White On Rice has become synonymous with origami. If you haven’t heard of him, you no longer have an excuse. He’s gained notoriety with his incredible paper creations, which led to Instagram featuring his account.
I’ve been following Ross for a while now and have watched him fold objects that I never thought were possible. Apart from being really great at what he does, he’s a really nice guy too. He even folded a pigeon for me.
I caught up with Ross to find out a little more about the man behind the paper.
What’s your name, where are you from, and what do you do?
My name is Ross Symons, I live in Cape Town and I fold paper for a living. I tell people I’m an origami artist as it’s the best way to describe what I do.
At what point did folding paper planes become folding polar bears?
In 2014 I decided to do a 365-day Instagram project where I folded a different origami figure every day for a year. All I could fold before then was a crane and a rabbit. I did the project so I could get better at origami and track my progress.
You haven’t always folded paper for money. What did you do before?
I was a few things before I did this – waiter, systems consultant, radio DJ, computer programmer. The last job I had was a web developer working at Ogilvy One in Cape Town.
What role did Instagram play in this becoming the way you pay your bills?
Instagram is a platform that, if used correctly, you can connect with thousands of people around the world. I decided that it was the best place for me to do my 365-day project as it was visual as opposed to text-based like Twitter is. And I didn’t really like Facebook.
Without Instagram, I would not be able to do what I do for a living. I connected with many people who folded paper and then eventually with people that I did work with. It is now my main marketing channel.
Talk us through your creative process, from a virgin sheet of paper to an albatross?
HAHA! So I would start by finding reference images of what other origami artists have folded and see what I can use in my design. I’d then take a sheet and (I’ve only recently started getting into this) plot out where I want to put the wings, beak, legs etc. The idea is to get the number of appendages (2 wings, 1 head, 2 feet) you require and then fold the paper using special ninja origami techniques to “collapse the base”. Once you’ve done this and you have all the basic parts of the albatross, you then shape and style the different parts to make them look more like wings, feet etc.
Why White On Rice?
During the 365-day project, my friend Meg Pascoe would always tell me, “Sheesh dude I see your stuff popping up everywhere! You’re like white on rice!”. Implying that I had all the bases covered. Halfway through the project I decided to brand the project and call it White on Rice. It had a nice ring to it and it played on the whole white/paper, rice/oriental/Japanese theme.
What equipment do you use to take photos and videos of your paper creations?
I use a Nikon D300s to take my photos and I use stop-frame software called Dragonframe to make my animations. This runs on my laptop. I have an LED video light which I use in a dark room to take photo’s. Sometimes I’ll use natural light to take pics too. It just depends on where I am.
How do people react when you tell them you’re an origami artist?
9 times out of 10 I notice a short circuit in their brain function for a brief moment. “A what? Origami artist? Ok, but how do you make money?” Once I explain everything I do and break it down it makes sense to them.
But every person I tell walks away with a look of “well how’s that for a story?” on their face.
What are the most memorable opportunities that your work has presented you with?
Being featured by Instagram was a big deal for me. And getting a call from Christian Dior in France to do a short origami stop frame animation for one of their campaigns. Also being asked to do a shop front installation for a rad ADIDAS concept store in Jozi.
(You can see all of Ross’s custom work here.)
What’s your favourite thing to fold, besides pigeons obviously?
HA! Whatever I’m designing at the moment is my favourite thing to fold.
What’s the weirdest request you’ve gotten, apart from Adriaan Louw asking you to fold his Land Rover Defender called Dakrak?
Some guy from the states asked me if I could fold a bunch of animals that didn’t exist – half lion/half frog, part jackal/part whale/part hamster – crazy stuff like that.
Where do you find inspiration?
Instagram, Pinterest and origami books. But mostly from the people I talk to. People and my friends inspire me the most.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists with regards to personal branding and building an audience online?
Be obsessed with what you do. People love to watch and engage with other people doing something they dig.
Don’t be scared to try and do something that has you think has already been done. If there is a voice inside you saying “go for it…”, then listen to it.
Respond to everyone. And I mean everyone. Even if it’s a thumbs up or smiley emoji. You don’t actually realise how far that goes. And you also have no idea who that person is. They could be the daughter, friend, cousin of someone looking for exactly what you have to offer. And if you were nice to them, they might tell that person.