Every year when Valentine’s Day approaches, couples will start to frantically search for the ideal gift that would 1) surprise their loved ones and 3) be meaningful enough to be appreciated.
However, most of them will end up buying the conventional roses, chocolates, teddy bears, greeting cards or wine, and call it a day.
In fact, the demand for such gifts is so high during the month of love in February that traders hike up the prices, much to everyone’s dismay.
Keeping all this factors on mind, Thirumaaran Arasu, 25, set out on a mission to come up with something creative, affordable and memorable.
He chose to do leaf carving and embarked on a journey to develop this rather unknown art to satisfy his artistic flair and to also offer something unique to people.
spoke to the former portrait artist to tag along on his journey and learn a thing or two about leaf carving.
Carving on a leaf?
Thirumaaran said leaf carving is an art where one delicately removes parts of a leaf with a sharp tool, like a knife or blade, to create pictures.
“The carving itself is said to have originated from China and is considered a Chinese traditional art. The masters of leaf art are usually also from China,” he said.
Thirumaaran developed an interest in this rare form of art after a friend of his showed him his work.
“While I was in college, I saw one of my coursemates, Lua, carve on leaves. Although at that time, I knew about leaf carving because I have seen international artists doing it, I was surprised to see a Malaysian artist like Lua doing it.
“Lua often posts his works on social media and I found myself checking them out. Being a portrait artist, I found a strong attraction to leaf art, especially when I know that it has been done by local artists.
“I was very interested and keen to try it out then,” he said.
A unique gift
Thirumaaran said he got the opportunity to try leaf carving when he tried searching for a unique gift for his friend one day but to no avail.
“Everyone in my friends and family circle knows that I am a good portrait artist. I can draw their faces spot on.
“Most often than not, I present family and friends with portraits on special occasions like their birthdays and anniversaries.
“In fact, it is such a norm to get portraits from me that they have come to expect it. I wanted to break the label that I can only do portraits. I wanted to challenge myself artistically."
That was when he tried leaf carving for the first time. Although he is comfortable with pen and paper, leaf carving is a whole new ballgame.
“Since I am a portrait artist, I wanted to carve people's portrait on leaves. I have seen portraits on leaf before but how do I customise it was the deal. I started to search for information about digital arts and leaves. I practiced it until I got it right.
“On my friend’s special day, I actually carved his portrait on a leaf and presented him with it. He was totally impressed,” he said.
Patience is key
Thirumaaran did not stop there.
He posted his work of art in the ‘Doodle Malaysia’ Facebook group, which consists of up and coming artists and experienced gurus.
“I received a lot of encouragement and messages. A lady messaged me and pushed me to take my skills a notion higher by opening social media accounts and promoting leaf art there.
“Because I am not active on social media, I did not give the idea a serious thought,” he said.
However, he continued to perfect he art whenever he gets time, carving faces of family and friends on leaves.
“Mine is the modern alteration of the Chinese traditional art. It is a faster approach where I mix carving and collage techniques.
“First of all, I start with a photo that is taken in good lighting, to derive the lines and shape out of the original image so it can be carved on the leaf.
“Then, I carve,” he said, adding that a leaf carving usually takes four hours.
Thirumaaran said his role model when it comes to leaf carving is Master Huang Tai Sheng, who is the pioneer of the art and a ‘master of patience’.
“To create such art is not easy. It needs great patience and his works take weeks to complete,” he shared.
Utilising social media
Practice after practice, Thirumaaran gained confidence in what he was doing and in the beginning of the year, he decided to market his skills and works on social media platforms.
He created the T’Peepal
brand via Facebook and Instagram, and has never looked back ever since.
"Because I use the peepal leaf to create my art," he answered.
The peepal leaf, which is very common and easy to get in Malaysia, is an excellent medicinal leaf that holds up great when carved on.
“The response has been tremendous. People like the concept of carving portraits on leaves. They think it is a unique idea.
“My inboxes have been full with requests and messages that I quit my sales consultant job to focus on this full time,” he said.
Some of his most popular works include a leaf carving of South Indian Superstar Rajinikanth and the infamous comedy actor Rowan Atkinson, or more popularly known as ‘Mr Bean’.
Thirumaaran said his inspirations are the people who appreciate this form of art.
“Their support and encouragement are my biggest inspiration to excel in this art. Their words make me go the extra mile. With social media, we not only get to share our work, we also get to appreciate other artists’ work. I get inspired by each of their works,” he said.
Thirumaaran said because of the overwhelming response from the public, he decided to sell his work of art.
“The demand is high. People want to buy them. I turned my skills into business,” he said.
He charges RM130
to carve a single portrait on leaves, and RM170
to carve a couple’s portrait.
“Recently, I also started carving names on leaves as people requested me to do so. Leaves with carved names are also sold at RM130,” he said.
The carved leaves are sealed in A5-sized frames before being sold to customers.
Acknowledging that his work of art is a popular gift during Valentine’s Day, Thirumaaran said that T’Peepal is offering a 20 per cent discount
on all leaf carvings for a limited time only.
Check out Thirumaaran’s art on T'peepal's official Facebook page
account for more details.