As I travel on this journey with my art, I find that a certain group of questions keep popping up. I would like to make a record of a few of them, along with some info for you collectors out there.
So…how did it all start? Long story short, I was leaving a friend’s house after a poker game one evening in October 2007 when I spotted a really large cottonwood leaf on the ground. Intrigued by its unusual size, I picked it up. On the drive home, I was twirling it and appreciating its features when suddenly I realized that it wasn’t just a leaf—it was an elephant. Every line, every curve was a perfect parallel to the head of an elephant. I felt like one of those people who find the face of Jesus in a burnt potato chip! My boyfriend at the time wasn’t convinced, so when we arrived home I took a razor blade from a box cutter and carved the features I saw. I held it up and said, “Now do you see it?” He was astonished and said, “Wow, that’s like a new art form or something!” From that day on, I began to look at leaves differently. It was like a hidden world opening up to my eyes, and I became obsessed with discovering and uncovering those countless images. I feel it is a gift from Mother Nature, and that she is the most talented and influential artist of all. I have found my calling, and am fully devoted to this art.
The name “Violent Hippie” induces a variety of reactions from people. Some find it thought provoking, others amusing, and some of the more reserved types find the inclusion of the word “Violent” unappealing or disturbing. Yet others are simply confused by it, because the words “violent” and “hippie” don’t seem to belong together. I welcome all reactions equally, and am fascinated by what they tell us about ourselves.
To the last group I always like to point out that there are plenty of “violent hippies” in nature. Take honey bees for example. They buzz peacefully among the flowers and never look for trouble, but if you mess with their hive, they become little kamikaze warriors. As for myself, I suppose the title applies to an extent. The leaf is somewhat of a symbol of peace, and I am carving it with a razor blade for the sake of art. This is the main reason I decided to associate the name with my art. (Random fact: there was a time years ago when I thought about pursuing a career in mixed martial arts, and thought it would be a great “middle name” handle… “Aaand in the green cornerrrr…Dessie…the Violent Hippiiiiie…MARSHAAAAAALLL!” Haha!
A lot of people comment that it must take great patience to do what I do, carving out every little space with a razor blade. At first I just chuckled and took the compliment, but it caused me to realize that there wasn’t any patience involved. Patience is usually necessary for tasks that are somewhat unappealing, and for me every second of carving a leaf is pure enjoyment. It is my meditation, my obsession, my therapy—and has become a necessary part of my life. However, it can be stated that during the process, I must reluctantly regulate my coffee intake!
As for the longevity of the individual pieces I create, I can now assure potential collectors that this is an archival art form (meaning they can expect to pass it to future generations). It took me some time to develop the proper preservation methods. Each time I discovered a new method, I would go back and apply it to all my past pieces. Thankfully, I am confident that at this point I have the process sufficiently mastered. Even so, when I sell a piece, I sell it with the commitment to make any changes or improvements possible and all free of charge. The only thing I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, do anything about is the possible gradual changes in the shading or coloring of individual leaves. Some leaves bleach or fade over time despite any UV treatments, and others keep their color quite well. To me it is a fascinating process, in which the art actually evolves on the wall over time. The leaves themselves are immortalized under their flexible protective coating, and even resist glass breakage (verified by multiple unintentional tests!). Although they aren’t indestructible, they are very durable and can withstand conditions that would destroy an average piece of art (e.g. humidity).
The carving process itself is, and always will, be done by hand. I never use stencils, pre-drawing, or any sort of planning at all. I simply picture the image in my mind’s eye and begin carving. On many occasions, the details of the image will reveal themselves to me after the process has begun. Considering the unforgiving nature of this art (there is no “undo” button), I feel grateful to report that I have almost always managed to capture each image successfully. Also, I never simply use the leaf as a canvas for whatever image I decide. The magical thing about this art is that to me, the image is already there; a creation of Mother Nature. I have been asked on numerous occasions to create a custom image for a person or business, and my reply is always, “If I see that image in a leaf someday, I will be sure to let you know.” I will never compromise the integrity of this art by carving a business logo (etc.) in a leaf. I am in no way offended by the asking. It’s just that I must uphold the original premise that I so fervently believe, and which sets my leaves apart from those of other artists now popping up around the world.
To quote an old poker term, I am fully “all-in” on my commitment to securing a place for leaf carving both in the history of fine art, and in the minds and hearts of the people who enjoy it. To me, art is about sharing and instilling wonder…stirring the soul to the realization of its own miraculous existence. I couldn’t be more thrilled or thankful to have the opportunity to pursue this dream, and live the way I had envisioned when I was a young child…I hope this post has helped answer some of the questions out there, and given some assurance to collectors who may have reservations about the long term value of their investment in this art. If there are any questions you would like to add, please leave them in the comment section or send me an email. Cheers to adventure!!!