Artist Using Natural Medium to Create Unique Pictures -
By day, Kevin Taylor of Portsmouth, Ohio, is a custodian at Shawnee State University (SSU) where he is responsible for cleaning the first floor of the University Center. But, at night, on the weekends and whenever he has free time, Taylor is an artist specializing in leaf mosaic pictures, as well as oil paintings and sculptures. His idea to capture the brilliant colors of the fall leaves in the form of art came to him several years ago when friends of his sister were visiting Portsmouth from Florida and Louisiana for her wedding.
“They were sitting around one night admiring the leaves, and they said it’s a shame the leaves only last a couple of weeks and then they’re gone. That gave me the idea to do something with leaves to see if I could make them last a little longer than they normally do,” Taylor explained.
With that goal in mind, Taylor began collecting leaves from the trees on campus and in the woodlands throughout Scioto County. While on vacation one year, he also collected leaves from trees in neighboring Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana.
“I pick them off the tree. I have a cooler full of ice in the car and Ziploc® bags. I put them in a bag and then in the cooler. I put them in the refrigerator when I get home – that keeps them fresh and pliable, so that I can work with them. They will last quite a while in the refrigerator so that I can cut them up and use them like mosaic tile,” Taylor said.
After collecting the leaves, the next step in Taylor’s creative process is to draw his design for the picture. He says once his lines are drawn he doesn’t change them.
“I told a lady once that my lines were just scribble marks, and she said no, it wasn’t a scribble mark – it was the rhythm of my soul,” he said.
The woman Taylor was talking to was renowned artist Aminah Robinson from Columbus, Ohio, who saw Taylor’s work on display at the Southern Ohio Museum in Portsmouth.
Taylor uses a good grade of plywood with a good finish for his designs. In the past, he has even used Masonite. Once the design is laid out, he begins the meticulous process of placing the leaves within the boundaries of his creation.
“I cut the leaves and use tacky glue to adhere the leaves inside the pencil lines of my design. If they overlap the lines, I trim with razor blades, an X-acto® knife or scissors,” Taylor said.
He works section by section, gluing the leaves and trimming when needed. Some sections may take him an hour to complete while larger sections can take up to three or four hours. A finished product, depending on size, could take approximately 600 hours.
“You can’t really speed up the process much at all,” he said.
Part of what takes so long is weaving the vibrant colors throughout the picture. Taylor has a process that works well for him.
“If I put down a dark color, I usually try to put down a light color so it will contrast,” he noted. “I try not to put reds next to reds and greens next to greens. I try to spread the colors out evenly. If I put yellow in the top left corner, I’ll put some down in the bottom right corner to try to balance it out.”
Over the years, Taylor has learned a lot about leaves and trees. He knows which leaves are the easiest to work with and which will last the longest. He’s learned to use orange leaves first because they fade the fastest. He’s also learned that the leaves from the zelkova tree, which turn yellow, will hold their color better than the yellow leaves of a sugar maple.
Taylor’s leaf mosaic pictures have been on display at the Southern Ohio Museum in the biannual Cream of the Crop art show and entered in the art competition at the Ohio State Fair.
Although his creativity has been focused on the leaf mosaics, Taylor is hoping to finish up a few other projects he has been working on including a painting of the Holy Redeemer Church in Portsmouth. He also wants to create art from everyday items like pop cans and even trash.
“I’d like to use things that people discard, everyday items that people don’t think about. If you’re creative with it, you can make a really nice work of art out of things people wouldn’t think possible,” he said.
To prove his point, Taylor created a mix media piece when he was an art student at SSU where he graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Titled “Death on Display,” the picture featured hundreds of cigarette filters he collected during his part-time job cleaning the grounds at the university. That piece was exhibited at the “State of the World: An Appalachian Perspective” show at the Multicultural Center Art Gallery in the Baker Center at Ohio University.
Because he’s been so busy creating his art, Taylor says he hasn’t spent much time marketing it. “I just enjoy doing it and the process of doing it,” he said.
Through word of mouth Taylor has recently started selling his artwork. To find out more about Taylor’s leaf mosaics, paintings or other artwork you can call him at (740) 357-0613.