This 16-year-old artist uses fallen leaves to create stunning paintings.

Meet 16-year-old Joanna Wirażka, part of a new generation of artists who use the Earth as their canvas.

All photos by Joanna Wirażka, used with permission.


Traditional art techniques are beautiful, but they can sometimes have an ugly side. Toxic paint thinners and solvents. Aerosol cans. Certain glazes used in ceramics. In other words, if it smells like it might be bad for the environment, it just might be.

But there's some good news!

In recent years, we're seeing more and more artists explore new mediums that reduce their environmental impact, like salt, ice, and even trash. It's leading to some incredible work.

Joanna's medium of choice? Fallen leaves.

The Polish artist told Upworthy via email that she painted her first leaf on New Year's Eve of last year. While all of her friends were getting ready for a party, she spent the whole day painstakingly drying, painting, and coloring — inspired by the brilliant hues of the fireworks in the night sky.

Joanna's very first leaf painting.

She never thought anyone would care until, she says, a popular art blog shared an Instagram photo of that first leaf, and she suddenly gained thousands of fans.

The overwhelming response inspired her to do more work with leaves.

Good thing she did because the results are absolutely incredible.

Joanna says this one depicts "a magic night in New York."

"Try to find real art everywhere and let it inspire you," Joanna says.

A street in New York.

She collects the leaves from a park near her house then sets them inside a book and waits for them to dry.

From there, she paints them black using water-based acrylic paints before adding in her signature explosion of color.

"Summer 2015, Los Angeles, California."

She says she's fascinated with the bright lights of New York, London, and Los Angeles; cities she hopes to see in person one day.

That's why they show up so often in her work.

Bright city lights.

But these aren't just pretty pictures of far off places to her. These paintings have a powerful message.

"Around the world on a leaf."

"I wanted to say that we don't have to cut trees to have paper for drawing or painting," she said.

Joanna calls this her "green leaf," showing the effects of deforestation.

"I think it's important to raise people's awareness about the really bad condition of our planet."

"Loneliness can be beautiful."

Not bad for a 16-year-old who, by the way, is completely self-taught.

Bravo to Joanna for bringing fresh ideas and a powerful perspective to the world of painting.

No wonder people are loving her work.

"All I need is this paradise on a leaf."

When we asked Joanna what else she wanted people to know about her, she told us she's still figuring out whether she wants to pursue a career in the arts.

She said she's also considering going into the sciences — biology and chemistry, to be exact. If you ask me, her future looks bright no matter which path she decides to take.

We can't wait to see what Joanna and other young artists like her come up with next.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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