John's amazing kite art ready for take-off at West Downs Gallery

14 Aug 2023

John Browning, former chemist and inventor, turns kites into art and will be showcasing his amazing creations in new free exhibition at the University of Winchester’s West Downs Gallery.

John’s kites are all made from natural materials and as delicate and fanciful as they may seem, they all fly. Every finished kite undergoes a flight test; John makes ensures his art must be airworthy. And every design is unique.

Leaves and paper are the main materials for John’s kites. In this new exhibition there are kites made from Beech, Whitebeam, Holm Oak, Hornbeam and leaves from many other trees and shrubs.

John cooks green leaves in an alkali solution and then carefully arranges the wet leaves into the desired design.  The leaves are then pressed and dried using a vacuum bag. 

There was a lot of trial and error involved in perfecting the pressing process. At first, John used heavy books to press the leaves, then moved onto paving slabs and even tried parking the car on one batch before developing the idea of using atmospheric pressure.

The finished product is a delicate sheet of leaves which is then attached to a bamboo frame.

Finally, the string is attached. John grows his own. It’s spun from flax grown in his garden and the resulting Linen thread is incredibly strong.

Carrick by John Browning

John, from Alresford, made his first kite aged 25 whilst on holiday in Cornwall.

“It was an absolute disaster. It was blowing a gale so I thought (erroneously) it’d be a perfect day for flying a kite,” said John. “We made it out of plastic and some old bamboo poles and attached it to some fishing line with a 7lb breaking strain – it snapped almost immediately. After that I went home and made a proper one.”

John was inspired to use natural material after seeing the work of French artist Claude Léa Comallonga.

“Her kites gave me goose bumps,” said John. “She encouraged me to have a go and my life changed; immediately started making kites using only natural materials. At first, they looked very much like Claude’s but now they are quite distinct.”

John has taken part in exhibitions and demonstrations at home and abroad and gives talks to groups of all ages about the art of kite-making.

Some of John’s kites are inspired by Asian designs but most ideas are his own.

“Kites are deeply embedded in the cultures of Asian countries. It wasn’t until the 17th century that kites came to the West. Nevertheless, I think we all have an affinity with kites. If you put a kite string in someone’s hand, they smile.”

Chloe Battle, the University of Winchester’s Public Engagement Manager, said: “We are really excited to be able to show John’s beautiful kites which are incredibly elegant and sometimes rather ethereal creations. His process of making is fascinating, and his enthusiasm completely infectious.”

See John’s kites at the West Down Gallery from 18 August until 27 September. The exhibition is open from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday and from 8.30am to 4pm Saturdays. The gallery will be closed on Bank Holiday Monday, 28 August.

The exhibition is the University’s contribution to Hampshire Open Studios event (19-28 August) and John will be at the gallery in person to speak with visitors from 2-4pm on the weekends of 19-20 August and 26-27 August.

To see further flights of fancy visit

Pictured below: Holm Twist made with Holm Oak leaves

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