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How #SmilingLeaves came to be...

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

The original smiling leaves were magnolia and ligustrum with faces I'd pinch out by hand while waiting for the children's school bus.
Original Smiling Leaves portrait.

I've made smiling leaves all my life, loving the idea that someone might find them and smile in surprise. I left smiling leaves behind at school pickups and drop offs, at music and sports practices, walking with friends, you name it. As an adult, I made them absentmindedly while waiting to meet my children’s school bus.

Unbeknownst to me, a photographer and his wife had been finding these happy leaves scattered in the street on their walks. They enjoyed them so much that he made their portraits. When they realized that the leaves were my handiwork, they gifted me one of the beautiful portrait prints. That moment was better than anything I imagined as a child when I started this funny hobby. It made me wonder how many other people had come across the leaves over the years.

Like so many others, my family and I took lots of walks during the pandemic. My youngest would regularly ask for smiling leaves, so I started searching for an easy way for her to make smiling leaves herself. Traditional paper craft punches were too narrow for leaves with texture. Single hole punches were too cumbersome to carry in a pocket comfortably, and didn’t offer a variety of facial expressions.

Eventually I came across a design for a Japanese kitchen tool used for decorating rice balls. The simple hole punch device created confetti from nori seaweed in the shapes of eyes and mouths and other cute features. With a few small changes, we had it - no longer a kitchen tool, but a Smiling Leaves craft device for our nature walk activities!

The resulting Leaf Punches are easy and safe enough for my four year old to use all on her own. We tested their durability by throwing them on the driveway. Even after a thorough smashing they're hard to break and easy to put back together if needed.

Someday we’ll expand to thumbprint sized shapes and a wider variety of faces and expressions. For now we’ve settled on these three simple faces to start the project. The Laughing expression is perfect for kids, the Pets expression ideal for any animal lover, and the simple recognizable Smile seems like a logical start and nod to the original fingernail-pinched smiling leaves.

The best part of this activity is definitely leaving your creations behind for someone else to discover. The idea of two strangers admiring the same single leaf is wonderful to me. If it makes them both smile, that’s magic!


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