KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 29 — Art comes in many forms. Even dried leaves can be a canvas as seen in JC Lua’s leaf carvings.
Better known as the Leaf Man, Lua was inspired to start his artistic work about three years ago. “Taking the same route every day, I noticed there were always fallen leaves on the ground. I was thinking about what I could do with all that free material and I started to learn how to carve leaves and search for information on leaf preservation and carving techniques,” he said in an email interview.
The 23-year-old industry design student is now pursuing a degree in Australia. He also holds a diploma in the same major from the Malaysian Institute of Art.
Leaf carving is not a new phenomenon as a few artists have adopted this unusual medium for their work. It is believed that this artistic work originates from China where paper cutting art is popular.
In Malaysia, leaf carving is relatively unknown. Lua adds, “I can say it is kind of new for the Malaysian market but not for overseas. I have encountered some talented leaf carving artists on the Internet.”
Growing up in Terengganu, Lua’s designs are inspired by Nature since his birthplace is filled with flora and fauna. “I have always been a ‘go green’ person since I was a kid and as a designer in the industrial design field, I always look into eco-concept designs. In fact, as a designer and artist, I want to do something to spread the awareness among the public.”
The self-taught artist admitted that when he first started leaf carving, he was “awful” at it because he didn’t know the characteristics of the leaf and couldn’t find specific techniques for leaf carving.
He tried to imitate paper carving techniques and applied it to leaf carving. According to him the techniques are similar except leaves are more fragile so he uses preservation methods.
Each leaf is preserved and he does not use dry leaves. “The leaves are preserved by soaking them in a glycerin and water mix for about three or four days. Then I carve using a paper carving knife,” he said.
Lua feels that he made a good decision to use leaves as a medium for his artwork because it conveys a strong message. He believes that when leaves are used as an icon or even as a design element, this helps to promote an eco-concept.
For Lua, he hopes when people see his leaf carvings, they can link it back to green living. This is based on an industry design principle called product language where you know what the subject is about before you touch it or use it.
When it comes to which type of leaves he selects for his work, Lua tells us he has no specific type. When he was based in KL, he would travel back to his hometown to collect leaves.
Sometimes during his vacation, he will even pick up leaves. Now that he is in Australia, he enjoys using autumn leaves because they have a bigger surface. As the leaves are dehydrated, he applies a couple of layers of wax after carving to preserve the delicate canvas.
From start to finish, leaf carving takes a lot of planning. “First, I would have an idea or inspiration. From there, I will have a concept on what I am going to carve.
“Then I will roughly choose a suitable size of leaf for my artwork and start sketching on paper. Once I am satisfied with my final design, I’ll stick the template on the leaf and carve accordingly.”
A few years ago, Lua also started a series on endangered animals from all over the world. This included animals like the bison and our own orang-utan. In his Facebook page, he expressed that, “I would like to create awareness to the public and help these endangered species with my knowledge. We do not know what will happen in the future, but I do hope I will have a chance to meet them one day.”
Prior to leaving for Australia to further his studies, Lua was active at art bazaars in KL and Penang to sell and promote his leaf carvings. Each leaf carving would cost around RM180 to RM250. Previously, Lua also held two workshops to teach people how to carve leaves.
Even though he is now based in Australia, leaf carving is still part of Lua and he is constantly inspired. “So far so good, I might do some leaf carving here in Australia and sell them.
“I find Aussies know how to appreciate art as they are good at engaging art and design in their daily lifestyle. I would say leaf carving is part of my life and it is not necessary to do carving for life but who knows what is going to happen next, so take everything as it comes.”
Find out more about Leaf Man on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/leafman.yezinan/