Origami and the Folding of Botanical Form

The Concept

As an artist I think of the blooming of flowers as the creation of a living sculpture. Cells grow, multiply and migrate into petals that form the blossoms, often with petals surrounding stamen and pistil. Sometimes I think of this process as nature’s origami.

White Amaryllis Series ©Amy Lamb

White Amaryllis Series © Amy Lamb

The flowers of Columbine angle upward, each poised atop a slender stem, as if reaching for sunlight. On a single bloom, petals fold into a complex and delicate assemblage, with tubular spaces transitioning to triangular planes that encircle the plant’s essential reproductive structures. These features remind me of a Japanese paper folding.

Columbine II © Amy Lamb

Columbine II © Amy Lamb

This visual interpretation inspired me to contact Robert J. Lang, the eminent origami physicist and artist. Together we embarked on the creation of a folded garden of origami flowers. Lang folds flowers from prints of my photographs of the same flower that he folds. It is as if he forms a new flower from the flower itself, floral recursion, as Lang defined this artistic and mathematical collaboration.

Daffodil II © Amy Lamb | Photograph of Origami Daffodil by Robert J. Lang

Daffodil II © Amy Lamb | Photograph of Origami Daffodil by Robert J. Lang


The Process: Creation of the Flower Print

I photograph flowers that I grow in my garden. For this project, I select blooms at their peak, when color and form are most vibrant. I create portraits to capture the botanical stature and delicate structures that each flower has developed for its survival. In composing my photograph, I select a light background to convey gentle beauty or a black background to emphasize dynamic form. With a black background, light floods petals to reveal their thin, translucent edges.

Dogwood II ©Amy Lamb

Dogwood II © Amy Lamb

To produce a print for folding, if I photographed the flower with a black background, I select that background using Adobe Photoshop and replace it with a background color consistent with the flower’s petal colors.

Angraecum II ©Amy Lamb | Angraecum II with Gray Tone Background

Angraecum II © Amy Lamb | Angraecum II with Background Similar in Color to Petals

The starting paper size for the folding the flower is 21” x 21” Japanese Kozo paper. Lang calculates whether to use a full frame portrait (Columbine I, Daffodil, Close-Up (below: left figure) or a crop of the flower portrait (Dogwood, Angraecum II (below: right figure), Rose V).

Full Frame of Daffodil Close-Up ©Amy Lamb

Full Frame of Daffodil Close-Up for Origami Daffodil

Crop Outline for Angraecum II

Crop Outline for Origami Angraecum

The Process: Folding the Origami Flower

Lang develops an algorithm to establish his folding plan. The algorithm is translated to a crease pattern (CP) of colored dots and dashes that indicate mountain or valley folds. The CP consolidates hundreds of steps into a two-dimensional blueprint for folding. Using a computer-guided laser cutter, the CP is transferred onto the surface of the art print as scored marks. Lang folds the paper, shaping a sculptural representation of the flower whose portrait is embedded in the paper. To reveal the complex pattern of folds, itself a work of art, a second flower is folded and then unfolded, creating an intricate origami topography.

Computer-Generated Crease Patterns and Folded-Unfolded Prints Revealing Corresponding Crease Patterns

CP for Origami Columbine © Robert J. Lang
Columbine I Print: Folded and unfolded revealing CP mountain and valley folds
CP for Origami Angraecum © Robert J. Lang

Angraecum Print: Folded and unfolded revealing CP mountain and valley folds


CP for Origami Dogwood © Robert J. Lang


Dogwood Print: Folded and unfolded revealing CP mountain and valley folds

Lamb prints the original flower portraits on Kozo paper that Lang folds into the origami flower. The origami flower is then unfolded, revealing the CP of the respective flowers. Compare the graphic CPs to the mountain and valley folds of the printed flowers.

Original Floral Portraits and Recursive Origami Flowers

Rose V ©Amy Lamb(left); Two Views of Origami Rose folded by Robert J. Lang (right) (photograph: Amy Lamb)

Rose V © Amy Lamb(left); Two Views of Origami Rose folded by Robert J. Lang (center and right) (photograph: Amy Lamb)


Columbine I ©Amy Lamb (left); Origami Columbine folded by Robert. J. Lang (right) (photograph: Amy Lamb)

Columbine I © Amy Lamb (left); Origami Columbine folded by Robert. J. Lang (right) (photograph: Amy Lamb)



Angraecum II © Amy Lamb (left); Origami Angraecum folded by Robert J. Lang (right)(photograph by Amy Lamb)

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Dogwood © Amy Lamb (left); Origami Dogwood folded by Robert J. Lang (right) (photograph: Amy Lamb)


Daffodil II ©Amy Lamb (left); Origami Daffodil folded by Robert J. Lang (right) (photograph: Amy Lamb)


View more origami by Robert J. Lang on his website. Be sure to also explore my patterns in nature collection.