Origami sculpture of two warriors folded from one sheet of paper.

Boice Wong’s Future: Unfolded

Boice Wong spent the first two weeks of his freshman year at Arizona State University folding origami alone.

“You know, maybe I was thinking, ‘Oh, maybe someone’s gonna come up and say hi to me,’” he says, laughing. “I would sit in the Honors hall all night after classes. And I’d just fold and fold and fold.”

At the time of this interview, Wong is finishing up a Master’s in Computer Science on top of a Bachelor’s in the same subject. It’s a decision that he semi-attributes to his father, an engineer. A creative child, Wong had grown up crafting airplanes and playing video games–something his father took note of.

“The bait was like, ‘You can make video games if you learn computer science,’ which totally isn’t true, but that’s kind of where that started,” Wong says.

During an art day in seventh grade, Wong had brought in an origami dragon. It was cute and fit in the palm of his hand. An exchange student from Korea also made a dragon, but it was complex and the size of a puppy.

It was the first time Wong had ever seen something of that level, and it blew his mind. The experience stuck with him, so much so that when he was a senior in high school taking IB Art II, he chose mixed media in origami as his specialty. It was unique, and Wong was “kind of bad at drawing” so it worked out.

“And that’s really kind of where it took off. I started to learn everything out there and all these random origami skills. There’s so much I know now, but that’s definitely where it kind of peaked.”

But he didn’t want to be limited by the YouTube tutorials or books he found—he wanted to create his own designs. “So definitely, from there, that’s when the whole social media journey started,” he said.

FOLDERS WITHOUT BORDERS

As he refined his techniques, he stored photos of his work on Instagram. Over time they gained traction, and he grew more familiar with the origami community. Someone associated with origami is, by definition, an origamist. But Wong refers to them as “folders” which, granted, is a lot easier to say.

“Something that’s shared between a lot of folders is that we’re the only origami folders we know around our area because it’s pretty niche. So we talked all online, and then the first time I actually met another origami folder is when I went to New York,” Wong says.

He was on a family vacation the same weekend as the annual Origami USA convention. Wong messaged one of his internet friends who lived in the area, and they linked up. Since then he’s met more and more people he’d only ever seen online.

“What’s funny is now I am helping plan some of these conventions,” Wong says. From randomly attending one year, he’s since connected with some well-established folders, taught at conventions, and even became an ambassador for Origami USA himself.

The demographics of these folders vary according to country. Origami started centuries ago in Asia, so its popularity in China, Japan and Korea differs from places like America and Europe.

Origami sculpture of angler fish folded from one sheet of paper.
“Angler Fish” (2020) was created with a special origami technique called ‘wet-folding.’ “The paper used is also a thick piece of watercolor paper for amazing texture,” says Wong. Media credit: Boice Wong

“It’s like 57% of women over the age of 50 I think is the main demographic, which is really funny,” Wong says. According to him, this had to do with the popularity of origami in the 80’s. And as those people grew older, started families and sent kids to college, these newfound empty-nesters got back into the art.

“I remember doing this origami thing, you know, way back when, and so a lot of our communities are actually that demographic. There’s not too many young people. There’s a couple kids, but people my age are pretty rare,” Wong says. “Yeah, it’s strange.”

ORIGAMI ONLINE

But in the age of YouTube, Twitch and TikTok, more young folders are appearing on the scene. Most of the people who view Wong’s art are around his age. Although he doesn’t know whether they are technically folders, he’s just happy to share the art.

“A lot of the public consensus when they hear origami is like, the crane, and that’s pretty much it. So to be able to show them this crazy dragon, or some of my designs—they’ve never thought of origami like that before, which is really cool,” Wong says.

“And at least to fold at this complex level, you only need like, two set years and you can start doing some of this stuff.”

“Originally I was shy, I didn’t tell anyone,” Wong says, “Over time I was just like, oh yeah, I do origami, you can look at Instagram. And they’re like, ‘Boice…this isn’t just origami.’

Because he was one of the younger folders to start putting his work on social media platforms, he was praised for his content creation knowledge, like setting up cameras and managing social media. It motivated him to keep going, even during times when he was on his own.

Although more friends found out about his work, his family found his art a surprise.

“On my family side, they definitely had no idea any of this stuff was a thing,” Wong says. “I don’t think they even thought monetization could even be a thing. But as I kept going they saw I liked it a lot. Then I brought in my first couple paychecks, they’re like, ‘Oh this is very interesting.’ They still tell me to try to focus, don’t forget about school—very typical parent response—but I think they’re enjoying my progress.”

