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Ever since we started painting on the walls of caves, the need to express our experiences, desires, and ideas has increased exponentially. We have come a long way since depicting the best way to hunt a woolly mammoth though, in fact, eras like the renaissance have shown that there are no limits to the lengths we’ll go to or mediums we’ll use to make beautiful artwork. One medium that is often overlooked is pyrography, so let’s have a look at what exactly pyrography is, what makes it unique, and what some of the most notable artists behind this often-underrated medium are.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Pyrography?
- 2 Are There Any Famous Pyrographers?
- 3 What Do You Need to Get Started in Pyrography?
- 4 A Guide to Pyrography for Beginners
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Pyrography?
At its core, pyrography is a wood-burning art. It involves the burning and/or scoring of material to create patterns or forms on a given workpiece. Pyrography can be used on a number of different materials including wood, metals, leather, felt, and if you don’t mind the fumes, even plastic surfaces. Like painting and sketching, pyrography is a free-hand art form that involves using a poker, pins, metal rods, brands, or even open flames to emboss a material. This in combination with varying amounts so pressure and temperatures allow the artist to get a shocking variety of tones and textures for the artwork.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, perfecting this technique (or even reaching a level where you aren’t setting random things on fire) takes quite a bit of practice and experimentation, and where this might be true for other disciplines like portrait painting or sketching, it’s marginally more challenging with a wood-burning art like pyrography. While pyrography as an art form has been around for countless years in the form of tribes practicing things like ash drawings and scarification, the official art of pyrography was only fully recognized around the 17th century and continued to grow in popularity and complexity until the end of the 1800s
How Far Does the Practice of Pyrography Date Back?
While historians have tried their best to pinpoint exactly when the first man discovered the use of wood-burning as an art form, it seems like the further we dig into the history of pyrography art the further back it seems to stem. The art of wood-burning can’t even be tied down to a specific geographical location, examples have been found all over the African continent from Egypt to the African coast and even as far away as feudal China. If we jump ahead to the Victorian-era pyrography was mass-produced through the advent of the Industrial Revolution and became one of the most popular means of affordable (yet tasteful) decoration for loads of people.
As years went on and the proficiency of working with wood and heat developed, it was discovered that paint could be added to scorched wood to increase the range of colors and shades which could be achieved using this medium.
Then, with the advent of readily available electricity, it was discovered that we no longer needed coal ovens or open flames in order to get our pokers and/or pins hot enough to score or burn our workpieces. We now had the option of simply heating up metal using electricity, which was far more efficient and meant that metals lasted longer than they would when compared to using conventional heating mechanisms. In the modern-day, the art of wood-burning is still practiced as a form of traditional art in loads of European countries and is passed down from generation to generation to preserve not only their culture but create a sense of continuity in individual communities between generations.
If you’re wondering what type of wood is ideal for practicing the art of wood burning, the simple answer is softwoods. This makes sense considering that these woods tend to burn up easier compared to traditional hardwood. Some wood species that fall into this category are pine, maple, and oak, which are all readily available and relatively cheap if you’re considering trying your hand at the art of wood-burning.
Is There a Difference Between Wood Burning and Pyrography?
Sometimes it can be challenging for us to distinguish between things, but understanding the difference between two objects or concepts helps us differentiate and therefore deepen our understanding of things like niche art forms. This is best illustrated in the difference between pyrography and wood burning, as you’ll learn in a moment. Pyrography could be thought of as more of a broad-based artform, which is characterized as scoring or burning characters, impressions, or forms into any material, typically with the use of a poker, pin, or similar instrument.
Pyrography can be done on loads of surfaces like leather, plastic, nuts, tree bark, and even rare materials like ivory.
Wood burning on the other hand is more of a specialized version of pyrography, and although the core concept remains the same, wood burning is done exclusively on woods and bark as the name would suggest. Those who practice wood-burning typically use specific types of wood to get the best results, mostly due to their malleability and natural ability to preserve designs. Common wood types used for wood-burning art are birchwood, oak wood, and ash wood.
