The term "pyrography" literally means "writing with fire". Dating back to ancient Egypt and Africa, artists used tools heated in a fire to burn into wood, leather and other natural materials. Pyrography is typically associated with folk art across Europe as well as nature crafts in the United States. I have adopted this ancient and often overlooked art form to create something new and unique. The final pieces are as much about the way they look as they are about the time put into making them. This is a painstaking but meditative process and requires patience and a steady hand. A love of flowing lines, texture and fine details is what this is all about.
I first began experimenting with pyrography as a way to break free of all that I’d been taught about art and what I was comfortable with. The idea that I needed to work with paint because I was trained as a painter became more of a constraint than an opening and I decided that I needed to expand my horizons! I have long been a fan of process oriented work. Things that take time and patience both to master and to produce.
Wood burning begins with choosing a piece of wood to work with that is soft and has a smooth soft grain. I choose to work almost entirely with Birch because it has a beautiful texture, burns smooth and isn’t soft enough to easily dent. The wood must next be sanded with increasingly fine sandpaper to eliminate any uneven areas and create a surface as smooth as silk. This is especially important for what I do because one fine line can skip and become uneven if my tools encounter a rough area, ruining a piece in a moment. After sanding I identify the direction of the grain in the wood and try to work with it rather than against it. This creates smoother lines and more fluid curves. Working with the grain also influences my designs! I think of the designs as already existing within the wood and my tools bringing these out and to life. I sketch each design with pencil directly onto the wood, taking time to create something that flows and has peaceful movement. Depending on the size of the piece I will draw and burn one section at a time so that I can see the development and know how to proceed. I tend to clear my mind when working on the overall design and see where my hands want to go. I rarely erase a pencil mark but when I do it is because I was overthinking an area or trying to make something happen that doesn’t want to happen. The most amazing part of this process is opening up and quieting my mind to let the lines flow effortlessly.
When my design is drawn onto the wood I then choose the appropriate pen attachment
for my burner and begin. This is a magical and extremely slow process. There is no way to rush a line or a shadow.
After the final design is burned and shaded, I use a small blowtorch to finish off the edge of the piece. This is done for two reasons. One is because the contrast of the controlled lines and the uncontrollable flame of the torch is a beautiful reminder of the process by which this was made. The other is to create a depth that makes the piece pop no matter what surface it is against.
The final step in this process is varnishing. This creates a smooth seal over the wood to resist dust and oil. It also adds a warmth to the wood and brings out each line.
Small pieces can take around eight hours to create but my largest work to date took one hundred and eighty hours of work to produce. I feel that each piece is infused with the music I was listening to, the mood of the day, the weather outside and all sorts of other intimate and personal things. My work is extremely personal and each piece is not only one of a kind but impossible to reproduce, which is so exciting! There will never be another like the one you have.