The ‘Rake Mob’ Is Turning Autumn Leaves into the Most Soothing Art You’ve Ever Seen
This designer is creating stunning spirals made from fallen leaves across Vancouver’s public parks.
Nik Rust, designer and principal of Vancouver-based Propeller Studio, has been taking on a new kind of seasonal side project under the name “Rake Mob,” in which he creates stunning leaf-mounded spirals of autumnal bliss across the city’s public parks and open spaces.
Officially starting this deciduous design project in the fall of 2020, Nik had the idea bouncing around in his head for well over a decade. “It took the disruptions of COVID-19 and the extra bandwidth that this change of pace provided for me to get out and actually try it,” Nik tells us. “I was also inspired by the way our parks were suddenly so animated, how they became a kind of alternate living room for people, who by necessity were taking so much of their social lives outside.”
You don’t have to be an avid leaf-peeper to appreciate the hypnotic beauty of these naturescapes—photos on Instagram are giving people around the world all the fall feels and a sudden desire to break out their rakes, along with a deep appreciation to honor the changing season. Here we explore some of his current installations while learning about the inspiration and process behind the project.
Picking the Perfect Park
When choosing the best leafy location, Nik’s main focus is to “create a moment of surprise, and for me personally it’s both a kind of meditation and a way to interact with the ephemeral beauty of the fall.” He tells us that the best spots are a combination of interesting settings paired with a charismatic tree, and ideally a slope or other way to view the design from a higher angle, like from a bridge or buildings. He creates mostly along the Seawall, a pathway that knits together over 17 miles of Vancouver’s urban waterfront, including dozens of parks. Secondly, he tells us the process is “all about the color of the leaves and their contrast with the ground.” Tons of variability from year to year as far as when and how the trees change, plus weather factors like wind dictate if a certain spot is going to work that season.
Armed with just a common rake, Nik works in concentric circles from the base of each tree outwards. “I’ve never really strayed from this basic approach because I’m not particularly interested in creating something too self-consciously designed; the concentric circles feel the most natural and can reference forms like ripples on water or gravel designs in a Zen garden. By taking most of the decision-making out of it, I can also just get into a groove and enjoy the process,” he says.
While wrangling fallen leaves in autumn is a departure from Propellor Studio’s design practice, the Rake Mob project playfully combines two themes that run through their professional work. The first is drawing direct inspiration from the forms and systems in the natural world, and the other is engagement with the city, in this case with Vancouver’s beloved public spaces.
Nik had no idea what to expect when he first started the project, but the feedback has been incredibly positive. He typically starts working at first light, since he prefers people to discover the designs without knowing how or when they appeared. However, he was recently approached by a caregiver from a neighboring apartment which overlooks one of his favorite spots, who told him how much pleasure the person in their care took with the brief transformation of their daily view. “These warm human connections were totally unanticipated and have added such a positive dimension to the project,” Nik says. “I never really planned to do more than one design, but somehow, here I am four years later still out at dawn raking in circles.”