The Saga of the Mondrian Origami Cubes

(with apologies to David Mitchell, Leyla Torres and Piet Mondrian)

Inspired by the Macro Mondays theme of “Corner” I decided to fold an origami cube. I had watched the Leyla Torres tutorial for David Mitchell’s Mondrian cube several times but had no appropriate paper. I’d been using whatever was to hand — some old art paper, cut up scrapbooking pages, brown Kraft paper and money. You know how it goes. I did buy a couple of packs of actual origami paper, but I didn’t want to waste those nice sheets on a practice piece. Since I had a Tesco order coming the next day I added a set of A4 construction paper in assorted colours. I cut four squares per page, 10.5cm (4.25 inches) squared and trimmed with scissors. Close enough for government work, I posited. I mean, how critical can it be?

I used the short left over pieces to make a set of wee squares that were about 3.25″ trimmed.

My first attempt with red, off white and black wasn’t too horrible, so I tried again with the smaller pieces and was much happier. What the hell, go for the version with five colours adding in white copy paper. Not quite so straightforward making my mind see the widths of the tabs instead of the colours in the groups. Struggling a bit, I had a look at David Mitchell’s instructions which were different still, using four colours, so I didn’t really read it. He mentioned Leyla’s video and the possibility of five colours and showed an exploded illustration of his modules. It was not until I went back later that I discovered the math for making his parallelogram modules and that he had only two sizes of tabs for each of his versions.

I broke out the good paper (15cm – 6″) and build a larger cube. I used double sided complementary pantone colour pairs using each side of several to get twelve modules. In fact, I used seven colours. By this time I didn’t bother with the video. With the small modules it was easy to see the three width changes, but I struggled folding the narrow edge on the tiny thick paper. I decided I would just pick three tab widths and fold them first, marrying the other side so that all the modules would be the same width. I tried to keep them even, but my three widths weren’t as different from each other as Leyla’s or David’s. This created problems down the line trying to match tabs to slots. Suddenly I was playing a different game with different rules. The random colours were of no use to sorting the order of assembly. The tabs were very similar. The new modules, like the snow outside, were nice and crisp and even. And heavy. And slippery. The first corner came together very nicely and I managed to complete four faces while watching a film. I shifted in my chair to get a sip of vodka and tonic and the whole assembly fell to the floor. This happened several times.

I got all the modules sorted before going to bed and had them ready for a quick start when I woke up at 3am Sunday morning. This time I used tiny clothes pins to hold each completed face in place. A few times I considered cutting the sheets in 4ths but the whole point was to take advantage of the precision. I do not like failing. I spent the whole morning failing, but failing the same way, not better. At 12.20pm I finally managed, with a swap of two modules to close up the last face. I did a quiet hallelujah dance and got a celebratory cup of coffee and a peanut butter cup, as you do. I took a few pictures then held the cube on my lap as I checked the colour card that came with the paper to see which pantone numbers I had used. Reaching for the box, the model slipped from my lap and I instinctively grabbed with my knees. Yep, I smushed the cube. Only one face was dislodged and I managed to repair it. After that, I found a nice elephant pattern to fold. Something fluid and round and all from one piece of paper to clear my mental palate.

From this exercise I learned that cutting precision IS critical. I need to find a good method or different tools. Or invest in more sizes and colours of paper. I’ve also learned that I prefer smaller models. And that I need LOTS of practice.

know when to fold 'em, when to hold 'em...
The Saga of the Mondrian Origami Cubes
The Saga of the Mondrian Origami Cubes
The one in front is the end result of the vertex post.

Elephant Origami designed by Leyla Torres
Elephant Origami designed by Leyla Torres
Elephant Origami designed by Leyla Torres

Published by Carrie Berry

hardwired as an engineer, fuelled by passion for words, art and music.

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