Origami sculpture of two warriors folded from one sheet of paper.
“The latest version of my Samurai designs. All details of the samurai (sword, helmet, armor) are from one square sheet of paper. The paper is 60×60 cm Thai Unryu Paper, which is very thin,” says Boice Wong. Photo: Boice Wong

It wasn’t super supported in the beginning because it was thought of as a hobby.

“But as I was pushing more and more, I think they started to realize like, ‘Huh, I guess he’s working pretty hard. It’s not too much of a waste of time,’” Wong says.

“There are a handful of professionals who do origami full-time. Like academic artists, they’re often connected to galleries and do commissions, but Wong says you’d have to be somebody who knows somebody for that. He took the small route: YouTube ads, Google AdSense and affiliate marketing.

KEEP IT ORIGINAL

There’s a principle in the origami world that it’s best practice to sell your own designs rather than profit from someone else. Wong follows this. But the main source of money through origami is by teaching at conventions. It’s a lot less work than putting 15 hours of work into a single commission, and you get to reach a huge audience.

Wong never imagined being in front of hundreds or thousands of people teaching origami.

“I attribute that to starting both my YouTube channel and Twitch channel, because it kind of forced me to just have a camera on me and then talk at the camera, which is so strange, but it’s a little bit better than talking in front of real people,” he says.

Origami sculpture of a human figure folded from one sheet of paper.
“Ophelia” was made in 2017—one of Wong’s first commissions ever. “An old but gold design. I have since refolded the model which is this featured image and I will probably fold more as it is a fun one to make,” says Boice Wong. Photo: Boice Wong

“When I started, no one was watching me. So I kind of had that confidence. I’m like, ‘No one’s gonna see this if I mess up.’ But it really helped me develop my public speaking skills. And what I found really funny is it made every single presentation I gave in college super easy.”

Nowadays, as shy as he is, he’s pretty confident talking in front of a crowd on a weekly basis. When it comes to designing origami, Boice compares it to composing music. There are basic structures and foundations, like chords and simple folding techniques. You could just randomly fold, the same way you could slap any note on a sheet, but sometimes that’s not the most ideal method.

Wong already had a strong sense of foundation when he began designing–his main concern was unintentionally plagiarizing another folder’s designs. Is plagiarism a main source of drama in the origami community?

“Oh, yeah. 100%,” Wong says. “For any folders out there, I don’t know if I should drop any names, but there’s certain YouTube channels out there that turned and kind of backstabbed the designers quite a bit. So yeah, there’s definitely been scandals. Nowadays, because of the internet, a lot of people are more aware of those people.”

There was even a lawsuit filed against a formal artist for taking crease patterns.

“So basically, if you unfold an origami, all those creases, it actually looks pretty cool on the square,” Wong says. “Someone was taking those and making it like their own art–so there’s a lawsuit on that.”

Because origami is often shared through video and book diagrams, designs are easy to copy. It’s a sensitive topic for folders who’ve spent hours on their original creations. Like any art form, crediting artists is a must.

AS LONG AS THERE’s PAPER

Thankfully, it’s more difficult to plagiarize human models, which are more uncommon—and Wong did a lot of human models. His first design, a swordsman with a shield, was the first of a swath of high-fantasy and adventure models.

Later designs featured elements found in Game of Thrones and Skyrim. His specialty, however, lies in illusion: subjects holding objects in a way that looks impossible for a single sheet of paper.

Origami sculpture of gold warrior folded from one sheet of paper.
“Sword and Shield,” made in 2016 from printer paper and spray painted gold. “One of my first origami designs ever,” says Boice Wong. Photo: Boice Wong

His favorite comments are ones of disbelief: ‘No way that’s one sheet of paper.’ ‘He totally cut it.’ ‘He attached a sword onto the hand.’

“That’s like the best thing ever,” Wong says. Since then he’s worked to take the concept further, playing with different fibers, clothing patterns and armor styles. It’s not necessary as a folder to create your own designs, but to Wong, it’s what’s he’s most interested in.

His folder friends and mentors have been doing origami for over 20 or 30 years, and it inspires Wong to follow the same path and push his own art form.

Origami sculpture of a warrior folded from one sheet of paper.
“Dragon Knight” (2021) is “a technically challenging design that conveys a lot of movement. This design was inspired by many pop culture mediums such as Skyrim and Lord of the Rings. Photo: Boice Wong

And to his parents’ relief–unlike Wong’s other hobbies like dancing and tricking–there’s less risk of injury with origami.

“As long as I take care of my hands, I think I can do it until I’m pretty, pretty old. They’ll always be paper around, you know, or even if it’s not paper, there’s something to fold,” Wong says. “So yeah, I’ll definitely be doing that for a long time.”

Boice on a balcony

IN THIS ARTICLE

Boice Wong

oh my god it's this bitch

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aitana mallari

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