Origami USA 2022

This was the first in-person origami convention in three years, at the Sheraton in midtown Manhattan.  It was great to be back, to see all my origami friends and catch up on what everyone was up to.

There was an exhibit, which was a big motivator for me to get off my butt and start folding some new things.  I had four new models, plus a good handful of my best prior work.  One of the new models is the Space Cat, named after my new jazz and funk band.  It’s variation on Sophie the Cat, sculpted in a streamlined midcentury modern style out an appropriate shade of blue paper.

The others were more ambitious: single-sheet polyhedra with tessellation or other surface textures.  One was my Hydrangea Cuboctahedron, which I actually folded last year but never had a chance to exhibit before, folded out of a sheet of blue 19″ shiny paper, which has a sparkle similar to Stardream but is thinner and crisper.

The other two were variations on a dodecahedron, with various regions sunk to bring out five-pointed stars latent in the geometry of the design.  One had the embedded star oriented to that its corners align with the corners of the base dodecahedron’s pentagonal faces.  The other and the corners of the stars at the midpoints of the edges of the pentagons. 

These took quite alot of effort to make.  First the design had to be worked out with drawings, then single-hemisphere studies.  Then the pre-creasing took several evenings per model, very technical and precise, using fivefold symmetry.  Each is folded out of a pentagon, and creating a regular pentagon from a square is a non-trivial task in itself.  I used 15″ Tant paper for these, and the model is about at the limit of what the paper could handle without getting too soft.

Up until the very end, I wasn’t even sure if they were going to work, if I’d be able to finish and close the model.  The layout was such that one pentagon of dodecahedron was in the center of the paper, and on the opposite face the five corners come together to form a lock.  I’ve used this technique successfully on other models including my Stellated Dodecahedron and my Great Dodecahedron.  It’s the nature of single-sheet polyhedra, being folded from a flat sheet, that you have a lot of layers of paper at the end, and they need to be tucked away so that the tendency to spring open is countered, or at least minimized, while maintaining the pattern on the exterior surface.  However for these two new ones, this approach created a pinwheel out of the corners on the last face, so I ended up tucking the paper inside instead.  This left a pentagonal hole at the bottom (which no one could see) but allowed me to reach inside to do the final shaping, which was pretty fragile and tricky.

I’ve been doing single-sheet polyhedra for years, but sometimes I feel like people don’t really get them, because most people make models like this as modulars, fitting together many small sheets, which is much easier to do.  But my new models brought out the surface in a way that could not be done with modulars, and finally people took notice.  It’s particularly gratifying when folders I admire are impressed with my work.  Boice Wong, who specializes in supercomplex human figures such as Samurai and videogame heroes, affectionately called them “fake modulars” and told me they were causing quite a buzz.  Indeed, I got quite a few compliments on my exhibit and got into several conversations with other folders about the designs.

So, having gotten these models to work at all, I now want to fold really nice ones out of my last remaining sheet of ivory Marble Winstone paper, which I can cut to yield two 19″ pentagons.  I figure if I’m going to do this, I might as well see if I can come up with a layout that lets me close the bottom nicely.  So I spent a good part of my free folding time at the convention exploring various layouts for the dodecahedron.  Of course John Montroll was around, and it was lots of fun to jam on pentagons and polyhedra with him.

This led me on a quest to find a source for large, accurately pre-cut pentagons in high-quality paper, but alas no such thing exists.  I befriended Kathy, the lady who usually makes such things – octagons, hexagons, etc. – and sells them to the origami source.  She says she has a jig for it and can custom cut some for me.  I also bid on and won a silent auction item which was a nice wooden storage box filled with various papers, included a drawer full of 10″ pentagonal sheets.

As I mentioned, this was the first in-person convention in several years due to the pandemic, and it was at the Sheraton Hotel in New York city, a new venue for us.  Overall it worked out quite well, with nice conference rooms for the classes and hospitality.  Origami USA negotiated a really good rate for the hotel rooms.  Since getting in and out the city can be a pain, Jeannie and decided to stay the night Friday and Saturday, and this also worked out quite well.

This year the convention went to a system where people sign up to take classes ahead of time on the web site, so I ended up taking alot more classes than usual.  Mostly I took classes from friends of mine who are complex folders to see if I can glean some insight to their design process as well as different teaching styles.  I took Brain Chan’s Cicada, inspired by the classic model but with added legs; Beth Johnson’s Circus Elephant, and an airplane by Michael LaFosse. 

I taught two classes.  Saturday it was Sophie the Cat.  This is a high-intermediate level model and the class was full.  I didn’t have a document camera in my room, so there was a fair amount of going around and showing some of the steps up close.  But everyone got thru successfully.  On Sunday I taught my Five-Banded Armadillo.  This is a complex model and it took up two periods.  Again, the class was full.  This was a bit surpassing for a complex model; sometimes I only get a few students on classes like these.  A document camera would have helped here as well, but still everyone folded it successfully and had a good time.