Although this distinction might be small, it’s important to know the difference between these art forms, as people devote quite a bit of time and energy into perfecting these art forms, and the last thing you’d want is to accidentally offend someone. If you’d like to know a bit more about pyrography and those who have brought the art form into the forefront of the art world, we’ll have a look at a few well-known pyrographers next.
Are There Any Famous Pyrographers?
While most of the world might see pyrography as a sort of hobby, there are artists that have taken the practice of pyrography to impressive heights. This being said, let’s have a look at some of the most well-known and talented pyrography artists out there and how they’ve managed to make their mark on the world.
Dumitru Muradian (1953 – Present)
Every genre and art form has its protégé, and in the art of pyrography, one of the most notable names is undoubtedly Dumitru Muradian. This gentleman is a Romanian national who currently resides in the US and is the big name in high-end pyrography pieces. His claim to fame is a piece commissioned by the Romanian Orthodox church, detailing a depiction of one of the most famous scenes in Christian history known as the last supper.
The better-known variation of this painting was completed in the year 1498 by another world-renowned artist Leonardo Davinci.
Like Davinci, Muradian was mainly interested in the natural world and religious scenes, which is perfectly illustrated in his huge catalog of pyrography works featuring things like landscapes, animals, portrait work, flowers, famous actors, and musicians, and still life illustrations. This is especially interesting to note this artist’s evolution and growth over the course of his life and how certain techniques have been developed and implemented to suit various applications.
Robert McGehee (1978 – Present)
While Muradian is very much a purist in his pursuit of perfecting his pyrography artwork, pyrography artist Robert McGehee is a jack of all trades by comparison. This artist has dabbled in a number of disciplines including but not limited to photography, beadwork, sketch work, painting, and pyrography of course. While you might think that a jack of all trades wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to a specialist, McGehee’s work is widely respected not only in pyrography circles but by professionals and newcomers to the art form in general.
While other artists have pursued conventional depictions by adapting painted works and scenery into pyrography works, McGehee seems to have used the medium as an opportunity to alter the fundamental nature of his approach.
What do his words depict? Well, McGehee is an American artist who has been heavily influenced by Native American and African cultures, and by extension their artworks. While other pyrographers typically create basic forms and scenery, McGehee’s work is far more detailed in comparison, featuring perfectly symmetrical depictions of people and places, not to mention intricate geometric forms.
Ken Li (1958 – Present)
For most artists, art is a reflection of their environment and their state of mind at the time their work is created. This comes as no surprise considering that everything from sound, smell, color, taste, hunger, paint, and even sleepiness can affect the way that we feel as people and even our general perception of the world around us. What happens when this sensory is turned way beyond typical levels though?
As human beings, it can be difficult to adapt to change, and we often need an outlet for it. Ken Li lived through the Chinese cultural revolution, and the changes in the social, cultural, and political environment influenced the subject of his artwork.
Li’s pyrography served as an outlet and framing mechanism for the events unfolding in front of him and is ultimately what put him on the map as a pyrographer. The subject matter of his work had a lot to do with the socio-cultural changes in China at the time, as well as the impressive diversity of ethnicities, present there at the time. Some of his most famous works are a series of depictions of women in traditional garb from a variety of ethnic groups, a subject that very few artists were willing to engage with at the time due to social ramifications.
What Do You Need to Get Started in Pyrography?
If all of this talk of wood-burning has you excited to get your hands dirty with the art form, there are a few things you can get your hands on in order to get started in the art form. One of the things you can get to get started pretty much immediately is a pyrography kit. A Pyrography kit typically has everything that you need to create basic pyrography etchings, so let’s have a look at what a good pyrography kit looks like, what it contains, and what constitutes a “good” pyrography kit.
