The Making of Making LA


Last November I made this backdrop for deLaB’s Making LA design conference.

It is one of the most public things I’ve done – it felt very strange to have everyone looking at it over the course of the day.

I started with the idea of vertical strands creating a unified circular pattern – like a mandala. Everything was drawn in AutoCAD; average dimensions of leaves estimated, to yield total number of leaves required. I gathered (#foraged #local #seasonal) the leaves from city parks, street trees, and the edges of a private golf course, trying to look innocent while carrying 2’ long tree trimmers.

I put my family to work – poking holes in leaves, counting, sorting. My sister says that everything is like a school project. This is what we ate before we started:



The day before the conference, I started stringing the leaves – thinking this was going to be quick – and it was at first, with sycamore leaves as big as my head. In the evening, my sister came to help, after some Chinese take-out. Then we got to the magnolia leaves – so many of them, but easy to handle with their tough skins, then the delicate star-shaped sweet gum leaves, threatening to crumble, the redbud leaves, getting smaller and smaller, the marigolds that were surprisingly heavy, and the pepper tree leaves that had to be taped on . . . and then it became very clear that it may not get done at all, even with an all-nighter.

My sister said she had never looked at so many leaves so closely. before. It does get to be sort of awe-inspiring and frightening at the same time.

My sister said she had never looked at so many leaves so closely. before. It does get to be sort of awe-inspiring and frightening at the same time.

We did finish – just. (Although two strands didn’t get made. Shh.)

I find it hard sometimes to look at my work after it's done – like how I hate listening to my voice on a recording. I see all the imperfections – everything that didn’t work out, everything that I didn’t have time to do. It’s funny because I am definitely NOT a perfectionist. I stayed for the conference, and for the first few hours I was constantly afraid that one of the strings would snap and fall. That did not happen. And there were happy accidents: the lazy way the magnolia leaves twirled, making abstract shapes; the subtle movement across the strands, like water rippling; the sound guy standing behind the backdrop and handing people microphones through the strands – “through the magic forest," one speaker joked.

And the best part of all? Throwing it away!! At the end of the night, Josh rolled a trash can under each strand as I unhooked it and let it fall.

There’s a lot to be said for definitive endings. (I tend to hoard anything that may possibly become an art or craft material – of course these 1” strips of scrap paper will come in handy!)

When I told my sister about the throwing-it-away part, she got sad – the idea of trashing it so quickly after so much work! When I told my mom about it, she said it was like blowing away a sand mandala.