DIY Project: Artwork with Thai Palm Leaf Script

Before the paper books that we know today, people in some Asian cultures wrote on thin strips of palm leaves. Then they strung the leaves together into long skinny books. They used wood planks as covers. This is what they look like:

pali-manuscript

You can find these palm leaf manuscript “books” in Myanmar, Thailand, India, Indonesia. You don’t have to travel to get them. You can sometimes find them on eBay. Just search “palm leaf manuscript” on eBay. There’s a wide range of prices. You may not want to disassemble a nice expensive antique, so look for cheaper ones.

We found a palm leaf book in Thailand. We didn’t pay a lot for ours. It was about US$30. That was back in 2001. We were told that Buddhist monks wrote on the palm leaves in Pali script, which is similar to Sanskrit from India. I have no idea what our book says, or how old it is. The palm leaves are hardy and can last hundreds of years, even in the steamy hot Thai climate. So it could be old.

I thought the long palm leaf strips could make a bold graphic statement. So I made big framed wall art for a nook area in our apartment in Chennai, India:

Palm Leaf Manuscript Wall Art

To make this, first, you need a background, I used wide, long canvas. I painted the canvas black. I wanted a lot of drama and a really dark background so the palm leaves would pop.

I thought the black background was too plain. So I stenciled over it with a lighter black paint to add a subtle pattern. I used the Majestic Medina Damask Wall Stencil and shimmery Black Frost Stencil Creme paint, both from Royal Design Studio.

Stenciling on Black Canvas

Here you see the Black Frost paint contrasts enough with the dark black paint in the background:

Black Paints

I first tested out how different stencil options would look:

Testing Different Stencil Looks

Sorry these photos are so grainy. I was working with 3 light bulbs in the whole place, at night! So these photos are brightened significantly so you can see.

After stenciling, I installed the palm leaves over the black background with metallic copper scrapbooking “brads.” Brads are tiny lightweight fasteners:

Installing Palm Leaves on Canvas

Each palm leaf had two holes that were used to string all the leaves together. I simply pushed the brads through those holes.

The original plan was to simply hang the canvas on the wall, using the original wood covers of the manuscript for the top and bottom (you can see these wood pieces in the photo above). But, it gets very dusty in our apartment in India. When we come back to the apartment after being away for a year, we must clean EVERYTHING. Like, we even must clean dust off the wire whisks in the kitchen drawers!! Yeah! Dust gets into the drawers and gets stuck on the thin wires! So that’s why our apartment will be minimally decorated (less stuff, less cleaning) and that’s why we framed this wall art behind glass.

We took the canvas to United Brothers on Bazullah Road in T Nagar, Chennai. Frame, matte non-reflective glass and labor cost US$60 total. (A bargain for those of us from the U.S. — this is a huge frame!) United Brothers has locations around Chennai. I tested different frames. I chose a very thin black frame instead of the wider gold frame. This is because I didn’t want a wide gold frame to visually “fight” with other elements in the niche area, like the palm leaves and the lantern’s shadows. I didn’t want the frame to be a focal point.

Frame Choices

The wall art makes a dramatic space in this little nook area:

Palm Leaf Manuscript Wall Art

Palm Leaf Manuscript Mounted and Framed

It’s visible from the entire foyer/living/dining/kitchen areas of the apartment because we have an American-style open floor plan in the apartment. What’s hiding under the counter and behind the drawers? Our clothes washing machine!

Practical and Pretty

It’s a great combo of practical and pretty.

 



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