Design Challenge 2005

Attack of the Hermit Crabs!

At the 2004 OrigamiUSA convention, Satoshi and I examined each other's Eupatorus (and unmercifully razzed Dan Robinson for his no-show). It had been an enjoyable challenge, and so we decided to try it again for the following year. The subject we chose was a hermit crab—a type of crab that lives in a found shell.

We felt that the hermit crab was an ideal subject for our endeavors because it offered multiple challenges. There was the typical arthropod challenge of getting a large number of legs and antennae in the right place; the challenge of folding a seashell, whose three-dimensionality and spiral symmetry present their own unique problems; and not least, the challenge of achieving the complete form from a single uncut square. In addition to that, one could color-change the shell relative to the body, and depending on one's taste for realism, capture the asymmetry between the two main claws — like fiddler crabs, hermit crabs have one claw larger than the other. And beyond all of the technical challenge, there is the artistic challenge: have you truly captured the character of the subject? Is there a contrast between the organic, curviness of the shell and the jointed creepiness of its occupant? How well is it folded? And does it all work well together? A successful figure will bring together one's expertise in design, paper selection, manipulation, and execution of the finished fold.

We spread the word informally via email: anyone was welcome to enter, there would be no prize, except, perhaps, the respect of your peers (priceless). And we would display the results at the 2005 OrigamiUSA convention. As the word got out (and across the sea) during the fall and winter, we heard that more and more people were working on designs. I asked V'Ann Cornelius, the exhibition organizer, for our own table, which turned out to be a good thing because we ended up with a total of 13 contributions from Jason Ku, Ben Muller, Brian Chan, Jim Cowling, Andrea Hawksley, James Lucas, myself, and from Japan, Motoko Sakurai, Ryo Kamiya, Chuya Miyamoto, Tsutomu Nakai, Kei Morisue, and Satoshi Kamiya.

For my own part, I had some background in the subject. I had already composed two hermit crabs, one in the late 1980s, one in the early 1990s (which was published in Origami Sea Life). That gave me a reference to start from, but the published design would also be a reference for everyone else. In this competition, everyone would make sure their crab topped anything that had come before. And so, I was going to have to advance my own art if I simply wanted to keep up! While my past designs gave me some experience in mating shells with arthropods, the past can also serve as a blinder; if you know one way of approaching a subject, it becomes that much harder to come up with a new approach.

And yet, when all the models were laid out before us, we had all managed to find new and distinct approaches. No two bases were the same, although two were fairly close and everyone working from a square used a diagonal orientation for their crease pattern. In the execution, there were wide differences: some were geometric and stylized, some were curved and organic. Among the shells, we had snails, whelks, and turret shells: some smooth, some angular, some with spines; and one extremely witty entry, in which the fact that a hermit crab carries its home around with it was taken quite literally.

You see in the photographs below the results, by artists from all over the world: some stylized, some detailed, some humorous. The variety of expressions here is a testimony to the infinite possibilities within this art, and the ever-evolving techniques and interpretations of modern-day origami artists. So who won? Well, as I said up front: there was no competition, so there was no winner. But there is the judgment of our peers; and for my own part, I was most impressed by Brian Chan's shell, and the overall harmonious integration of shell and subject by Satoshi Kamiya.

One of the things I have always been struck by within the world of origami is the level of sharing and the lack of what I might call "aggressive" competition: a sense of protective isolation, a feeling that that to get ahead you need to hide what you have and diss everyone else. Everyone who exhibited showed off their own model, of course; but in doing so, they also gave away the shop, showing everyone else new techniques, expressions, papers, and usages. This sharing is one of the wonders of our art. in the midst of this friendly competition, our art is advanced, and we can look forward in future years for the ripples of this sharing to spread.

Note: I am indebted to Boaz Shuval for providing the photographs below.

Brian Chan 1
Brian Chan.

Brian Chan 2
Brian Chan, a different view.

Andrea Hawksley
Andrea Hawksley.


Jason Ku.

Ryo Kamiya
Ryo Kamiya.

Satoshi Kamiya
Satoshi Kamiya.

Robert J. Lang
Robert J. Lang.

James Lucas
James Lucas.

Kei Morisue
Kei Morisue.

Ben Muller
Ben Muller.

Tsutomu Nakai
Tsutomu Nakai.

Motoro Sakurai
Motoro Sakurai.