(Photo above: Artwork by Leela Morimoto | photo by Katie Sox)
Leela Morimoto’s art jewelry is unlike anything found in most jewelry stores. As founder of LeeMo Designs she creates earrings, necklaces, cufflinks, night lights and wall art with modular origami. Using specialty paper imported from Japan, Morimoto creates each piece by hand in an intricate and detail oriented process.
Morimoto was raised in Japan and Hawaii and has used origami as a form of relaxation for most of her life. Her finished works were displayed on shelves as art pieces until recently discovering that wearing her origami is the best way to display her work.
When she was in the first grade Morimoto was taught how to make a simple modular triangle with three pieces of paper. She quickly mastered the simple shape and challenged herself to make a new combination of shapes of modular origami using various numbers of sheets of paper, 1 to 30 sheets per design.
“I sat down with individual modules and made a shape per number of pieces of paper — and the LeeMoAyano Diamond was born. It’s a signature shape to the line and it was so perfect for jewelry that it’s one of the first shapes that I made into earrings,” Morimoto said.
The LeeMoAyano Diamond is a custom shape that is the basis for her most popular line of jewelry. Recently she has been exploring how colors blend together to create larger units with her Wall Art Line.
Morimoto’s designs are inspired by the dynamic textures, colors, and patterns in the world and each piece captures her fascination with these shapes and colors in a design.
She finds inspiration in almost every interaction she has with imagery, nature, artwork, color boards and even paint samples at home improvement stores.
“Sometimes I’ll just be folding and I’ll just have a feeling and come up with a new design. That’s how the 8×8 wall art was born, and how my biggest wall art creation came together at 676 pieces of paper and many weeks of folding,” Morimoto said.
As with many creative people, design flows from the need to solve a problem. As a child, Morimoto admired her grandmother’s earring collection but noticed that gravity and heavy elaborate earrings took their toll. When she was old enough to wear earrings it was a problem she wanted to avoid.
“Years later I decided to challenge myself to fold as small as I possibly could and made something about the size of a marble with 12 pieces of paper. I went to the local jewelry making store, invested in some findings, and began making earrings the very next day. My first complete pair of earrings was for my grandmother – so she could wear a unique piece of art that wouldn’t affect her earlobes,” Morimoto said.
Although they are made from paper, durability is hardly a concern for these masterpiece earrings.
“Triangles are the sturdiest shape – and all of the modular work follows along those lines. The only time I’ve successfully ruined one of my pieces is by doing so on purpose to see what force was required to break it. I hand cut the paper, hand fold each piece, and hand paint everything I make. I use multiple coats of water-resistant finish, which does fine unless immersed entirely in water for a length of time,” Morimoto said.
In addition to her nightlights and wall art, more unique projects are coming soon as she has begun designing custom pendant lights. The products Morimoto offers will continue to expand beyond jewelry as her wall art leads to more home décor projects and her never ending creativity pushes to the next challenge.
LeeMo Designs jewelry is currently available locally at Alpaca by Design in Sisters and The Workhouse in Bend and she is looking to get her jewelry into more stores locally.