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Making money from folding paper

Oct 07 2015 17:20
Mandy De Waal

Origami expert Ross Symons (picture supplied)

If you saw the Winter 2015 advert for local clothing brand Old Khaki, you’d have watched a piece of paper dance around, before undergoing a series of folds that turns it into a cheeky little goat. This endearing, animated origami is the creation of artist Ross Symons, who has turned folding paper into a sustainable and worthwhile career.

Formerly a web designer with a background in coding, Symons started creating origami sculptures in 2002 after being asked by his brother to contribute to a graphic design project. “My brother asked me to fold an origami crane; after I did that, I never stopped,” says Symons. “It was something I did for years – it was a cool party trick,” he says. “If I was out having a beer, I would take a serviette, tear a piece off it, and start folding.”

Why this constant urge to fold paper into fragile and intricate figures? “When I am folding, everything else disappears and I am focused on the task of turning that piece of paper into a dragon or unicorn. It is quite meditative, watching the piece of paper I’m manipulating turn into something,” he says.

Symons has combined his advertising  experience with his love of designing and creating origami to reinvent his career. “I was in advertising for four years from 2010 until the beginning of 2014,” says Symons who studied programming in Johannesburg but moved to Cape Town because he wanted to work in a creative place and industry. “Advertising was a good sector to merge my programming and creative skills.”

But in the creative sector Symons learnt lessons that would prove invaluable when it came to relaunching himself as an origami artist. “Advertising taught me how to market myself and how to take a product and create a brand around that,” says Symons, who worked for digital agencies on diverse products ranging from dog biscuits to luxury vehicles.

“The whole reason I am able to make a living out of origami is because of Instagram,” says the artist who uses the mobile photo-sharing service to showcase his work. “At the beginning of 2014 I wanted to do a 365 project and dedicate it to a craft or a side project. “I decided to fold a piece of origami each day, every day, for a whole year,” he explains.

The idea behind a 365 project is to focus on growing a skill by dedicating an entire year to learning and practising it.

“A couple of years ago I saw that there were a lot of people doing these kinds of projects on Instagram, and some of these people did incredibly well,” he says, and adds: “I wanted to get better and advance myself, and see where this would go.

This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in the 1 October 2015 edition ofFinweek. Buy and download the magazine here.

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