Best Pyrography Kit Overall: PETUOL Wood Burning Kit
As with most crafts on the market, starting from scratch means that you’re going to need to get your hands on a few things to get you going. This being said, there are lots of things that you need to get started in pyrography, and going about getting them individually can be more than a bit stressful considering that these tools are made specifically for this application. A great way to get around this is by getting your hands on a pyrography starter kit, and then supplementing your tolls individually to suit your individual needs afterward. One of the best kits out there at the moment would have to be the wood-burning kit from the Petuol team. They offer a wide range of piercing tools and stencils to get you started on your pyrography journey and at a really great price too.
What does this kit offer? Well, as we mentioned previously, in the old days you would have to heat your scoring tool up via an open flame or oven to get started. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then, and the Petuol wood burning kit offers an electronically heated pyrography pen that ensures consistent heat throughout the engraving process.
In addition to the pen, the kit provides you with 110 pieces of the finest quality pyrography instruments including 52 wood burning tips, five soldering tips, a dozen molds, coloring pencils, ten pieces of carbon paper, some wood chips, a pen holder, and two hot knife chucks. What makes this wood burning kit unique is that the pyrography pen itself comes with an adjustable heat setting which is great for working with different wood types.
Besides the adjustable heat level, these wood-burning tips are completely interchangeable and will heat up to working temperature within 15 seconds or so, which is great if you’re working on a time-sensitive project. It’s also really easy to use, featuring an ergonomic design that also happens to be lightweight, ensuring that your wrists and hands don’t tire easily while you’re working. This makes Petuol’s wood-burning kit one of the best on the market for beginners and more experienced users. Besides its superior usability, the wood-burning tips included in the kit allow you to do everything from embossing to carving and soldering a wide variety of surfaces straight out of the box. Whether you’re looking to get some serious wood-burning done or simply want to take up pyrography as a hobby, you can’t do much better than this starter kit.
A Guide to Pyrography for Beginners
Even having the right wood-burning pen won’t do you any good if you don’t know what you’re doing. Having a good wood-burning pen does help though, but we’re going to give a short breakdown of how to go about wood burning correctly, whether it’s your first time or not.
This being said, let’s have a look at a few things you’ll need and a few basic steps that will ensure that you get the most out of your first-time wood burning. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A pyrography pen
- A clean cloth
- Sanding paper or power sander
- Graphite paper
- Wood burning tips
Prepare Your Workspace and Tools
When working with pyrography it’s important to remember that you’re working with a lot of heat, for this reason, you should ensure that your workspace is free of any flammable substances and that it is well ventilated, at least while you’re working with the wood-burning tool itself. Once your workspace has been prepared it’s time to ensure that you have all of the right tools for the job. This includes your stencils, your wood burner tool, your workpiece, a pair of gloves, and some cloths to clean up any stray wood particles that might be laying around.
In addition to the burning tools, you will need some sanding paper, some tape, graphite paper, and at least a printed design of what you’ll be putting on your workpiece.
Prepare Your Workpiece
Preparing your wood probably has the biggest impact on your end result. This being said, you should go about preparing your workpiece to the absolute best of your ability to ensure that when you get to actually implanting your design things go off without a hitch. How do you prepare your workpiece for wood burning you ask?
Preparing your workpiece for wood burning primarily involves sanding it down as smooth as possible, but before you get into that you should ensure that your workpiece is as clean as possible too. You can clean your wooden workpiece by simply applying some soap and water to remove any dust or grime on the workpiece, and then waiting for it to dry completely before moving on to the next step in the process.
Once your workpiece has been cleaned and dried, it’s time for you to get to sanding. When sanding wood for wood burning, you’re going to want to get it really smooth, the trick is to start off with medium-grit sandpaper and then progressively increase the grit all the way up to 180 to get the best results. Once you’re happy with the smoothness of your workpiece, ensure that you’ve removed any stray wood particles using a clean cloth before moving to the next step in the process.
If you have some money to spend and don’t want to spend your valuable time sanding down your workpiece, you could always purchase some prepared wood either online or from your local store. This does save you some time, but they might not have the type of wood you’re looking to use for your project.
