Zen of an Ultra High Dive

  • A fisheye photo image was printed on one piece of paper, and carefully cut and pleated to form a cluster of crystalline prisms around this diver. Those forms stretch in every direction and dimension, to  suggest his subliminal awareness of and connections to his surrounding world.
  • In the first moment of his high dive, his body seems to hover with a symmetric composure. Instantly, he will start to free-fall for 90 feet into that deep chasm. He has expertly prepared a precise sequence of mid-air gyrations. Upon impact, three seconds later, his body’s speed will reach 53 mph.
  • In any part of his body that doesn’t slip into the water perfectly upright, he will feel the same force as though he had fallen from a 13 foot height onto bare concrete.
  • This competition actually worked out great for Michal Navratil of the Czech Republic, who finished first in the Mostar event (quick video) of the 2016 Bull Cliff Diving World Series.


This is the original photo that I modified:

Michal Navratil
Michal Navratil of the Czech Republic dives from the 27.5 metre platform on Stari Most during the seventh stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina on September 24, 2016.

Technical note: the Kirigami sheet was folded so that all its internal angles were 45 degrees. Abstract Kirigamis are usually folded to 90 degrees, but for photo landscapes, I find that the image can’t be seen as a whole anymore.

All Rights Reserved by William James, 2018.

Seen on the Street


Breaking the smooth surface, his head pops out of an upper plane, while several cymbals  pop out of others. An avenue near the top is deeply inset between arcs of step-like folds. Those arcs surround the busker and the viewer, placing us inside of a little urban niche.

All the cut lines are gentle curves, so as to emphasize  the centering effect of the curvilinear perspective, itself the effect of using a wide-angle camera lens. Fold lines always need to be straight in the one-piece kirigami format.

Turning the piece vertically, you would see this:


This work is the second part of my original series (also see Airshow).

This photo ocured in a news report about a band called Urban Funk Machine.

Printed on Red River 80 lb. Luster Card Duo #1986 in an Epson SC-P600.

All rights reserved by William M. James © 2018 .

A 3D Quilt Made of Paper


With it’s pliable folds, the right angles can be changed from introverted to extroverted in many combinations. Pleasing asymmetries can be caused to appear. For example:


See them turn here.



An brief explanation of my methodology follows, if you like. The upper and lower forms have their inner and outer colors inverted. Two identical paper strips were printed with a row of colored rectangles, with different colors on the front and back sides. Although identical at first, I folded them in an opposite sense: all angles were folded in the opposite ways. When partially  folded, one strip looked this way:


These surfaces would faced outward when this upper module was fully folded.

The other side of that same strip looked like this:


All of these surfaces would be glued together to finish the upper module. These almost hidden colors show up only inside the middle pinches.

The lower module as was folded inversely, so its coloration is inside out vs. the upper one.

Copyrights William M. James, 2017.


Arches, Loops and Louvers

When any graphic is stretched over a three-dimensional folded Kirigami form, as I enjoy doing, its basic property of being anchored upon a flat ground plane is undermined. Pure visual form is bent or ‘refracted’ by clinging to the physical lattice of linked planes. A graphic form may be fragmented by the physical form, but it is not necessarily subverted entirely.  Instead, a tangible form and a graphic form can be merged in a way that develops new insight about them.

Here is a ‘popup’ base, made up of a group of five half-arches. The outer four parts intersect in the middle, where they form a secondary folding axis, upon which a fifth half-arch pops up.  I’ve shone a luminous aura of concentric, circular color fields over this form. This picture shows a captured image in Adobe Illustrator, as rendered in 3D using the Origami plug-in.



Such a simple, static thing, although pleasing as such, could serve as a good base platform for something more complex. I wanted to couple a translucent graphic image to it that would cling to it very loosely and lightly. Some great potential pairings were found when I considered images created by a 20th century master graphic artist, Josef Albers.

My first piece here references Albers’ woodcut, “Embraced” (1933). Albers’ graphic art is known for implying a third dimension in subtle and ambiguous ways. He would differently shade adjacent areas within outlines, so a shaded areas could belong to more than one plane.




My second piece here references Albers’ lithograph, “Shrine” (1942).





In these Kirigamis, you as a viewer are invited to reconstruct the referenced graphic, which cannot be seen in its entirety from any single angle of view. As if refracted through prisms, the lines can variously appear both broken or continuous, depending on a specific angle of view.  Albers’ consciously ambiguous shadings can still be enjoyed in the Kirigamis, but a viewer has to actively move his or her their head (or turn the piece) through a wide range of viewing angles (say, 60o horizontally by 30vertically) to take in all of these new implications.

The animation camera does a part of this work for you here. Such optics can be sensed by viewing my animations, yet they do not give you the same perceptive experience as does active viewing.

The outer color field also shines through from within both pieces. It can be glimpsed between the slats and in the wider openings, where it blends visually with the surface color field. Like the drawn graphic, it leads the viewer to look for the blending effects as seen from different angles. It’s other role is to show a positive space inside of the form, not a shadowy void.

Albers himself was fascinated with paper folding, and he gave popular classes about it.


A technical note. I conceived this form using a program called Popup Card Studio, which I learned to use by following a series of online tutorials. I applied graphic overlays to it in Adobe Illustrator. Popup Card Studio provides a built-in tool for drawing half-arches, which are made of steps. The step risers are designed to become gradually smaller toward one side of a half-arch (two half arches are usually joined at the top to make a full arch, but not so in this construction). 

