Leaf carving: Intricate Chinese art gains popularity in India

Infusing life into dead leaves through art

Culture

December 10, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Leaf carving: Intricate Chinese art gains popularity in India

The process of producing a single leaf carving is said to take months of careful work

Carving on dried leaves is a new form of art that requires skill and creativity. Media India Group talks to Akhil Raj, a UK-based chef and artist, about what goes into the making of such intricate artwork.

It’s hard not to love the brilliant display of colourful foliage that signals the arrival of autumn each year, but as the cold winter winds prevail, those leaves that once beautified the landscape are left to collect on the ground or begrudgingly raked in some weekend chore. “This time is the best for artists like me who use leaves as a canvas to paint of to carve designs on it,” Akhil Raj, a 28-years-old chef and artist of Indian origin based in the United Kingdom tells Media India Group.

“Leaf carving is an artwork involving delicate trimming of leaves to develop a picture or landscape. The process of carving is performed by using tools that sharply penetrate the surface without cutting or removing the veins,”

Raj took to leaf art as a boredom buster during the Covid-19 lockdown when he got held up in his native village, Pandikkadavu in Wayanad district of Kerala. He has recently started selling his artwork online, especially through Instagram, a social media platform.

Bala Subramaniam peepal leaf

A portrait of Bala Subramaniam carved on a Peepal leaf

Leaf carving originated in China and gained popularity in 1994 after artist Huag Tai Sheng’s work got recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records. “Traditionally, it was just another form of activity or hobby that people took up but since past few years, I have seen it getting commercialised and artists training others in the art form,” says Raj.

Leaves of the Chinar tree are mainly used in leaf art carving art as it is wide and its veins are thicker in comparison to other trees. The distribution of veins in the Chinar leaves makes them best suited for sculpting and they are also considered lucky in Chinese tradition. “Leaves from other trees can also be used but the Chinar tree is native to India and hence easily available. Chinar leaves also have a resemblance to maple leaves, mostly used in China,” he adds.

The new art form emerging from China is making use of dried and fallen leaves, creating delicate forms that will continue to be appreciated long after the jackets and sweaters of winter have been hung back in closets and the green buds of a new season sprout.

leaf artist

Akhil Raj, leaf artist, says that it takes a very steady hand to do the intricate work

Creating these leaf carvings is no easy process, taking the delicate precision from a skilled artisan. “With a knife, the leaf is slowly scraped of its outer layers, eventually revealing a near-transparent surface. Special care is given to keep the veins intact to preserve the stability of the leaf,” adds Raj.

The process of producing a single leaf carving is said to take months of careful work. “I usually finish a human portrait in about 45 days while landscapes take more time, depending upon the kind of intricacies involved,” Raj explains.

When the artwork is finished, the leaves are then preserved and framed to ensure that it will last for decades.

Shahrukh Khan art on leaf

Another of Raj’s artwork-a portrait of Shahrukh Khan

As carving on leaves is still a rare form of art, there are very few artworks and fewer artists. Hence, while it pays a good sum of money to an artist for each work, the overall demand is very less as very few people are aware of the art’s existence.

“I earn a good amount of money for each work that I do. I get orders for special occasions like anniversaries, marriages and home decoration but the overall demand is very less in comparison to most other kinds of artwork. It is extremely time and effort consuming which makes it expensive too,” adds Raj.

He adds that such art is impressive not only for its beauty but also as it is a sustainable form of art. “Each autumn, trees around the world shed their colourful leaves but who knew that all along they could be the perfect canvas for and artists with a creative mind and a steady hand,” Raj says.

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