Prepare Your Design
There are tons of wood-burning ideas out there, and some of the best ones are not only readily available but are often free! Choosing your design can be really tough since there are so many options available, so make sure you take your time. If this is your first-time wood burning, we recommend using a design that has as few details as possible, this should make the learning curve a bit less steep and make the process much more fun.
If you’re really good at doing things by hand you can skip choosing a design and use some of your own wood-burning ideas to get started. Either way, you’ll use some graphite paper to transfer your design onto your workpiece. Remember that this doesn’t have to be 100% perfect. It only serves as a guide for your hands and eyes, the final design will be up to you and how closely you want to follow the stencil you’ve implemented. If your design is big, use some tape to adhere the graphite paper to your workpiece while you transfer it.
Burn Your Design into the Workpiece
Now that you have prepared your workpiece and have transferred your design onto it, it’s time to get to the moment you’ve been waiting for. Wood burning has a lot to do with your attention to detail as well as pressure. It’s actually a lot like etching and requires a similar level of control to execute correctly. It also really depends on the type of wood that you’re using as a workpiece. Certain types of wood are far easier to burn compared to others, this is due to the softness and the density of the wood’s grain. If a wood has a denser grain, you will likely have to use a higher temperature to even make an indent in the wood.
This being said, be sure to research the type of wood you’re using, and which temperatures are most effective before you get started.
If you have never used a wood-burning tool before it’s best to make all of your mistakes right out of the gate on a spare piece of wood before moving on to your actual workpiece. This will allow you to get a feel for your wrist movement and the pressure needed to score the wood effectively. Once you get the hang of things, secure your workpiece with a clamp or vice before you start burning. Now that you have the hang of things it’s time for you to get going on your workpiece. The first step here is to use your pyrography pen to create an outline of the form you transferred onto your workpiece. Don’t worry about any of the smaller details, simply focus on getting the general outline of your workpiece down so that you have a good starting point.
You might notice that the longer that you leave the pen on a certain spot the darker and deeper the indent becomes. Find the sweet spot with a combination of pressure and movement, just ensure that you don’t move too quickly and focus on your technique and attention to detail as much as you possibly can, this being your first time around. Once you have your outline traced out, it’s time for you to get started on the inner details of the design. Remember that you have a variety of tools and tips at your disposal when finishing off the finer details, these will allow you to burn at cool angles and create even more patterns in and around your design. Try not to focus too much on shading as this might result in gouging, shading is an advanced skill that needs to be cultivated over time. Once you’re happy with the job you’ve done simply give your workpiece a one over with a clean cloth, and don’t forget to turn off the heat on your pyrography pen.
Now that you know what pyrography is, where it comes from, who some noticeable artists in the medium are, what you’ll need to get started with wood burning, and how to get the most out of your first-time wood burning, it’s time for you to get out there and put some of your newfound skills to the test. Remember to always work in a well-ventilated area and to wear gloves when working with pyrography pens, as well as to always turn them off once you’re done working with them.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Difficult Is Pyrography?
While it might be a fairly obscure art form, pyrography is still just that, an art form. Because of this, the concept of challenging and easy doesn’t really apply, as your proficiency will improve the more you practice. The learning curve isn’t quite as steep as some would have you believe though.
What Is the Difference Between Wood Burning and Pyrography?
When it comes down to it, wood-burning and pyrography are essentially the same things. There is an important distinction between the two though, while pyrography covers a wide range of surfaces being modified by means of directed heat, wood-burning refers specifically to the practice of scoring and burning wood.
Do You Have to Be Able to Draw to Do Pyrography?
Technically speaking, one has never needed to be able to draw to practice pyrography as an art. Although the medium has become more intricate over time, pyrography has always primarily been about basic forms to communicate its message. Additionally, you don’t have to be good at drawing because there are a wide range of resources and stencils available for you to choose from.