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.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.