WcI72 Bonus Photos – The Art of Leaf Carving

By Kathleen Ryan

For centuries, Asian culture has recognized paper cutting (kirigami) as an art form. Cutting and engraving plant leaves have recently emerged as an offshoot of that ancient craft. Although the terms are often interchanged, the methods for accomplishing leaf carving and leaf engraving are distinctly different.

Leaf Engraving

Experts consider the Chinese artisan Huang Taisheng the pioneer of modern leaf engraving. They credit him with developing a process for engraving on thin, fragile, wet leaves in the 1990s. The leaves are trimmed, hammered, pressed, engraved, ironed, bleached, and soaked in a special biological solution. Then, the outer surface of the leaf is carefully excised. Today, engravers in Hong Kong, who closely guard their secret techniques, produce much of this type of art.

“Our artists use leaves from the chinar tree, which is native to India, Pakistan, and China,” explained Dean Prator of Leaf Carving Art (www.leafcarvingart.com), a company that imports the artwork. “They are similar to maple tree leaves. Each one must go through a 60-step process to achieve the finished product.”

Leaf Carving

A single leaf carving dating back to 1835 is housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. Unfortunately, the history of the leaf and the artist’s name and technique were lost to time. But it does suggest that leaf carving was practiced nearly two centuries ago by at least one artisan.

Leaf carving as we know it today begins with a dried leaf and sharp surgical knives used to cut out parts of the leaf to create images. The first modern leaf cutter to develop this art form appears to have been Lorenzo M. Durán, an artist from Spain who began cutting leaves in 2006.

Lorenzo M. Durán

“As far as I know, I am the first modern artist to develop this particular technique for cutting leaves,” said Lorenzo. “The path was very difficult, with no references to go by and no information on how to cut the leaves without breaking them. It was only through a long process that I was able to achieve the first good results.”

Born in Caceres, Spain, and raised in an artistic family, Lorenzo dabbled in drawing, oil paints, and paper cutting. After trying assorted jobs, he was unemployed at age 36 when he decided to return to art. Lorenzo was doing well with oils and canvas when he had an “existential metamorphosis.” Daydreaming in his backyard, he noticed a caterpillar chomping
on a leaf.

“As I watched this caterpillar, I suddenly had the idea of cutting leaves the way I used to cut paper,” he recalled. After carefully reviewing the methods used in kirigami, Lorenzo set out to develop his own technique to deal with the peculiarities of this new media.

“I couldn’t know right away if that idea would work or not, but I believe the best way to learn something is to actually try doing it,” he explained. “So I went through a long trial-and-error process before I finally finished my first leaf cuttings.”

Lorenzo starts by collecting leaves from forests and parks in the rural province of Guadalajara where he lives with his wife, Dayli, and their daughter, Maria. Although Lorenzo experiments with all kinds of plant species, his favorite leaves include maple, because of its shape, and catalpa, because its large size makes it more suitable for complex designs.

Next, Lorenzo dries and presses the leaves until they are ready to use. He sketches an idea on paper and selects the perfect leaf for that particular design. “Once I have the final pencil sketch, I fix it to the leaf and start cutting it out,” he explained. This painstaking process can take anywhere from two weeks to two or more months. Besides a steady hand, his only tools are a sharp surgical scalpel and a pointed dental devise that he uses to remove the cut parts. At any point a slight, even imperceptible, slip of the hand could mean disaster. “This is very delicate work where one wrong movement could easily spoil the entire piece that I’ve been working on for so long.”

Once he has completed the cutting, Lorenzo places the leaves on acid-free paper, covers them with glass, and makes his own wooden frames. “The whole process is very laborious from the moment I collect the suitable leaves until I frame the completed pieces. But it allows me to really evolve as an artist and as a human being, and that brings me great joy and personal satisfaction,” he said.

Lorenzo has shared his leaf-cutting techniques with others, who are now helping to promote this art worldwide. He is also developing a process known as selective skeletonizing. Similar to leaf engraving, this method involves removing plant tissue with a tiny scraping brush to reveal select sections of the rib
of the leaf.

“Working in any capacity with such a fragile medium is very difficult,” he said, “but it is those intense experiences that make me feel so alive.”

For more of Lorenzo Duran’s work, visit www.lorenzomanuelduran.es.

Omid Asadi

Formerly an engineer in Iran’s oil fields, Omid Asadi now lives in Sale, Greater Manchester, England. In 2012, while walking through a park with his wife, Omid found some large, colorful leaves. “Everyone just trod on them, paying no attention to them at all,” he said. “But we decided to bring them home, press them, and stick them up on the wall.”

Shortly thereafter, the couple visited a gallery that featured an exhibit on paper cutting. An idea clicked for Omid, and he decided to transform the beautiful leaves into works of art.

“It was very hard at first because I could not find any information on leaf carving techniques,” Omid said. “The only examples on the internet were Lorenzo Durán’s. I was amazed by his work, but I couldn’t find how he did it. So, with the help of my wife, who is a miniature artist, I began experimenting on my own—practicing for hours everyday.”

The following year, an artist friend put Omid in touch with Lorenzo. “I received some very helpful feedback from him,” Omid said. “He is a wonderful artist with a great personality.”

After collecting, drying, and pressing each leaf, Omid sketches his complicated patterns. “Depending on what I want to create, I sometimes draw on the leaves or on paper first,” he explained. “I always try to create pieces with a message. Some of these ideas come from my world view, poems, stories, global problems, or are inspired by other artists’ work.”

For carving, Omid uses a magnifying glass, a scalpel, and a craft needle. “This is not like paper cutting, because each part of the leaf needs a certain amount of pressure applied in order to cut it properly. If I make a mistake, I destroy maybe hundreds of hours of work.”

Omid preserves his finished cuttings by pressing the leaves to cardboard using wood glue. “I feel that by doing this artwork, I can give these leaves another life and encourage others to look for the beauty all around us.”

For more of Omid Asadi’s work, visit omidasadi.artweb.com.

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