I saw alot of first-timers, some of whom were teaching and exhibiting.  This is a very good sign for future conventions.  Over the course of the weekend quite a few people came up to me asking me to sign their copy of my Animal Sculptures book, or to take a picture with me, or just to tell me they really admire my work.  This happens a bit at every convention, but never before to this degree.  Very flattering.  Or maybe I’ve just forgotten since it’s been a long time.

Saturday night was a screening of a documentary film about the the artist Kevin Box, who create large metal sculptures of origami figures, and collaborates with Beth, Michael and Robert Lang on the designs.  Really fascinating.

Michelle came into the city with us Friday and stayed with us overnight.  She had to work Sunday – she chose to come to convention on the day with more dragons and flowers – so she drove home Saturday evening, and came back again Sunday evening.  This was her first time driving in Manhattan, but she learned to drive in The Bronx, so was pretty unfazed.

Sunday night was the giant folding contest, which was alot of fun.  Marc Kirschenbaum was the emcee, and I was asked to be a judge along with Beth, Michael, Richard Alexander, and Quentin Trollop.  Of course every team gets a prize, so the challenge is to think of a fun category appropriate to each model.  For example, the Blue Whale won the “deepest fold” and the Giraffe, believe or not, lost out to the Emperor Penguin in the “tallest” category, but won “best legs”.

Sunday night we all went home to sleep, and came back Monday in time for the start of the afternoon session.  I haven’t spent much time in the city in the last three years, just the occasion meeting or concert, cuz I’ve been working from home since the start of the pandemic. The first day I was there New York felt really strange and alien to me – crowded, noisy, chaotic, rectangular, and I was noticing lots of things in a sort of heightened way.  The second day I could feel myself tuning into the wavelength to appreciate everything on its own terms, and by the third day it was as if I’d never been away.

Monday I took Boice’s class on action figures.  I’ve been experimenting with human figures and was looking to improve at it.  He first presented a nice box-pleated human figure model.  It uses a 16 x 16 grid, but it otherwise very similar to my Astronaut, which uses an 8 x 8 grid, and my subsequently developed Robot Base, which uses a 12 x 12 grid (the Robot remains unfinished, hence the base).  It’s a good go-to human figure base.  Then we spent most of the class working on stances and poses to make the figure more lifelike natural.  Harkened back to figure drawing classes in art school.  I made a figure standing on one foot as if to delver a karate kick, and another mediating in a lotus position.  Picked up alot of good insight.

A fun topper to the whole weekend:  As we were getting our car out of the garage at the end of the night, there was a guy in line ahead of us in a Frank Zappa T-shirt, and I recognized him as Ed Palermo, leader of a big band that does arrangements of Zappa and other prog rock artists.  He does a monthly gig at the Iridium right around the corner, and had just come off the bandstand.  So we struck up a conversation and I gave him links to some of my music to listen too.  Asked him to keep me in mind if he every needs a sub on sax.

Next up: photos

The Analog Kid

More summer, more busy these days.  The weather has been beautiful.  One night last weekend we built a fire in our fire pit and hung out on the patio and considered what song we might use to break Vecna’s curse.  Last summer I made a playlist of 80 favorite 80’s songs, and now I’m thinking of making a new playlist of 77 favorite 70’s songs for this summer.

I edited up some highlight form the the Spacecats gig.  I’m going to update my web site soon to feature of few of the best ones, but for now, you can see the whole set here:


I got out for a bike ride five days last week.  I mostly go around our neighborhood, which is kinda hilly and some streets have alot of cars. Sometimes to a local place called Nature Study Woods, which is mountain biking trails, and not particularly well maintained.  The steep parts tend to be washed out and stony, and the low spots muddy.  Also I tend to go on fairly short rides – a half hour to an hour, and usually go as fast as possible.  

All in all Jeannie doesn’t enjoy this style of riding, but we wanted to start doing some biking together.

So on Sunday Jeannie took our bikes out to Jones Beach and biked along the scenic Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway.  It’s a great bike path, smooth and flat, that runs the length of the island, out from the main beach, through as series of smaller beaches, saltwater wildlife refuges, and the occasional marina, restaurant or bar.  We went out a little over seven miles then turned around, for a total of fifteen miles or so.  On the way back there was a pretty consistent headwind, but it was a very doable and fun ride.   We had a lunch of ice cream and clam strips, then went out to the beach, but it was too cold for swimming.  The water was unusually calm and there were lots of seashells.  Also tons of giant container ships out at see, queued up to get into New York harbor, like I’ve never seen before.  There’s usually maybe two or three, but this time there was over a dozen.

I also got the mustang on the road over the weekend, and continued with the yardwork.  This time is was doing the edging on the driveway and front walk.  Still to go is the walk around the back of the house, and the patio.  It seems everything has grown in quite alot this spring, and needs an extra level of cutting back.  Also I’ve never seen so many bunny rabbits and chipmunks in our neighborhood, nor heard so many songbirds.

Lastly, I’m continuing with doing origami and preparing for the convention, which starts this Friday.  My two dodecahedron star balls are nearly complete, but it’s taking some work to finish them.  They’re single-sheet polyhedra, a very advance form of origami, and closing off and locking the bottom where the edges come together is a nontrivial design challenge.  I’ve also been experimenting with a new design called the Space Cat, a variation on my Sophie the Cat, with a midcentury modern look and proportions.  Hopefully will get there and have a few new pieces for my exhibit.

