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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Leaf Art

Although papercutting is an old art genre, and one practiced in cultures the world over, modern artists are seeking new ways to create with the technique.  A gorgeous, but more fragile way, is to cut leaves.

Huang Tai Shang claims to have originated the folk art form, and made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1994.  Most Asian pieces are made from the Chinar tree, native to India and Pakistan as well as China, which is veined similar to a maple leaf.  The veins are made part of the design.

These leaves are picked in autumn, but only the ones which show no insect damage.  They are dried away from the sun for ten months, then boiled several hours to kill bacteria and any small worms and to soften them.  Once the leaves are ready, the artist peels off some of the outer layers until a translucent layer remains.

After carving, the leaves are carefully dried, but only about 40% make it without damage.  The carved leaves are then waxed to help preserve them.  The curing process is involved, as is the actual carving, which make these art pieces amazing.

But the art of leafcutting is also being done in the West.  Lorenzo Duran was inspired by both Asian and European papercutting traditions.  He has an ongoing project that he called Naturayarte.  He is self-taught, and claims his work is based on intuition, rather than reason.

Duran has learned to pick thick leaves, which he then washes, dries, and puts it in a press.  While the leaf is in the press he affixes a paper drawing to it.  He then begins to cut through the drawing sheet and attached leaf with a very sharp scalpel. This is very delicate and careful work as the leaves can break and   his time and efforts wasted.  Removing the sheet of paper when the cutting is done is the most crucial part, as the sheet has to be very carefully peeled off.

Duran sells his work through his website.  Other artists in the West are now creating the delicate work, often sold in folk art shops and museums.  Items sell for as little as $25 for a simple piece, up to several hundred dollars.  Longal Craft Company in Hebei, China will also do commissions.

Another of Duran's pieces.

Or, one can try to carve leaves themselves.  Only the very patient should attempt this, but the results may well be worth it.  If you are a stranger to frustration, this may be the medium for you.

Asian leaf art courtesy of Lonagal Craft Company.
Lorenzo Duran's work courtesy of his website.

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