A month of fallen leaves

In Chernobyl, due to the effects of radiation, fallen leaves decompose at a much slower rate than is usual. This has a knock on effect to the amount of nutrients that are returned to the soil, which then has an effect on the growth rate of the forests and trees surrounding the area. Lead author  Timothy Mousseau , a biologist at the University of South Carolina found this during researching the state of leaves in that area

The gist of our results was that the radiation inhibited microbial decomposition of the leaf litter on the top layer of the soil,” Mousseau says. This means that nutrients aren’t being efficiently returned to the soil, he adds, which could be one of the causes behind the slower rates of tree growth surrounding Chernobyl.

I set my students a summer project, which was to choose a subject and through repetitive observation, draw and study, observe and investigate that subject, object or idea. I decided to work on series of drawings that explore the structure of leaves. I chose fallen leaves as my subject as it is linked to my graphic novel research and exploration of narrative themes around climate change and the Anthropocene. Visually, I wanted to explore the physical space and shape of the leaves that I collected through marks. The leaf form is protected when it is on the tree, it is fed and held, awake and when asleep. When the leaf falls, the form is altered through lack of moisture, exposure to different textures and surfaces and damage through movement and interaction with other microbes, insects and bacteria.

We regularly see fallen leaves them as a mass. Through studying the leaves closely, I have become aware of the similarities and individuality of different leaves. The process of drawing similar forms has also forced me to extend and expand my visual language for recording these. This sometimes involved more fluid rapid marks and sometimes, determining the elements of the leaves as a more geometric structure.  The obsessive drawing and time taken to complete the leaves has hopefully captured the fragility and beauty of something that is transient, fluid and taken for granted.

The project is also a record of my walks from my home to work, collecting these leaves and taking them home to commemorate them through drawing and archive their existence.