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Michael and Etsuko Clonaris – The Origamist Couple

Name: Michael and Etsuko Clonaris
Age: Michael is 60 years old Etsuko is 66
Occupation: Origamists
Years of Experience: Combined 60 years

It’s quite rare to find someone who identifies themselves professionally as an origamist – it’s even rarer when two of them find each other. Michael and Etsuko Clonaris are the couple who bonded over their love of origami in 1985 and have been folding together ever since.

The duo met while Etsuko was touring Australia as a student. She started making origami during her childhood in Japan and loved it, having no idea it could one day make her money. “A friend from Kyoto who had travelled to the US told me that I could earn some extra pocket money from teaching origami – I thought it was a great idea,” she says. It was through Michael’s sister, who was tutoring Etusko in English, that their paths crossed. “I had just completed making 1,000 cranes as a zen exercise… Etsuko had a book on origami which fascinated me – we resolved to do origami together” says Michael. The couple married on November 11th, 1986, “Michael thought this date would be easy to remember,” says Etsuko. “It was only years later that we discovered this is Origami Day in Japan!”

Michael and Etsuko began by selling their works of art at markets and at Circular Quay, “it was really good in those early days before council clamped down on free trade – now everyone needs a licence,” Michael says. As time went by, more and more professionals started to sit up and take notice of the Origami People and the couple were invited to create pieces for events. Their first one was for an Akai, a Japanese electronics company where black, white and red origami decorated the dining tables. “We were payed $450 for this – Etsuko couldn’t believe that origami could make money!” says Michael. “Soon after this we did jobs at Sydney Town Hall, the Opera House and Government House.”

Today, the couple have honed in on their strengths as origami masters, with Etsuko specialising in origami earrings and Michael creating pieces for advertising events, corporate functions and set displays with enterprises including Channels 10, 7, SBS and ABC, along with McDonalds, leading Sydney-based newspapers and David Jones, to name but a few. “Michael hardly says no to the jobs offered – he always did more difficult things than me while I concentrated on the intricate earrings, which now sell across Australia and just recently, Japan – we really work well together,” says Etusko. The family trade has also been passed down to the couple’s daughter, Asako-Sophia, who decorated the Hyde Park Noodle Markets in 2014 with origami doves. “Asako-Sophia was even nearly named Chizuru, which in Japanese means a thousand cranes… but I changed my mind,” says Etsuko.

The couple come together to teach at schools and private functions – both love to share their years of knowledge with newcomers.  “I like origami because in its simplest form, it is a quiet zen-like procedure. In its complex form, it is problem solving at the highest level,” Michael says. His favourite piece to make is the classic crane and when he really wants to show-off his skills, he will make ‘The Dragon’ by Robert J. Lang who was an American physicist who demonstrated how mathematics and folding paper combine.


What Etsuko loves about origami is being able to make three dimensional objects out of a humble piece of square paper. Her favourite piece to make is ‘The Sanbo Box With Legs’, which is an offering box in Shintoh (Japanese religion). “The most difficult piece I have ever made is a sailing ship – Michael taught me how to make it, but because it is so hard, I only tried once,” Etsuko says.


For the origamists out there wanting to launch their career in origami, the master couple insist the best way to get started is to work on the basics. “Learn the Japanese classics first – the crane, the frog, the iris, the fish, the box, the ninja star and the butterfly. The internet has made the task of finding origami designs so much easier than thirty years ago!” Michael says. He also suggests to then try the work of origami masters, including Yoshizawa, Maekawa, Robert J.Lang and Montroll and invent new origami pieces, “just pick up the paper and start folding and post them online, whether it’s through Facebook, Flickr or your own website” he says. “Above all, always enjoy your folding and think of it as active meditation”.

The Origami People
45 Buckland Street
Alexandria, NSW
0430 590 757

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Photography by Michael Clonaris

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