Of all of the different types of papers and techniques geared towards producing origami exhibition models, “tissue-foil” is perhaps the most unusual. Tissue-foil encompasses a range of papers that use aluminum foil to give it unique folding characteristics. Wet-folding and back-coating utilize sizing and glue for their folding properties. This requires thicker paper, and the ability to fold your model quickly, as your model begins to harden. Tissue-foil, by nature, does not have these problems; is has an entirely different set of idiosyncrasies.
Before I get into the details of how to make and use tissue-foil, I must give credit to those who have been instrumental to its history. Unfortunately, the history of this paper is not clear. I have seen references to laminating paper (although not necessarily with foil) and to tissue foil back in the early eighties. While it is not clear who originated the idea, Robert Lang must be given the credit to popularizing the technique. Oddly, in recent years, Lang has turned towards wet-folding for much of his work, being attracted to the permanency of the technique. Peter Angel found a way to add to the solidity of the paper, by using hand-made Japanese paper instead of tissue paper. Recently, I have been experimenting with different thickness of paper, in an attempt to create a paper that is well suited for a particular model
From what I just said, you would be correct to assume that tissue-foil does not have to be made with tissue paper, but it does have to be made with foil. Having said that, I still do not consider the commercially available “American-Foil” to be in the category of tissue-foil. This is because with American-Foil, the foil content is low, and does not contribute to the properties of the paper as with tissue foil. Since tissue-foil is not commercially available, you will have to make it yourself.
There are three basic materials. You will need aluminum foil, spray adhesive, and your choice of paper. For aluminum-foil, practically any kind will do. This can be easily purchased at a supermarket. You should be aware that foil often comes in 12″ and 18″ wide varieties. I usually use the 18″ variety, as it is usually thicker, and I prefer to fold larger models. In some cases, when I am folding a model that is not too complex, I might use two layers of foil. When folding small models, I might search for thinner foil (as found in some candy and cigarette wrapping). As for adhesive, I use a spray glue, also known as artist’s adhesive. I use the one produced by 3M, although I have tried other brands that were just as good. While these adhesives can be purchased at most artist’s shops, it is best to buy them at a hardware store, where they can be obtained at nearly half the price.
As for paper, I hesitate to give any definitive suggestions, as this is where you can be creative. If you are planning on making “traditional” tissue-foil, nearly any tissue paper will do. Using tissue paper will produce an unusual iridescence, as some of the foil will shine through. You can often purchase your paper at a card shop or party store. The paper usually comes in 20″ X 30″ sheets. Although color is of personal preference, Robert Lang has noted that the darker colors tend to fade more gracefully. In any event, try to keep your finished work away from sunlight, as tissue-paper can be very photosensitive.
Before I explain about some of the other types of paper that can be used, I am going to go through the steps of making the paper. All work should be done in a well ventilated area, as the glue is toxic. You will also probably want to protect your floor with newspaper. Place a sheet of foil on the floor. I usually leave the shinier side up first, and use this as the surface for my main color. In most cases, the foil will be the limiting factor as far as size is concerned, so use as large of a piece as necessary. Spray the glue onto the surface of the foil according to the manufacturer’s directions. If you have a choice of nozzles, use the one with a finer mist. When spraying, be sure to cover the entire surface area of the foil, while paying special attention to the edges. After spraying, you should give the glue about a minute to get tacky. You will then be ready to apply the tissue paper.
This is another area in which I have seen a wide variation in technique. I simply start by adhering the bottom edge of my paper to the bottom edge of the foil. I then start working my way upwards until the foil is completely covered. A variation on this would be to use a baker’s rolling pin to apply the paper. You can also start at one corner and work your way to the opposite corner. Try whatever method feels most comfortable. When you are done, rub out any wrinkles, and then apply another layer of tissue paper on the other side.
