Wet folding is useful in origami for creating facial expressions and softer curves in paper models. The technique was developed by the legendary Akira Yoshizawa, but has also been used by noted origami artists Éric Joisel, Robert J. Lang, and John Montroll.
Akira Yoshizawa, who pioneered the wet folding technique, is also credited with developing the system of printed instructions for origami—with dotted lines to indicate the folds and arrows to indicate the directions of the folds.
What is wet folding?
Wet folding is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of folding paper when it is dry, the folder dampens the paper slightly. This allows the paper to be manipulated into different shapes that wouldn't be possible if it was dry.
Some people feel like wet folding is more a form of sculpture than paper folding because most of the look of the finished piece comes from the hand manipulation of the paper after the basic folds have been completed. Traditional origami is geometric, but wet folding gives models a more organic look.
It might seem like wet folding would create origami that is very fragile, but this is not the case. Wet folded models are stronger and more durable than any other type of origami once the paper has completely dried. This makes wet folding ideal for people who want to create origami that can be displayed for many years to come.
What types of models can I make?
If you're looking for wet folding origami diagrams, you won't have much luck. There are no specific models created just for wet folding. When looking for a project to make using wet folding, try to find a fairly simple model. Since you're working with thick paper, you don't want to fold anything that will have multiple layers.
Wet folding is often used when making origami animals because the technique allows for the addition of curves and other details that give the model a more realistic appearance. You don't have to limit yourself to just folding origami animals. Feel free to experiment and see what works best for you. Éric Joisel, for example, folded several striking origami masks.
Origami Wet Folding Supplies
To practice wet folding paper, you'll need a small spray bottle filled with water and a cloth that you can use to spread the water around on the paper evenly.
Wet folding requires paper that is much thicker than regular origami paper. Wyndstone Marble paper, sold under the name Zanders Elephant Hide in Europe, is a popular choice for wet folding origami models. The most readily available paper option is either watercolor paper or calligraphy parchment. Both of these paper choices should be stocked at any major craft store.
If you want to wet fold a model that needs paper that is a different color on each side, you can try a technique known as back coating. This means that you glue together two thin sheets of origami paper with a water-soluble adhesive.
A self-healing cutting mat, sharp craft knife, triangle, and metal-edged ruler are helpful if you need to cut your paper into a square before folding. If your paper must be cut, however, it's best to cut the paper into a square after you dampen it. Machine made paper has a grain that swells when wet.
Wet Folding Origami Tips
The most important thing to remember when wet folding is that the paper should be lightly moistened. Too much water will make the fibers in the paper start to rip. Ideally, the paper should feel a bit like leather. If your paper looks shiny on the surface, it is likely too wet.
In regular origami, most folders put in creases using their fingernails or a bone folder. These sharp creases should be avoided in wet folding. Fold with the pads of your fingers and try folding the model in the air instead of flat on the table.
You need to work fairly quickly when wet folding so that your model is complete before the paper dries. Therefore, this technique should be done with models that you are already familiar with. Practice folding a model two or three times with regular origami paper before you attempt to make a wet folded version.
If you're making a model with a lot of layers, such as an origami dog, it might start to buckle as it's drying. You can help prevent this by wrapping a rubber band around the model or using a binder clip to help it keep its shape. Masking tape or drafting tape might also work for holding smaller areas in place. When the model is completely dry, you can remove your reinforcements.