- Associated Press - Monday, January 25, 2016

SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) - As soon as you walk through the door, it’s clear that paper is an important part of the household: Examples of 11-year-old Justin Fossum’s origami are visible everywhere. And it’s not always obvious that each is made of a single piece of paper without the use of scissors, tape, or glue.

“It’s challenging, and you get to do anything with it. It’s fun,” Fossum said of origami, a Japanese term that translates to “folding” and “paper.” ”You can let your mind go free. It’s a whole other world. . You can just explore what you can do with one square sheet of paper.”

It’s a tale of love at first sight; in third grade, Fossum saw origami for the first time when a classmate brought some to school.

“He would take these square sheets of paper, only, and configurate it and make creases so that it would turn out to these amazing models, and I wanted to know how to do it,” he told the Black Hills Pioneer (https://bit.ly/1PpNRdQ ).

Fossum began looking into online resources to find out more, bought some books, and started teaching himself the intricacies of a craft with centuries’ worth of history. He didn’t start with the easy stuff, either. One of the first designs to catch his eye was Flasher Big Bang by Jeremy Shafer, a professional entertainer and origamist. This design takes an approximately 7-foot-wide piece of paper, and through a series of creases, creates a spiral that reduces it to the size of fist, which, once opened to its original size, springs back down to size when released. Fossum joked that designs calling for pieces of paper longer than his arm span add another aspect of challenge.

“It does start to get a little bit trickier when your books are written in Japanese,” Fossum added, pointing out those in his collection that fall under this category. He currently studies Japanese, and in his quest to become an origamist, has learned and can recite much of origami’s history, techniques, and innovators. He explained that Akira Yoshizawa, considered the father of modern origami, opened up the art in the early 1900s by bringing about the Yoshizawa-Randlett diagramming system. This system provided notations of symbols, arrows, and diagrams for origami folds, when prior to this system, most origami models were limited to preliminary “bases,” or traditional Japanese folding configurations. Yoshizawa’s work allowed the complexity of origami models to grow as people studied their mathematical properties.

These properties drew Fossum to origami.

“I love math and science,” he said, describing how math can be used to describe folds and apply techniques to create amazing shapes. He pointed out one of the most complex modern designs known, created by Satoshi Kamiya: an Eastern dragon complete with teeth, whiskers eyes, teeth, barbed tail, and more than a thousand overlapping scales - each of which takes seven steps to fold.

“It’s just awesome. It’s crazy,” Fossum said of the design.

With the goal of becoming a theoretical astrophysicist at Caltech after majoring in math and physics at Princeton University, Fossum recognizes a lot of practical applications for the math and physics present in origami. Many modern origamists are engineers, biologists, physicists, etc., and the same principles involved in his Flasher Big Bang compacting and expanding have been used by NASA to build collapsible telescopes; in the medical field to create and insert cardiac stents; and in the auto industry to build more efficient air bags.

These principles allow Fossum to fold complex designs that awe many people, but he said few “get the chance to get a relationship with origami.”

“It takes time to fold origami, so you have to have the patience and the ability to get frustrated, because you’re going to get frustrated,” he said, adding, “And if you fail, try again.” He pointed to a dragon on the kitchen table that took him about three days of five hours of folding each day to complete. He also pointed out designs that he’s attempted and failed, including an alligator by Michael LaFosse that started as a 7-foot-wide piece of paper. The type of paper he used ended up being too thick for the wet-folded design. He’s also tried to create his own scorpion design several times, rejoicing in the amazing claws and tails he’s come up with, only to discover there’s no room left for its legs, or vice versa. These “failures,” however, don’t get Fossum down.

“You need to get used to frustration, and once you do get used to frustration, frustration doesn’t occur as often,” he said. “Once you do get it down, or at least somewhat, you can explore.” He said this momentum allows him to dive into complex projects, and he has the attitude that, “If you don’t succeed, try again, and when you do, you might succeed, and the final result is amazing.”

The problem solving necessary along the way also keeps things fresh as Fossum explores new designs. He’s experienced the discovery that while working on one model - say a dragon - as he perfects the folds, the book he is using with the diagram gets jostled and flips back a few pages - say, to a beetle - with an interesting and humorous amalgamation the result.

“In my words, confidence is the feeling you have when you don’t fully understand the situation,” he said, applying the definition to working on origami.

Fossum recently attended a conference in Boulder, Colorado, where he was able to meet many of the authors of the origami books in his collection, and he also met a group of friends his own age.

“It was cool; nobody has really been able to communicate in that secret language of origami,” he said. “They knew the secret language already, and it was really fun to know it. We could just dive right in and have at it.”

Fossum finds that he can use that language in many environments. At restaurants, he asks for kids’ menus, but only after asking if they are made of paper. He folds his clothing so as to fit more in drawers, and he’s giftwrapped presents so that the edges are nearly impossible to find - though he acknowledged that instead of puzzling over the solution, recipients generally choose the faster method of ripping the paper open.

He’s also turned in homework folded into intricate designs, gotten in trouble for folding paper instead of paying attention in class, tested various paper airplane designs, and created an entire origami zoo. He has entered his origami into exhibits, such as the Winter Art Show at Matthews Opera House, and this year, he was asked to fold 540 falcons of his own design for the Big Read in Spearfish. Many of the falcons currently are displayed in the Matthews Art Gallery on Main Street.

“I like to fold,” he said, eyeing this reporter’s notebook with a grin and adding that any time he sees paper, he thinks about folding it into something.

For Christmas, he asked for specific types of paper for his origami, and Fossum said he chooses which designs to attempt based on his interest. His favorites are anything extreme or out of this world: the most venomous snake, the tallest wave, etc.

“I just pick out the cool designs and go for it,” he said.

In addition to origami, Fossum enjoys anything related to engineering, such as Legos, duct tape, woodworking, and more, and he also enjoys swimming, skiing, kayaking, exploring nature, astronomy, and more.

“I like cool stuff, like any other kid,” he said.

And one of those things, origami, he describes as: “A single sheet of paper that, using no scissors, tape, or glue, can be integrated into thousands of shapes - any shape you want - literally.”

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Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, https://www.bhpioneer.com

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