You can make a typical origami crane in about 20 folds. Now multiply that by 300. That’s about how many folds one Finnish artist uses to make his exquisitely intricate origami characters.
Twenty-three-year-old Juho Könkkölä makes complex origami characters inspired by folktales, myths, history, and nature that can require several thousand folds, and they’re all made out of a single square sheet of paper.
Könkkölä, who recently graduated from Lapland University of Applied Sciences with a bachelor’s degree of culture and arts, has been making origami for about 15 years. After outgrowing the challenges in the origami books he referenced as a kid, he started to design his own origami characters, like a Norse mythological valkyrie, an evil Scandinavian water spirit näkki, and a samurai warrior.
Folding these characters can be a long process. After coming up with a character idea—he says he doesn’t “do sketches or anything, it’s in my head”—he drafts a layout of the paper and figures out where to put the legs and arms. The result is an intricate square blueprint, marked with lines that will guide where he folds the paper, which is about 3 square feet. He shows me one draft on his computer covered in delicate, light gray lines running across its width. In this instance, he’ll precrease it 36 times in both directions just to start. Then he gets folding, occasionally using a tiny brush with water to “wet shape” components. But he never tears or cuts the paper.
This samurai warrior is his most complex model, which he says took several thousand folds to construct. The pleats on the thigh armor required several hundred folds alone. He guesses he has made about 20 different models so far, which can take anywhere from a few days for simple models to years to complete. Typically, he says they take about a month.
The process gives him a completely different creative challenge from what he had in art school. “In origami you have to solve completely different problems than in other art,” says Könkkölä. He says drawing is relatively easy in comparison: Study anatomy and perspective, and you can draw just about any character you like. Origami introduces 2D material in 3D space, so you have to know how to fold and physically build it.
Even so, what Könkkölä really enjoys about origami is that it’s relaxing. “The process is quite therapeutic,” he says. That’s something we could all use a little more of.