A 30-year-old artist from the mainland transforms simple falling leaves into works of art, and hopes that people see them as symbols of hope. Zheng Taijun, from Guangdong province, 'sculpts' pictures of people and scenes on to leaves. 'Falling leaves often signify the ending of life or some sad parting, but I want to recreate it into something hopeful and full of passion - they can also be the beginning of something new,' said Zheng. The idea of sculpting on leaves came to Zheng when he was at a low point in life. Long aspiring to be an artist, Zheng almost gave up in 1999 when he discovered that his artwork - paintings on rocks - had been destroyed on a journey to the tourist spot in Guangdong where he hoped to sell them. 'I didn't even have enough money to cover the ride back [home],' Zheng said. He ended up sitting alone in front of a monastery as evening approached, staring at the autumn leaves falling to the ground and thinking that his dreams were broken, when a monk approached him. Zheng said the monk started laughing when Zheng told him he felt his life had no more meaning - just like the falling leaves of autumn. 'Then the monk picked up a leaf and said to me, 'It all depends on how you look at it'. I ended up staying the night at the monastery to talk to the monk,' said Zheng. Zheng decided to 'stand up where he fell down' and started to recreate his inspiration - leaves - into something to represent his struggle and the ultimate victory of hope. Zheng spent the next few years perfecting his skills and travelling the country for inspiration. In 2004 he applied for an invention patent from the State Intellectual Property Office, which he was awarded last year. In his technique leaves are kept moist and soaked slightly in water. Zheng makes a simple outline of the leaf. Then comes the most difficult part - using sculpting knives like a scratchboard artist, Zheng gently scrapes away enough of the 'flesh' of the leaf to leave behind an image. Each leaf may take up to seven days to make, and Zheng says he often breaks a few for every successfully completed work. 'The veins are very delicate, so I have to be exceptionally careful in the scraping process,' said Zheng. For the exhibition that opened in the Tai Po Mega Mall yesterday, Zheng was commissioned to create likenesses of 12 'famous Chinese politicians and officials' by the organisers, including two from Hong Kong - Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and outgoing Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen.