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.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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