The Kerala Leaf Artists’ Association was formed to support, encourage and motivate artists who practise this art form.

Leaf artist Manu holding his art work done on a coconut leaf
news Art Thursday, January 14, 2021 - 17:02

The COVID-19-induced lockdown gave many people the opportunity to pursue their passions and hobbies, apart from just working for their livelihoods. The Kerala Leaf Artists’ Association is a product of one such group of youngsters’ passion. The group consists of artists who draw on various leaves and carve out the design using a knife. From portraits of film stars on coconut leaves to designs on single, smaller leaves, the beautiful ‘leaf art’ is certainly unique and eye-catching.

When it was formed, the Kerala Leaf Artists’ Association consisted of just four or five members. Today, they have 80 artists among their ranks. Manu KM, who was a banking employee, started devoting more time to unique art forms three years ago. At first, he started experimenting with forms such as coffee powder and sand art. He also learned how to draw using online resources, and later started experimenting with leaf art.

"I noticed this kind of art on the internet and started to experiment with it. It turned out well," Manu says. He started carving animals and flowers on leaves at first and later gained expertise in drawing and carving out portraits.

Art by Manu KM posted at his Instagram page aesthetic.__.soul

Manu was the one who formed the Kerala Leaf Artists’ Association, in order to support and promote artists. "Most of the group members started concentrating on leaf art during the lockdown, as they got plenty of time to experiment," he added.

Art by Manu KM

Typically, the artists use jackfruit, coconut, teak and Anjili tree leaves to make their art. Carved portraits of celebrities are the most popular. When the group started posting pictures on Instagram, their work was shared widely and many started approaching them for commissioned works.

"Mainly people approach us for gifts for anniversaries, birthdays and other occasions. For wedding celebrations also now, this art being used. People consider it as caricatures," Manu said.

In October 2020, Manu quit his job so that he could concentrate on leaf art, as he will be showcasing his works in an exhibition on January 23. One of the highlights of his career as an artist was when actor Vijay Sethupathi sent him a voice note appreciating his art, Manu says.

Art by Manu KM

Manu is an inspiration to those in the Kerala Leaf Artists’ Association. The aim of the association is to influence, motivate and support each other.

Akshaya K, a lab technician from Kozhikode, was one such artist who was inspired to take up leaf art. She and Manu are among the few in the group who work with coconut leaves, which is not easy.

Akshaya

Akshaya has even secured a position in the India Book of Records for carving the names of 15 Indian Prime Ministers on leaves.

"From childhood I used to draw, though I never formally learned it. I wanted to go for drawing classes but did not get a chance," she says. 

Art by Akshaya posted on her Instagram page art_semper

Though she knew about leaf art, Akshaya started to experiment with it in the beginning of 2020. She started with jackfruit leaves and later moved onto coconut leaves after being influenced by Manu.

"During the lockdown I got plenty of time. So I started practicing," she says.

It takes Akshaya six hours to a day to carve out four faces on a leaf, while doing one face on a jackfruit leaf takes about an hour.

Art by Akshaya

"I got a lot of paid work when I started this. Some people ask to courier them the art and others just wanted a video of the portrait to gift it to their loved ones. So when I go to work, my parents help me with videos and photos that clients ask for," Akshaya says.

For commissioned work, the leaves are framed and varnished so that they don’t get spoiled. A framed portrait leaf costs upwards of Rs 1000.

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