All Over Origami…
Ross Symons is @white_onrice
Do you remember folding paper jets as a kid? Perfecting crisp fold lines and subtly angled wings that would give your aircraft the aerodynamic edge. Perhaps you weren’t that into jets but maybe you folded a fortune teller and wowed your friends with glimpses into their futures. If any of these ring a bell, then you’ve had your first taste of origami – the ancient art of folding paper. We recently met with local creative entrepreneur, Ross Symons, aka @white_onrice, who told us his story of how one paper crane sparked a life-changing idea.
If you look into the origins of origami you’ll learn that the word itself is derived from the Japanese word “oru” meaning to fold, and “kami” meaning paper.
Paper was once a very expensive and revered commodity and was used for important ceremonial purposes.Folding it into shapes became a form of artistic expression.
Probably the most recognised origami fold is that of the crane – an auspicious animal in Japanese culture and a symbol of peace.
It’s about the Journey
The story of how Ross Symons came to be involved in origami is not the flash-of-lightning-epiphany kind of tale but more of a slow cruise into it.
Ross’ career path has involved a stint studying audiovisual production and three years at hotel school (which included a 6-month internship which brought him from Jozi to Cape Town). Not quite finding his stride, he changed tack and studied computer programming, specialising in software development.
He eventually found himself working at a couple of the top ad agencies in Cape Town, building websites and apps. There was always a niggling creative side that he fed through a couple of hobbies such as playing electric guitar and creating electronic music but as he will tell you, cracking it as a rockstar is a lot harder than it looks.
It was, in fact, Ross’ brother that gave him his first real origami project. Working on a time capsule project for Vega School, he needed family members to each contribute something and tasked Ross with folding an origami crane as his contribution. Unwittingly, this was the tiny creative spark that set the future in motion. With a book of instructions and some squares of paper, Ross set about teaching himself how to perfect the folding of a crane.
Thereafter, it became a cool party trick. When sitting around with a piece of paper or even the label off a beer bottle, he’d tear it into a square and begin folding.
From there he looked at designs online, pored through books and slowly but surely folded other pieces.
Origami is not just about making pretty things, it’s analytical, mathematical and precise – it connected Ross’ logical side to his creative flair and found a happy space between the two.
So, how does one take a hobby and turn it into a business… the short answer? Not easily. The way we do business has changed dramatically over the past 15 years and this is probably most evident with social media. Social platforms have given rise to self-made celebrities and social entrepreneurs who’ve seen the gap and taken it. Ross is the perfect example of this.
It was around 2014 that he came across the teachings of American philosopher and motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer, who had committed himself to a 365-day meditation project. The idea inspired Ross to want to do the same but to document it. Having posted a few of his origami folds on Instagram, he chose this social channel as his medium and thus @white_onrice was born and his first 365-project took shape.
Get me Outta here!
Although being in an ad agency pays the bills, it also has a way of sucking the life out of young creative souls and Ross found this happening to him. Without any real plans, bar a few freelance gigs, he packed in agency life in favour of exploring where the path less travelled would take him.
At that time, origami was a passion project for him – a creative outlet. It only became a real option as a business once someone saw the opportunity to use his paper folding skills to create a really awesome brand activation. That was a turning point.
His first paid project involved folding 250 pigs, and that porky project set the wheels in motion.
Anyone who manages a social media profile knows that it takes effort. A lot of effort. You need engaging content and you need to engage. Sounds simple enough. The fact is that it is incredibly time consuming and the public can be toads. You need a thick skin and a level head. Ross has all of these, plus creativity and imagination in bucketloads.
Polar Bear designed by Giang Dinh // Penguin designed by John Montroll
His commitment to creating engaging content got him noticed by Instagram and a featured post in 2014 saw his following grow alarmingly – in a good way and literally in front of his eyes (he has a video recording of the numbers climbing to prove it!). From a mere 1500 followers, @white_onrice grew to over 35k almost overnight and has since continued to grow organically into the region of 116k today. Pretty darn impressive.
Following the success of his first 365-project, Ross started a new one at the beginning of 2018 – a #miniaturegami series that is currently wowing his followers who wait in anticipation for the next installment every morning. Tiny origami figures, and we do mean tiny, are shot in creative daily posts that continually have us enthralled.
Ice cream & Apple Designed by Kawaii // Llama Designed by Kunihiko-Kasahara // Pegasus Designed by Jo-Nakashima
Teach a man to fold…
For really big projects (let’s face it, folding a thousand cranes would test anyone’s ability and patience), Ross teams up with Kyoko Morgan, a Japanese native living in Fish Hoek. Kyoko runs Origami for Africa, a project that teaches the art of origami to children and young teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The art of folding paper has proven to improve concentration, and mental focus, to develop fine-motor and hand-eye coordination skills, as well as be a wonderful creative outlet.
These children are not only learning valuable life skills but earn money for each piece they fold and for some this is the only income in the family.
Making it as a Creative Entrepreneur
Ross Symons has made the creative entrepreneur dream an actual reality and that is no mean feat. He has essentially knitted together various skills he has learnt along the way, from videography and stop animation to photography and editing. Combining this with his origami he has created a business, a very loyal following and really just an uber cool job to do.
He is an extremely easy going guy with a calm nature that is definitely necessary when it comes to the meticulous nature of this skill. Whether it’s the art of origami that calms him or that you have to be calm to do origami, we’re not sure but either way he has a zen-like quality about him. He’s totally zoned in to his craft.
Asked what it’s like to be a creative in Cape Town, he tells us ‘It’s awesome – I love it’. Capetonians are widely accepting of all skills and ideas and especially resonate with those that are innovative.
We love a local success story, especially one that is so incredibly unique – it proves that just about anything is possible with the right motivation. And doing something that you really love is motivation enough.
Follow what Ross Symons (white_onrice )gets up to and even order your favourite print for your wall.
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