Create Your Story: Ross Symons | Origami Artist
The art of folding paper is called “origami”.
I am a full time origami artist. I fold paper for a living.
And this is how I managed to get that right…
Born in the Free State, raised and schooled in Joburg. I had a computer in front of me from the age of 7. That computer became my best friend and remained my best friend until… actually I think it still is one of my best friends. I use one every day and there has always been one with me throughout my life.
My first creative outlet was music, my other best friend. I got an electronic piano when I was 8 or 9 and when I was 15 I picked up my dad’s guitar and played that for many years. I was never an amazing guitarist, but it helped me understand music and sound.
When I finished high school in 2000, I managed to get accepted into university and started a BA degree in Audio Visual Production Management. To be honest, I didn’t really know what that was, and I don’t think they would have let me do anything else based on my school results. But I loved film and music so it sounded like an option.
After 6 months I was failing, due to pure lack of interest and too much partying. My parents urged me to take the rest of the year off to work and try to figure out what I wanted to do next. I was 18 at the time.
Ross: “I want to go to film school and specialise in sound engineering.”
Ross’ Dad: “Um… Ok. Film school you say? Sound engineering? How many job options are there in sound engineering?”
Off to hotel school I went. I chose a safer option. I knew that from the day I stepped into hotel school, I was doing it to prove to myself and my parents that I could start something and finish it. Which I did.
While I was at hotel school, my brother, Brad, started a degree at an advertising school. For one of his first projects he had to get each of his family members to make something. He asked if I could learn how to fold an origami crane(bird). I found a tutorial online and folded that crane. And that was the first time I did origami.
I never stopped folding that crane.
I completed a 3 year hospitality management diploma, which landed me a pretty cool job as a computer systems installer at a Hospitality/I.T. company. One day, while I was supposed to be working, myself and a few colleges decided to make a stop animation video at work. It was us driving around in a car, but the car was made up of desk chairs. Boredom and a fascination for film makes things like this happen.
I went back to study after working for two years. This time I had a better idea of what I wanted to do, and I knew it had to involve computers so I did a course in software development.
And still I folded that paper crane. Over and over again. At parties I would tear a beer bottle label off and fold it into a crane. It was a great party trick.
I had some free time while I was studying so I joined the university radio station. Now I had a computer in front of me, and I was playing music. My two best friends with me again! With my new friend, the origami crane, always making an appearance.
I stopped the radio gig, finished studying, and moved to Cape Town to work as a web developer for advertising agencies. I did this for 4 years. And all the while I was folding that origami crane.
Project manager: ”Rosco, are you done with that website yet?”.
Ross: “Ja, I’ll get back to work when I’m done folding this…”
Something was telling me to get out and do something else.
At the end of 2013 I decided that I wanted to get better at origami. I’d also, for as long as I can remember, wanted to do a 365 day project. Dedicating a part of every day to a single project for an entire year. So at the beginning of 2014 I started a 365 day origami project.
To track my progress, I thought a cool way to do that would be to post a picture of each of the figures I folded on to Instagram.
Day 1/365, on the first of January, I posted my first folded origami piece (an origami crane) onto my Instagram account. My goal was to finish the project, that was all. At that stage, I had 160 Instagram followers.
I was working at a big agency in Cape town, and 3 months into 2014 I quit my job. The plan was to do freelance work, get a business up and running with my friend Mike, and to continue doing my 365 day project. I saved 3 months of my salary, just in case the freelance gig didn’t work out. I figured, “Well, I can always go back to being a developer if this all falls apart.”
6 months into the project I got this urge to change the project up a bit, so I branded it.
I called it White on Rice. The name was inspired by a friend who was always telling me that she would see my stuff all over Cape Town, in coffee shops, a few origami installations I had done. “Dude, you’re like white on rice!”, implying that I was all over the place and I had it all covered.
That changed the perception of the project from, “dude folding paper for a year” to “A brand inspiring an origami lifestyle”.
As a result of the branding, I started getting requests from people about folding pieces for gifts, and I started making a few products. Lampshades, little boxed origami figures etc. I sold a few and realised that there was a bit of money to be made here.
Instagram featured me on their blog and White on Rice’s following increased, a lot.
I merged my love for sound, film and origami and started making short 15 second origami stop motion videos. I made a few of these and added them to the 365 day project. This sparked some international interest.
At the end to 2014, I was asked to do a stop motion video for Christian Dior. It was then that I realised I was going to do this full time.
I now make stop motion videos for brands and companies, I have a few products which I sell, and I do origami art installations.
I do the photography, sound, design, origami and concepts for the videos I make. I use my computer, my understanding of sound and music, my love for film and my passion for origami to do all this.
In the past 6 months I’ve worked with Red Bull, ADIDAS, Polo and the last job I worked on was with Jonathan Tait for Old Khaki.
A few things I have learned along the way:
- Have a side project. Always. Even now as a full time artist I have a side project.
- Social media is free. USE IT. Put your ideas out there.
- Instead of running after money, try to find fulfilment and happiness. Money will find a way in.
- Try and think of ways you can bring all the things things you’re good at into one single thing.
- Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people.
- Respond to every person who contacts you as quickly was possible, via Instagram, email, Facebook, whatever. You never know where that contact could lead.
- Pay attention to the things you’re doing when you’re supposed to be doing something else.
To view more projects and to get in touch with White on Rice, visit the website here.
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Author: Ross Symons