I use the word “referenced” above to mean that my use of these graphics is consistent with the legal concept of “fair Use”. These pieces transform the viewer’s personal action toward and  perception of those referenced graphics. 

Flags in a sea breeze


frames-tone-crop-900x827_pixelsIn this paper sculpture, flags are flapping as though in an onshore sea breeze. They are seaman’s international maritime signal flags.  The borrowed painting, The Calm Sea was painted by Gustave Courbet in Normandy in 1869.

I played here with a formal model which was seen in a graphic art textbook.

Jackson 5.1.2_2B seven base folds

I re-arranged the elements to synchronize the 3D form with the picture. A second picture layer is attached behind the first layer to fill in the openings where the flags were folded out.

frontal view adjusted


Fibonacci x Kirigami

In a salute to the Armenian heritage of a clever and lovely woman, to whom my dear son, Peter, is engaged to be married, this Kirigami glows with the colors of the Flag of Armenia.


Another one, made previously, now looks subdued by comparison:


Acknowledgements  The form is one of Guy Petzal’s simpler Ullagamis. A single piece of paper was cut and folded to make each model (plus the mount). The dots embody a mathematical pattern known as a golden ratio Fibonacci sequence, also seen in nature in  sunflowers or pine cones.

Harmoniously Askew

Emma visited the “Defibrillator Performance Arts Gallery” in Chicago with Joshua, where he took this photo of her.

In Chicago March 2017

It’s almost like a charmed stage set, with lovely highlights and shadows, the bow arch and the shadow profile of her, even the little puff of vapor. And so, I’ve rendered it as a  Kirigami!


The flowing waters behind the pop-up form may evoke her feelings for the ongoing  performance. Might this piece also try to infer his feelings (the photographer’s) for her?

This is my first use of skewed forms in a one-piece, right-angle pop-up (a Kirigami). Without the photo on the front, it looks like this.

Basic form

The concept is shown by a simple design diagram, as the form is visualized when opened out flat. It would be so before doing the physical preparation for folding (that is, before cutting and scoring).

Diagram of Kiri



Crystalline Kirigami

Three paper shells comprise this crystalline 3-D model: the folded surface shell, folded middle shell and a flat back shell. It has two, nested interior volumes. One is behind the front shell, and the other, behind the middle shell.

In the digitally designed model, these shells were a sequence of three planes. Those  planes were linked into one continuous, accordion-folded zig-zag. I suppose the product of this interesting method could still be classified among all other Kirigamis, although some might surmise I’m bending the definition to fit. In the digital model, as visualized with the origami plugin, it is one inflected but unbroken object. I had to print, cut and fold three separate paper prints to make it, in practice. It would have been too cumbersome to handle with two hands, otherwise.


My recent post showed the same Kirigami form in a single shelled design. I imagined there still could be a way to impart more depth and volume than that one had. The outer ‘butterfly wing web’ was a fun design project while learning how to make a color gradient mosaic in Adobe Illustrator.

Strathmore 451-1 paper, watercolor textured, 8″ x 9″ unfolded; Epson P-600 pigment ink printer. Copyright 2017, rights reserved by William James. It’s OK to pin or link images to a noncommercial blog, and please credit this post as the source.


Imagine that!

This Kirigami is bit of a mechanical puzzle: how can this airy thing be folded up from one piece of paper?  I had found this interesting model on Pinterest:


As a novice paper folder, I wanted to diagram the underlying architecture of this piece. Once I had grasped its plan, just to make sure that I had really understood it, I added a fourth floater:


Notice the lines behind it? That’s the blueprint for cutting and folding it. It’s  clearly shown here:


The pop-up action mechanism is revealed by comparing this diagram to this partially folded state:


This material is Frosted Gold, Canford Card; I think it would also look cool in sheet brass. The diagram is available from me upon request.

My learning curve has been greatly eased since I’ve started using an extension called Origami in Adobe Illustrator. It simulates folding of the working model (here, the ‘top’ is to the right):


It can zoom, tilt and rotate the working model. Mistaken lines in one’s structural diagram are all specifically located, so it is a  great tool for self-directed study.





A classical form in an improvised space

The 2D pattern for this 3D volume developed as I played with the idea of a pyramid of interlocking planes.



It was my partner Betsy’s creative quilting practice that inspired me to put a batik-like graphic on a Kirigami popup. I picked the tonally coordinated color pallet for my pyramid, and then a vibrantly colored random network which seemed the best as my base image (credit: Adobe stock image bank, “Wired”).


Printed 20 cm x 20 cm flat.

Like a quilt, it will only ever be one sheet of paper (except for the backing sheet), even after folding as a 3D sculpture:


Folding a 3D form is a gradual process that takes a couple of hours. (In the diagram above: Black = cut; red = fold forward, blue = fold backward.)  Tensions arise, both physically and emotionally,  while trying to coordinate the gradual folding of more than 100 right angles. All of those angles most be partially folded in small changes through many cycles.  Like all Kirigami forms, one might either open it back out again to retrieve a single flat layer, or continue to collapse it inward almost to flatness, except for the thickness of four layers of folded paper.

A strong but disorderly web of vivid red links and nodes binds the pyramid to the seven edges of its two framing planes (one edge is shared). It appears as though the pyramid is nested into two sides of a partial outer box or prism. As both the pyramid and its ‘container’ are classical rectilinear forms, I was excited to find that the linking lines which connect those appear messy, improvised, exploratory, non-classical.

Text and images copyright William James, 2016; reproduction is allowed.