Interview with Artist – Justin Thao, NHS art alumnus (2010)

This month we had NHS art alumnus and artist, Justin Thao visit North High to share his art, influences, and process with our students. The questions below were provided by the Advanced 3D Design students. 

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North High Art Dept: Do you create your own papers?

Justin Thao: As a designer, we are trained to understand the overall process of developing an idea into a marketable product. I am currently not making my own paper just in case I have to mass produce my work to supply demand. But in the long run I am considering making my own paper to give the piece more value and innovative feature. But I do creative my own graphic patterns, which I can print in my room.

NHAD: If you make a wrong crease, do you start all over?

JT: People underestimate how important it is to fail. I have made so many bad creases over all in my life that I just throw them away. But there are some that I keep so that I may be able to recreate those folds and hopefully find something better. Most of my innovative origami pieces are created by making random creases.

NHAD: At what age did you realize what you were really passionate about?

JT: I realized that I was good at folding origami back in Elementary school. It all just came naturally to me. I understood the fundamentals of folding paper but I merely took it as a hobby. Beginning my journey as an artist in my freshman year at North High in Mr. Juarez’s class was the initiation of my art/design career. Even though I did not know where art would take me, I took a leap of faith and trusted in what I was good at. Through long hours, hard effort, and concentrated focus, I am able to find the purpose of my skills.

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NHAD: How did you come up with your designs?

JT: They are all generated by accident. Let me explain. With a sense of direction and knowledge of the kind of folds needed to create a desired look or functionality, I was able to find interesting folding features. It’s like digging for gold and suddenly you find gold after hours of searching. But of course as I am folding paper, I am always keeping a watching eye on how the paper evolves and learning what it can do. Through several experiments and understanding of the folding designs, I am able to create these innovative origami pieces.

NHAD: How long do you take to work on your designs?

JT: Many of my work take either several months or years. Some of my simple designs may take a day to make, but those type of simple work do not evolve much. Some of my work like the mushroom lamp is taking me 2 years overall because it started when I accidentely made the smaller mushroom origami more than 2 years ago. Then recently this year I just started to push this mushroom origami into a valuable product. Some of my work do take a couple of months or years, but I do have smaller projects on the side that occupy my time. I am always working on something.

NHAD: How long does it take you to fold the papers?

JT: Some of the origami pieces may take 10 minutes and they usually do not turn into anything special. But the ones that take more than 30 minutes usually turn out well. One of my project back then involved folding a gear out of paper. After taking 2 to 3 hours to figure out the patterns, making the final product took me nearly an hour just to fold. No matter how long it takes for you to do your own work, you need the passion to endure the process because without passion, you will find yourself tired and dragging your feet.

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NHAD: What courses did you take in college?

JT: I did take some drawing courses where we drew naked figures all day. I involved myself with sculpture to learn how to free the creative side of myself because my design courses are about following guidelines and learning how to cope with limited creativity. I knew that learning how to be free and creative while understanding how to be precise and conservative was the answer to being a successful designer. Now these type of courses are really helpful in developing my business where I am able to push the boundaries while meeting customer satisfaction.

NHAD: Did Mr. Juarez have any influence on you at all?

JT: Mr. Juarez had a lot of influences on me. He is the one who took me under his wing and taught me the foundation of art. He guided me and corrected me when I needed it. His was even generous enough to help give me assignments to enhance my portfolio for entering Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design college.

NHAD: How did you learn to do Origami?

JT: I learned through reading origami books back when I was in high school. I had no one to teach me and there weren’t many out there nearby that could teach me. So I relied on myself through hard effort and curiosity to learn it all by myself. Once I learned how to fold some of the generic origami folds, I quickly became bored. Most of them to me were either too complicated and pointless or simple and meaningless. I am always hungry for interesting origami designs but there are way too few of them out that that can satisfy my thirst. Instead of relying on the chance of finding something, I would create them instead in order to satisfy my thirst.

NHAD: What made you start your own Origami business?

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JT: There were many reasons why I decided to start my own origami business, but here are a few of them:

  • My passion for origami became overwhelming and started to inspired everything I designed.
  • Having my own business and my own successful line of product is the only to prove to other larger companies that there is value within origami. Most people see it as an arts and craft and nothing more valuable than that.
  • Pushing my own ideas to the market is the only way I can do what I want without having larger companies control and change the ideas into something they want it to be.
  • Having the freedom to design anything I want and see it out in the market is truly satisfying.

NHAD: Do you ever get discouraged and if you do, how do you overcome it?

JT: There are always people out there who do not believe in what I am doing. Even my own family seem like they support me, but the truth is they do not. I knew before I started this path as an entrepreneur is that it is very important for me to believe in myself. If my faith in my own work is little and gentle, then it would be easy for others to break it. To stand strong against others even when I am the only one is necessary for success. But of course it is very important to be realistic with yourself and see the potential of your own work. To overcome the people who discourage my work and my business, I had to learn how to cope with my own way of thinking: to guard my mind and the kind of negative thinking that would cripple my business while being realistic all at the same time.

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