Meanwhile, I’m teaching a couple classes, and agreed to pre-record them for people who are attending the convention remotely.  This process grew out of last year’s online-only convention, in which all classes were taught live as Zoom calls.  This year we’re recording Zoom sessions, with a camera pointing down at the work as it’s being folded.  I kind of view this a run-thru, a rehearsal for the real class, and good opportunity to make sure I know the model and can teach it.  My first class, Sophie the Cat, went off without a hitch, totally great.  For my second class my Five-Banded Armadillo, I somehow skipped a stepped and messed of the proportions of the bands, which are created by pleating.  I realized my mistake after I did the collapse and it was too late to undo, so I had to just roll with it and adjust the proportions as I finished the model. All in all it still turned out in the end, and I’m sure to get it right in the actual class.

I Hear a Rhapsody

Well, Spacecats had our first gig Saturday night, at the Alternative Medicine Brewing Company in Mount Vernon.  It went really well.  The band sounded great.  The crowd dug us, and the owner wants to have us back, and is talking about putting together a regular jazz night.

The room itself is pretty big, although half of it, behind the band, is where they brew the beer, and the other half, out in front is the bar.  So the acoustics were good, with a large, boomy reverb.  The bar provided a PA, which was very nice and saved us alot of trouble hauling and setting up our own.

We did a combination of jazz and funk, standards, originals, and interpretations of rock and pop songs.  I was definitely happy with my playing, and the sound of the group, and everything musically. We really came together as a band, focused and leveled up the last few weeks.

We played two sets of just about an hour each.  Here’s the set list.

  1. Buzzy Blue (Szinger)           
  2. All the Things You Are
  3. Mister Magic
  4. Heavy Skies (Szinger)    
  5. I Hear a Rhapsody
  6. Walking on the Moon
  7. Pour Me a Fifth (Duetchman)
  8. Some Skunk Funk
  9. Peg
  1. Dr. Pluto (Szinger)                        
  2. Sunny
  3. Minority
  4. Atonement Blues (Szinger)           
  5. Havona
  6. Dolphin Dance
  7. Lift Off (Szinger)
  8. Cape Verdean Blues
  9. You Can’t Get What You Want (‘Till You Know What You Want)

Some of these originals I played in previous bands, altough the arrangement and sound have been updated.  Dr. Pluto is all-new, a funk jam written for this group based around a bluesy bass line, which Ken plays with a wah-wah effect.  Pour Me a Fifth is also new, a jazz waltz by our piano player Josh.

Watch this space for audio and video clips from the show, coming soon.

In other news, I finally finished trimming the hedges over the weekend.  All in all it took five sessions over three weekends.  This last one was all up on the ladder, including getting low-hanging boughs from the neighbor’s willow tree.  Now we’re done for a while, but next it’s on to weeding and edging.

And, it’s origami crunch time.  I’m trying to finish a few original models before the convention.  This week it’s dodecahedron star balls.  Watch this space for pics, coming soon.

These are Road Games

Summer continues.  The weather has been beautiful and I’ve been spending alot of time outside.  We’ve been busy.  Lots of the usual, including work, practicing music, biking, and taking the mustang out for rides.  Lots of yardwork the last few weekends, including trimming the trees and hedges.  So far I’ve filled up all my yard waste cans two weeks in a row.  Probably one more session to go, but it will be up on the ladder.  

Over Memorial Day weekend we went out to a barbecue at our friend Nick’s house.  The presence of a pull-up bar in his backyard inspired me to add some new exercises to my workout to focus on my lats.  

We got some new furniture, including an armchair for the living room and a sectional sofa for the downstairs room.  A new pair fo end tables arrived today and need to be assembled, and a coffee table is on order.  It all looks nice and is comfortable, is a big upgrade from our old stuff, and represents the culmination of a long and tedious research project.  Well almost.  Now we want to get a new entertainment center, bookshelf and end tables downstairs too.

Of course now we have to deal with getting rid of the old furniture.  A friend of mine who just moved into a new apartment may take our futon and gold chairs.  Meanwhile we have to store it somewhere, so we cleaned out a whole bunch of old junk and boxes from the garage.  Big step forward in project defrag the house.

The other big item is over the weekend I did the class schedule for the Origami USA convention, which is coming up at the end of June.  This is our first in-person convention in three years, and around 140 people signed up to teach classes.  You’ll recall I wrote the software for the scheduling for last year’s (virtual, online) convention.  I made several improvements to it this year.  Still not everything can be automated, so the weekend was full of back-and-forth with the teaching committed as we juggled classes around until it met with everyone’s satisfaction.  I’ll be teaching two classes, my Five-Banded Armadillo, and Sophie the Cat.  I’m also working on some new models for the exhibition.

Lastly, the Global Jukebox 4.2.1 is now live.  The cutover to our new, node-based server is complete, and we can now retire the old backend servers.