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.

Heroes


Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is a name you should remember. If you don't follow politics closely, remember his name because he's the first Republican in Congress to openly join the call for a renewed federal ban on assault weapons.

If you're a Democrat or a diehard progressive partisan, remember his name because it's proof that as a nation we can put principles before party and walk across the political aisle to get things done.

If you're a Republican, remember his name as evidence that real leadership in politics sometimes means risking your reputation to do what is right even when most of your colleagues disagree or lack the political courage to go first.

But let's allow Rep. King to explain himself in his own words:

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy
via PixaBay

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has brought a lot of attention to the idea of implementing a universal basic income on America. His "freedom dividend" would pay every American $1,000 a month to spend as they choose.

In addition to helping Americans deal with a future in which the labor market will be upended by automation, this basic income could allow Americans to rethink what we see as work and nurture what Yang calls a "human-centered" economy.

Keep Reading Show less
Family

Patagonia has taken "family-friendly workplace" to a whole new level, and people are noticing.

The outdoor clothing and gear company has made a name for itself by putting its money where its mouth is. From creating backpacks out of 100% recycled materials to donating their $10 million tax cut to fight climate change to refusing to sell to clients who harm the environment, Patagonia leads by example.

That dedication to principle is clear in its policies for parents who work for them, as evidenced by a viral post from Holly Morisette, a recruiter at Patagonia.

Keep Reading Show less
Family
Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

Returning to school after summer break meant the return of classes and new lockers, but for me it also meant heading back to basketball practice. I can't say I remember most games or practices, but certain memories still stick in my mind — and some don't even have to do with basketball at all. Like the time I was sitting on the gym floor one day before practice, lacing up my shoes, when an assistant coach on the boy's team came over to me. "Did you lose weight this summer?" he asked. "Were you trying to?" I was 15.

My teenage years, like many people's, were a time when my appearance occupied my thoughts more than almost anything else. The idea of being thinner or smaller was always appealing to me then, no matter what size I was. Given this, the idea of someone — anyone — thinking I looked smaller should have been appealing to me, but when this coach asked me that question, I remember feeling hot with an immediate wave of embarrassment. "How big had I been last year? Did I not look OK then? Maybe I should have worked out more."

The real answer to his question was that I had spent most of the summer playing competitive basketball, working out for three or four hours a day, four days a week. I hadn't really had time to focus on weight loss at all, but I guess it had happened. Suddenly, though, I was feeling like maybe I should have been more focused on it. If this person, a grown adult, had recognized that I was smaller, then obviously he recognized I was bigger before. I had room to improve, clearly, and I still had room to improve. It would be another decade before I finally learned to be content as is.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture