A leaf out of the book

A leaf out of the book

A leaf out of the book
When it comes to art, anything or anyone can turn into the canvas. Handmade paper, tissue, fabrics, walls, human bodies... The possibilities are endless. This is what makes Smita Parhi pick up her brush everyday — all the probabilities.

After trying her hand at fabric painting, mural work, canvas painting and Plaster of Paris (POP) moulding, she has found a new attraction — leaves. Yes, Smita uses the leaves she finds around her house to make decorative items.

While there are those who paint and preserve the leaves themselves, Smita uses them in a different way. She combines them with another unusual material to create something beautiful. And what’s the other ingredient? Cement.

A coarser material than POP, it is hardly ever used by crafters. But, “When I saw the cement some construction workers were using near my house, it gave me an idea,” she says. It hasn’t been too long since she started this experiment so she is still fumbling around. “It’s been about two months since I started this project. It took me many tries to get it right.”

Smita mainly works with larger leaves like money plant and banana leaves. “If the leaves are bigger, the intricate details are clearer on the cement. With smaller ones, the detailing is lost.” So far, she has made about 10 of them but hopes to many more.

On the process itself, she explains that it’s easy once you get a hang of it. “I mix cement with sand and apply the thick paste on top of the leaf. The base of the leaf is kept on sand (the sand has to be sieved before using). And in between the leaf and the cement-sand paste, I apply oil so that it’s well-lubricated and they won’t stick to each other.” This is kept outside for two to three days. And if you’ve ever seen a house being constructed, you’ll know that cement has to be cured with water. “I water it regularly and after two days, I pull out the leaf. It acts as a mould and the cement would have formed into a leaf,” she explains.

Since cement stores a lot of heat, the leaf is mostly likely going to blacken and shrink in those two days, she says. “Once the leaf is peeled, I paint the cement to make it look more real.”

Acrylic paints are her first preference. “Metallic colours, in particular, make the leaf stand out,” she adds. After careful shading, using different metallic shades, she leaves the cement leaf to dry for a while longer, before she adds her finishing touch. “I varnish it in the end so that it stays for a longer time.” These leaves are kept in her garden or outside the house. “I add water in them so that they act as bird feeders.” Sometimes, she goes the extra mile to decorate them by giving them a gradient look or by drawing simple designs on them.

Smita loves to craft as it gives her the freedom to explore and experiment. Though she’s working with cement now, this isn’t the end; she hopes to work with ask many materials as possible. “When I first tried working with cement, I made pots. But they’d always crack. After a lot of trial and error, I found the perfect consistency to keep it from not cracking,” she says.

(Smita can be contacted on 9999245639)

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