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Joel Cooper

I posted something about Joel Cooper previously, a few days ago. I was very pleased when he responded to my post, and furthermore sent me a few photos of his work. With his permission I am sharing them here with you. (Click the photos for the full-size version.)

He mentioned via email that the masks he has worked on are different than anything he’s seen so far- and I agree with him completely. I think the use of tessellation techniques to arrange a polygon mesh for the purposes of 3d representation really crosses over into a level of technical folding that I have yet to see anywhere else. I feel this is really some mind-blowing material. He further says that he has been developing this style slowly over the last three years. I would love to see the progression of designs and explorations that led him to this particular line of thought, and see the development of both the technique and his folding skill! This is a real labor of love.

Joel origami tessellation mask

Furthermore, he has some complex and new tessellation patterns, as well. He’s been folding origami tessellations over the last 5 years, after seeing some of them on the internet. I have to imagine that these models only scratch the surface, and I look forward to hearing more from him about his own work!

With the exception of the Fujimoto “pyramid” (notice the modified design?) these works are all his own creations.

Joel tessellation 1Joel Origami Tessellation 3
Joel Tessellation 2Joel Origami Tessellation 4 (Fujimoto Stack)


Joel is also an accomplished artist as well (even though we all know origami is an art form, too). Some googling finds this:

Lawrence Art Walk 2003


  1. julie says

    It is beautiful ! I never try to fold any tessellation and I think I’ll try soon. I would love to know what kind of paper you use to fold them? silk paper is too thin for it isn’t it?

  2. Administrator says

    I don’t know what kind of paper Joel has used for his origami work; other people use papers ranging from relatively thick Kraft paper to very thin mulberry paper (Washi, Unryu, Saa, etc).

    A lot of it depends on the kind of tessellations you are folding, and how intricate they will be.

    I have a short post talking about how I have started preparing my unryu paper for folding, here.

    I’m no expert on the subject, though, so I really couldn’t say what paper would work best for you. I find something that holds a crisp crease but doesn’t fray easily is always good, regardless of what the paper is.

  3. John McKeever says

    The mask is brilliant, but the thought of the length of time it must have taken to create makes my blood run cold. I imagine Joel folded the tessellation throughout the whole sheet first, then eased parts of it open to shape the face?

    The Fujimoto tessellation is pretty close to the original shown in ORU 4, with a bit of 3D shaping thrown in. Ravi Apte’s method is the variation (it locks the levels a lot closer together).

    (The other tessellations are great too.)

  4. Joel Cooper (origami joel) says

    Thank you for the comments. I’d love to teach my methods for the masks, but I don’t know how I would begin. They do take a lot of time, much of it prefolding the entire paper with the triangular grid upon which they are based. John’s suggestion that I create the tessellation first and then open it up to create the face, pretty closely describes how I first started to design masks, but is actually the reverse of my current technique. Over time I have worked out the folds to make the individual features: various noses, eyes, mouths; then I work out how to put them together so that the pleats intersect fortuitously to end up as a regular tessellation at the periphery. So I start with a face and close it up as a tessellation.
    He is correct that the Fujimoto tessellation is Ravi Apte’s variation, I learned this one from his website. Interestingly, Apte’s variation is really a tessellation of Thoki Yenn’s Crossed Box Pleat, which is perhaps a case of great minds thinking alike, and illustrates some of the difficulties of correct attribution in origami.
    The paper I use is Wyndstone Marble, which Joseph Wu has recommended as a good substitute for elephant hide for wetfolding. It has the plasticity to make rounded forms and creases well.
    For tessellating in general, I think texture and consistency is more important than thickness, as far as folding is concerned. Thickness is mostly an aesthetic consideration; whether you want a design that is translucent or scuptural.

  5. Administrator says

    Over time I have worked out the folds to make the individual features: various noses, eyes, mouths; then I work out how to put them together so that the pleats intersect fortuitously to end up as a regular tessellation at the periphery. So I start with a face and close it up as a tessellation.

    Fascinating. For some reason it pleases my greatly to read that you have explored all these different folds, because it means there is now someone with a good practical knowledge of all these steps!

    I will have to try a few of the folds I can see from your model and attempt to emulate them, and see how it folds out.

    I have found manipulating a triangular grid into a 3d shape, and then back into a flat plane, to be particularly difficult. Do you rely solely upon geometric alignment to bring it back to a 2d state? or do you use some wetfolding techiques to “encourage” it to do so?

    all the shapes I have made in this style have required overly-complicated locking folds to hold it in alignment. perhaps this is utterly unnecessary, and I have been using the wrong paper…

  6. Administrator says

    reposting this comment that Glenn Gustitus left under a different post (on accident, I’m guessing):

    I own a piece of Joel’s work, a face. I have mounted it in a shadow box and it is hanging in my office. It is the most unique and amazing piece of art I have ever seen. No one who gazes at it, and recognizes the work that went into it, is left untouched by it’s beauty and wonder. Thank you for recognizing Joel and his work. gus

  7. Lovely work. I’ve been playing with some similar ideas, but I’m not quite ready to show them yet. Just wanted to note that Robert Lang has since discovered that Wyndstone marble *is* Zanders elefantenhaut (elephant hide), just marketed by a different company under a different name.

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  9. Vandrian says

    Seeing these has got me interested in Origami. I bought a book a year or so ago because I was interested in making 3d polygons with a 2d surface. I downloaded a “Simple Closed-back Octagon Twist” by Eric Gjerde and was able to make it (I didn’t think I would be able to at first). It looks like it was put through the washing machine, but it worked. So now I can really go wow, because I don’t see how I can make multiple twists on a single 2d plane, but I see them on the flickr group. Thanks for the inspiration I hope it doesn’t become frustration 🙂 You should go ahead and really pop the top off -since you can make a face just make a statue or a scene from modular pieces (or is that whole modular thing anti-origami?).

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