Cape Town based Ross Symons has taken Origami, the ancient Japanese art of paper folding into a full time business for himself. What started as a personal project of making one origami piece consecutively for 365 days saw his Instagram account jump from 200 followers to 100 000+ in just over 18 months. Collaborations with prestigious brands like Christian Dior, Adidas, Red Bull and many more allowed him to leave his 9 to 5 job and start his own successful business including stills photography, animations and stop-frame films featuring his origami creations.
I caught up with Ross to find out more about himself and his work:
"Origami is special because it can be made from any scrap of paper. You use the resources around you and turn them into an abstraction of something physical. That's magic." - Ross Symons
Where did the fascination with Origami come from and were you one of those kids making paper aeroplanes in the classroom?
I was the kid in the classroom doing anything that didn't involve what I was supposed to be doing, but my fascination with origami only came later when I was about 22.
My brother was busy with a project while he was studying at Vega Design School and he asked me to fold a crane for the project. I folded that crane and just never stopped. It became a cheeky party trick to impress whoever was around.
The crane was the first origami piece you made; is it the easiest piece to create?
The crane is actually not the easiest piece to fold as it uses quite a few of the origami techniques like a mountain, valley, petal and reverse folds. It's the simplest most recognisable form of origami so maybe that makes it special.
Japanese Americans have adopted the Senbazuru into their wedding celebrations to bestow blessings for a long harmonious marriage; has anyone ever asked you to make 1000 cranes for their wedding?
I have been asked a few times to fold 1000 cranes for a wedding, but I have had to sadly turn down those requests as it would take too much time to fold 1000 of anything :)
When you took on your personal project in creating one origami piece a day for a year in 2014, how far forward did you plan?
I tried to plan as far ahead a possible. I set a weekly theme which made it easier to plan. Week 17 - Dragons, Week 18, Flowers etc. This made it easier to find designs for a single theme. And yes, I definitely did a few on a single day. Life happens every day so if you can plan a little and do as much as possible in one day, you don't get stressed out when you're busy doing real work or you have family commitments. So a schedule is very important for something like this. For me it was about posting something every day more than folding every day.
When you got a call from Christian Dior offices did your heart skip a beat? Tell us more about this collaboration
Definitely! At that stage everything that was happening was so new and strange and the idea of working with a brand like that had never crossed my mind. So it was a surreal moment.
I was asked to create two short stop motion animations to promote a Dior event happening in Japan. It was not my best work but it gave me great confidence in what I was doing and also allowed me to put a name like Christian Dior on my portfolio list.
You've done a lot of collaborations doing origami installations and stop-motion animations etc. One was for Red Bull and their paper wings project: what did this entail?
I have worked with a few brands and Red Bull was definitely one of the coolest. I was asked to create some social media content leading up to the Paper Wings challenge, which was a paper jet throwing competition. I was also part of the judging team who decided which contestants would go through to the next round.
You use a thicker paper to resonate with bulls skin, wetting the paper to make it more compliant - was this for this project and how big were these bulls?
The bull I folded for them was just for the content and it was about palm size. Wet folding is a technique used to make the paper a bit more pliable and when the paper dries it makes it look more organic. You simply dampen the paper to make it slightly softer and keep it moist until you're done folding.
Your other half Nikki Albertyn is co-owner of the wonderful online patisserie LionHeart. Have you done any collaborations with them?
Yes, I have done collaborations with Lion Heart and with Nikki. In fact, one of the first pieces of origami social media content I ever create was with Nikki. We wanted to get tickets for an event hosted by 5Gum. We each bought a whole bunch of 5 gum packs, ate all the gum and kept the wrappers to fold origami cranes. This is the result:
And we got 2 tickets! :)
We also did a piece for Elle Decoration which was for breast cancer awareness: http://elledecoration.co.za/creating-creative-awareness/ among other pieces.
The latest one was for the new 365 miniature origami project I'm currently busy with: https://www.instagram.com/p/Be9xFGiFieD/?taken-by=white_onrice
Do you work on your own or does your company include like minded origami makers?
I work alone in my studio most of the time but I have partnered with a company which assist with the business/marketing side of things. And when I have large projects where we need to fold 500+ origami figures I have a NGO company called Origami for Africa who helps out. This is a non-profit company run by a lady named Kyoko who teaches underprivileged kids all about origami and mindfulness. Kyoko is one of the kindest, most helpful human beings on the planet and she has helped me get to where I am today.
What are the first two things you do at the start of your workday?
My work days vary but I try be at my studio around 9am and whatever needs doing, I do. I don't really stick to a schedule and just finish whatever is most important as soon as possible so I can move onto the next thing. I am a focused person and I work quickly. I don't dwell on perfection but I make sure that what leaves the studio is good creative work that I am proud of and that people will respond to.
An inspiring quote or life rule?
"Please ensure your mask is securely fastened before you assist the person sitting next to you".
10. What superpower would you choose?
The ability to fly.
Something extraordinary that no-one knows about you?
I used be a radio presenter when I was living in Johannesburg.