Making something with your own hands is incredibly rewarding—it could be sculpting, painting or drawing on a blank canvas, or taking the paper itself and turning it into art of its own.

If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, a paper fish is an excellent place to start thanks to its simple design.

Meaning of Origami Fish

In Japanese culture, koi carp in particular are hugely symbolic for good fortune, luck and perseverance. The koi’s ability to swim upstream in all conditions and even, supposedly, leap up waterfalls has come to represent struggle and success in the face of adversity. Their power helps them to surpass any obstacle in their way, with no distractions.

A simple origami fish made with bright green paper, with a wooden stick used for flattening the edges.
Paper fish are popular decorations in Japan and are often made from brightly colored origami paper. Still from Skillshare class Origami – Easy but Cool Animals for Beginners by Slava.

But even other species of fish hold special relevance in Japan, which is why they’re typically immortalized in meaningful origami designs. The Sakana, or fish, represents happiness, thanks to the creature’s freedom to go between rivers, oceans and lakes in whatever way it chooses. Gifting an origami fish to someone is another way to offer them well-wishes and good health.

How to Fold an Origami Fish

Fish can be an easy design for origami beginners because they tend to be flat-sided designs, keeping all the folds as simple as possible. Following a basic origami fish design step by step is easy enough for even children to help with and create fun creatures they can decorate and hang themselves.

Step 1: Prep Your Paper Folds

Pink origami paper is folded in half to start a paper fish project, with a completed yellow origami fish on the table beside it.
Origami paper is a special type of crafting supply to make your projects easier to create. Most shapes begin with simple folds in half, quarters or triangles. Still from Skillshare class Origami – Easy but Cool Animals for Beginners by Slava.

Start with a square piece of origami paper in whatever style or design you’d like. If you’re still practicing and don’t want to waste your best paper, a square piece of white or scrap paper is fine too.

Using an ice cream stick or ruler can help keep your paper folds even as your work.
Be precise with your folds to make your origami fish as neat as possible. Using a stick or ruler can help keep your edges perfectly straight. Still from Skillshare class Origami – Easy but Cool Animals for Beginners by Slava.

Fold your paper in half, then open it up and fold each half inward to the middle to create long quarters. Open the paper back out, then repeat the same process but with the opposite edges. This should leave you with 16 even squares across your sheet of paper.

Step 2: Make a Big Triangle

Folding origami paper into a triangle is an important step in making your paper fish.
Geometric shapes like triangles will make up most of your origami fish design. Still from Skillshare class Origami – Easy but Cool Animals for Beginners by Slava.

Taking one corner, fold this up to the diagonal corner to create a triangle shape. Unfold the paper and repeat with the other two corners.

Step 3: Turn Your Triangle into a Diamond

Pink paper is folded into a sailboat shape to start defining the edges of the origami fish.
Don’t press your folds too hard until you’re sure you’ve made the correct move. Still from Skillshare class Origami – Easy but Cool Animals for Beginners by Slava.

Fold your outside edges into the first crease, or quarter marks, on the paper. Pull open the folds from the center points going left and right, bending them outward to the sides along the next creases in, being careful not to tear them. 

Then fold up the ends of the paper to the center to create a boat shape—the flat edge should be at the bottom of the paper, with upside-down triangle shapes at either end. 

Origami paper is folded several times throughout the process to make a fish shape.
Carefully bend your inner edges without tearing the paper. Still from Skillshare class Origami – Easy but Cool Animals for Beginners by Slava.

Turn the paper around and repeat this at the other end until you have an elongated diamond-looking shape.

Step 4: From Diamond Back to a Boat

A completed yellow origami fish sits on a desk with a stick used to firmly crease the edges of a pink work-in-progress paper fish.
You’ll quickly notice how much of the work with origami is figuring out which corners should be folded and where they go. Still from Skillshare class Origami – Easy but Cool Animals for Beginners by Slava.

From the middle, bend two of the pointed ends on one side backward on themselves to the outside edge of your shape, folding at the center line so you have a boat shape again.

Step 5: Finish Up Your Fish Tail

The pink origami paper returns to a sailboat shape before making up the final design of a fish, like the completed yellow one sitting on the table.
Tails can be the most complicated part of a paper fish design. Still from Skillshare class Origami – Easy but Cool Animals for Beginners by Slava.

The top of your paper will look like a triangle sitting on top of a rectangle. Take the point that would make up the right corner of the triangle and fold it into the middle to touch the center point to meet the outside edge of your paper with the bottom fold. 

You’ll then have a little flap in the middle. Bend this flap back on its crease. This will be the bottom fin of your fish’s tail. Repeat on the opposite side to create the upper fin of the tail. Your paper should now look like the base of a boat on one end, with an upside-down triangle on the other end.

Step 6: Make Your Final Folds

The pink origami fish is completed and sits on a table with a finished yellow paper fish.
After you’ve made your fish, all that’s left is some decoration. Still from Skillshare class Origami – Easy but Cool Animals for Beginners by Slava.

Fold the two corners that make up the flat side of your “boat” up to the middle point. You should no longer have a flat base to the “boat” edge of your paper and instead be a point. 

Flip the paper over and you’ll see the shape of your fish in front of you! Stick on a googly eye or draw a face on with a pen to complete your origami fish design.

You’ll Have No Need for Art School with Your Origami Fish!

Make a whole collection of colorful paper fish with your new origami skills. Use different size paper in various shades or styles, then hang them from string or stick them to your walls for a unique homemade project.

Written By

Holly Landis

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