To get the largest possible square, you should cut along the edge of the foil, which should be visible through the layers of tissue.. If you wish, you can also tear through the the foil, which is surprisingly accurate (and fun). First, score the paper, unfold, and turn over to leave the resulting crease in mountain fold formation. The paper can easily be torn in this position. Of course, you won’t get the largest possible square this way, but it is easier to be accurate.
If you desire to make a very large model, you will have to attach two (or more) pieces of foil together. This can be done by first butting the edges of the pieces of foil together. Then attach them with a few pieces of cellophane tape. To get a much more durable bond, you should glue a thin piece of foil (the twelve inch foil is usually thinner), along the seam, using spray adhesive. While I usually do only one side, you might want to do the other side as well if your model makes extensive use of the reverse side of the paper; the seam might be seen through the tissue paper otherwise. The result is surprisingly transparent and durable.
Chances are, you will not have a large enough piece of paper to cover the foil that you prepared. If two pieces of paper are required to cover one side of foil, there is an elegant way around this. First, fold the foil in half. Then glue the tissue paper on both sides of the foil. Finally, trim along the edge of the foil that you folded. When you unfold the foil, you will be surprised to find that the seam of the pieces of tissue paper is barely visible. You can now repeat this procedure on the other side, and then finally cut out your square.
This technique can go much further than simply giving you a larger surface area. You can mix and match different materials and colors on the same side of the paper; seamlessly. Of course, whenever possible you should try to locate the seams in areas that will not show up in your completed model. This technique is not solely for aesthetics; having a variable thickness piece of paper can help conserve expensive paper, and eliminate the bulk in complex models. You might not want to cover one side of the foil if your model only leaves one side of the paper visible. Some models reveal only a small portion of the reverse side, so you might wish to only cover a small portion of the reverse side. If a model has a tendency to have the reverse color showing through some unsightly gap, you can cheat by covering the area that will show through with the same color used on the other side. The possibilities are endless.
The possibilities are even greater when you use different materials as your backing paper. For most of my exhibition work, I use handmade Japanese paper. I opt for the thinner variety to preserve the properties of the foil. Some other creative (and cheaper considering that the Japanese paper can run around ten dollars a sheet), include thin cloth, newspaper, paper towels, or anything else that is thin enough to preserve the properties of the foil. It is always an option to use another layer of foil to compensate for the thickness of the outer material.
By now, you should be wondering as to what these properties of the foil are. If you are using tissue as the backing paper, where the properties of the foil are at their most extreme, you are in for a radically different folding experience. By themselves, foil and tissue make for flimsy and weak folding materials, but together, you have one of the strongest and most resilient materials around. Also, when you make a crease, it will hold very well. It will hold so well that it is difficult to change its direction (i.e., valley to mountain). This makes procedures that require precreasing, such as sinks, difficult to perform. You can unfold the paper after precreasing, rub out the creases that have to be changed, and replace them with new folds that are in the right direction. It is true that unlike commercial foil paper, you can rub out unwanted creases without leaving a trace.
While it is true that tissue-foil will make folding your model more difficult for most if its stages, its properties are fortuitous usually at the end of a model’s folding sequence. If your model has many layers, it can easily be flattened. In extreme cases, a hammer can work wonders. After your model is as flat as you desire, you can shape and pose it any way you wish. Your model will hold that shape forever, until you decide to reshape it, or someone or something inadvertently reshapes it. The latter scenario is obviously undesirable. To compensate for you models permanent state of malleability, some artists like to infuse some permanency by using some form of lacquer on the completed model. Always test out a coating on a scrap of paper first. If you use a slightly thicker paper (such as the aforementioned Japanese papers), you will lose some of the malleability, but will have a much more solid looking model, due to its increased thickness. It can still be bent out of shape, but I personally can live with that, as I usually set up my own exhibitions.
I hope that this introduction to tissue-foil proves to be inspiring to people new to the idea of preparing their own paper. As for myself, it has dramatically improved the appearance and impact of my models. With enough experimentation, you can conceive the perfect paper for any model.