Finally getting my last post up at the very last minute. I did the research weeks ago but as I seriously dislike blogging I just couldn’t bring myself to type it all up and then I lost my notes and had to start all over. Alas. Anyhow…tonight’s topic is pyrography. While it’s something I’ve been doing since I was eleven (although I generally refer to it as woodburning) I’d never really given any thought to it’s origins, history, or contemporary place in the art world—it was something fun to do that smelled good and looked nice when I was done. But Steve mentioned that the frame I had burned looked like Victorian pyrography and it’s been at the back of head to take a look and see what that was all about and this is as good of an excuse as any so here we go.
Right. First off is a definition for those new to the concept. It’s exactly what one would guess—writing with fire. Or drawing with heat. It can be done all sorts of surfaces: wood, leather, and some papers are my favorites. These days a nice, civilized, plugs-into-the-wall heating device is used like a pen to burn the desired design onto something.
Now into the history of it all. This article was the most informative and really quite interesting (although a lot of the links on the last page that I really wanted to follow seem to be outdated now). I especially liked that it included an example of a piece from before 700 A.D.. It would seem that people have been burning designs into things for rather a long time ( I kept coming across references to early Egyptian and African work, but nobody seemed to want to give me any details and actual examples....). I found a neat bit about Chinese pyrography dating back to the Han Dynasty (which I vaguely remember from an Asian Art History course as being a very long time ago indeed) here. But in terms of more recent Western art it stated out as something called pokerwork (which amuses me to no end)--so called because it was done by sticking the poker into the fire until it glowed and then using it to draw until it cooled down and had to be reheated to continue. A nice wee bit regarding that can be found here (this one was more detailed--speculating about the early use of heated needles for detail work, etc., but the site was kind of a pain to access--you have to take survey first...) The Victorian Era saw the invention of a benzine-fueled tool that made the process easier and the ladies magazines that popularized it. Factories sprung up to mass produce the stuff (w/ heated plates) and lots of neat things like this came into being.
Here are a couple of magazine/blog links I found on the topic (in terms of modern usage). They have forums and patterns and pretty pictures:
This guy put up a nice walk-you-through-the-basics site--I agree with most everything he had to say and as I don't have any step-by-step documentation we'll go with his....
Lastly, for anybody who wants to play too, here’s where I got my much-loved woodburner (although a soldering iron is a nice, cheap place to start….):