Duong Huong Nhien, who has been making the paintings for around two years, said the idea originated when she was once gifted some sacred leaves, and she became mesmerised with its beauty and intricate vein structure.
She first used the leaves to make box covers as a gift, after which she decided to make drawings to make the leaves look more unusual.
“The sacred fig has a special meaning in Buddhism. Buddha attained enlightenment after meditating under a sacred fig tree, so the image of Buddha is inseparable from the sacred fig,” she told Vietnam News.
To prepare the leaves for drawing, she picks out sacred fig leaves that have strong and clear vein structures and submerges them in water for around a month.
She then uses a brush to wash out the leaves’ tissue, leaving behind a transparent skeleton structure, which after being dried can be dyed a different colour such as yellow or blue.
Painting on the leaves’ skeleton is not an easy task, as each stroke of paint has to be carefully and delicately drawn on the fragile leaf.
As more and more colour and intricate details are slowly added to the drawing, her depiction of a farmboy on a bull seems to come to life.
“The leaves’ skeleton has holes all over it, and at first it was really easy to accidentally smear the colour,” she said.
Drawing tiny details is also difficult, Nhien said, adding that even the slightest distraction, such as a stranger staring at her, may make it impossible for her to draw with pinpoint accuracy.
Paintings with lots of intricate details can take a few days for her to finish.
After a painting is done, she typically encloses it with a light wooden frame which can be set up on a surface or hung on a wall.
Nhien’s husband also makes leaf paintings with her, and she typically sells her finished products online.
At first she only made the paintings as a hobby and from a desire to try out a new drawing material. Over time she received a lot of positive feedback after she promoted her products on several handicraft forums.
Young people also enjoy buying them as gifts for foreign friends, she said.
“Aside from Buddhism, I also really like drawing folk paintings. I have a deep love for them, and so I want to make products that are unique and convey Vietnamese culture so as to promote them to young people and foreigners.”
Nhien is now trying to apply her artwork to different forms of decoration, such as lamps. She will also attempt making 3D paintings on the leaves.
The art of making paintings on sacred fig leaves is done in India and China, where it depicts the countries’ cultures and religions.
Now Nhien is applying her Vietnamese touch to the craft.