With the New Year comes an opportunity for new beginnings, new ideas – and for many of us, the resolution (Ah – we did try not to mention the R word…) to devote more time to the things we love. For this reason, we at Bailey Contemporary Arts have designed a new series of workshops, art class and “one to ones’ throughout the year, in Bright0n, designed to help you to learn a new craft or hone your existing skills.
As well as Peter Spence’s ever popular painting workshops, Frederique Bailey will be offering practical workshops on the art of pyrography. The pieces above were commissions for wedding and birthday gifts, but Frederique Bailey also creates ready made objects that can be bought from the gallery in Brighton. Her workshops, starting on 3rd February with a free taster session on Saturday 27 January – apply here – are designed for novices from all horizons. Whether you have never attempted anything creative or are an artist in another craft/medium, it will be perfect for you.
Frederique, who used a soldering iron for her silversmithing work, started using it on wood as a diversion, but many years later, she has perfected her own technique and arsenal of specialist tools. During the workshops, you will have a choice of using a professional pyrographing tool or experimenting with soldering irons and simple metal pokers.
This wood scorching technique, also called ‘pyrograving’ was originally known as ‘pokerwork’ throughout much of the globe and ‘fire needle embroidery’ in Ancient China. The term ‘pyrography’ was only coined during Victorian times and comes from the greek words pyro; fire and graphos; writing, perfectly describing the action where a material is burnt to produce tone and colour.
Painting with fire likely began with early man using ash from the fire to draw on the walls of caves and bark of trees. This method could produce images that would last a while, but sadly not long enough for modern humans to discover them. Despite its truly ancient heritage, the earliest example we have of pyrography is a decorative cup from Peru, adorned with flowers and hummingbirds. This Mate cup (pronounced Mah-tay) dates back to between 0 – 700 AD. The Nazca culture that created this cup pre-dated the Incas.
As the art of pyrography became more intricate, so too did the tools. In the 17th century specialised irons became more widely available. These kits consisted of a forge and a lid with several holes in it, allowing for multiple pokers to be kept hot at the same time. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution of the 20th century that the electric soldering tool that we know today was created and began to be used for pyrographing. This invention created a surge in popularity for the art.
By far the largest sector of the pyrography produced during the 20th century was made by women in the home. It was branded as the perfect past time for long winter evenings and was encouraged as an easy and affordable way of decorating the home.
Nowadays pyrography has become a varied creative field. Most contemporary artists favour light hard woods, for their tighter grain and the ability to produce a wider tonal range. However there are increasingly unusual mediums for pyrography now, including silk, rice paper, velvet, gourds and even mushrooms! An example of gourdpyrography can be seen in this image entitled ‘Sitting Bull’ by Dominic Anagarano. Strangely this practice isn’t such a modern concept, in fact many early pokework pieces were completed using gourds as a base.
Mushrooms however, are a very modern concept. Possibly the only artist to try this incredibly fiddly and delicate technique is Marie Heerkens, whose work picturing a chipmunk can be seen on the left.
At the gallery in Brighton, we tend to use bamboo wood, which is not only sustainable and hygienic when used for, say, chopping boards, but also quite forgiving for the novice pyrographer. We also use recycled wood and off cuts, but one has to be prudent as wood treatments can be toxic when burnt.
Thus ends our whistlestop tour of the last 2000 years of pyrography. If you’ve been inspired then why not join us for a class to learn the basics, or a one to one for some tuition tailored to you. Feeling inspired but not in the least bit creative enough? We do gift vouchers too, you could treat someone to the gift of learning to make art with fire – and really, what’s cooler than that? Contact us and/or watch this space, as you will be able to book any of our painting and pyrographing workshops or one-to-ones directly and easily from our website, from the second week of January.