique object with a unique character.
In 1992, I was invited to address the Nippon Origami Association at their annual meeting in Japan, and my hosts arranged for me to meet the great Yoshizawa at his home and studio. When I was ushered into the inner sanctum, Yoshizawa greeted me, grinning, and then proceeded to show me box after box after drawer of the most extraordinarily folded works I had ever seen.
When I was first approached by Google to help create a doodle commemorating Yoshizawa’s work, I jumped at the chance. Google set the parameters of the design: the Google logo, of course, but to be folded with origami and then decorated with examples of Yoshizawa's designs.
I created examples of two logo styles for Google to choose from: one in a classic origami style and a more three-dimensional version based on pleats. Google liked the pleated version, so I set about designing and folding the rest.
Two versions of the Google "G," each folded from a single sheet of paper.
To design these (or any letterform in this style), one can take a narrow strip of paper, fold it back and forth to trace the outline of the desired letter, unfold it, mark the creases, then arrange multiple copies of the strip pattern on a larger rectangle. The resulting crease pattern is moderately complex, and it gives a lovely 3-D form when folded, but conceptually, it is quite straightforward.
If you’d like to try to create your own origami doodle at home, you can download PDFs of the crease patterns for each of the letters. Print them out and fold on the lines: red=valley fold, blue=mountain.
The butterflies in the doodle are folded from one of Yoshizawa's earliest, yet most iconic designs. It is deceptive in its simplicity, but can express great subtlety in its shaping and attitude. The combination of simplicity and depth is part of the essence of origami, and is key to Yoshizawa's work and legacy.
"Geometry alone is not enough to portray human desires, expressions, aspirations, joys. We need more." — Akira Yoshizawa, 1988