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The Art of Woodburning

By Debbie Nowicki

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As we grow older we often look back at times in our past and certain memories always surface – we can sit for hours and dwell on those fond memories and smile. Growing up as a young girl I was fascinated with my Uncle Terry and all his cool tools; the microscope set, the chess set and the amazing woodburning tool! To this day I can hold my own in a good game of chess and those squiggly objects under the microscope lens remind me of all the amazing bugs in the garden and the wonders of life in their tiny atmosphere.

The woodburning tool was one of those fascinating mysteries to me that was dangerous, and yet the creative possibilities seemed endless. Only the brave and daring would plug the hot burning tool in and create images like a true artist. I could only dream of the magnificent images I could create and hope … to draw with fire one day.

Pyrography is the official term when referring to woodburning. The natural beauty that can be created is remarkable. The heated one-temperature unit is inexpensive and a great way to start experimenting with the art.

Woodburned pansy on a gourd 

Common surfaces used to burn designs or patterns onto are wood, gourds and leather. My interest became peaked when I decided to grow gourds in my garden and now I am not only fascinated with gourds but woodburning as well. Although the growing season had passed and I was unable to grow my own gourds, I was able to purchase some at the local fall festivals. They do require a drying out time and I created a work of art as a Christmas gift for my Mom.

Wood burned pansy gourd vase 

She also received a woodburning tool and a book on the subject since she expressed her fascination with the art. I was shocked at how beautiful the vase turned out and so was everyone else! I am hooked now; I just have to wait to grow the gourds this upcoming season! Although you can purchase dried, clean gourds from several places on-line.

Seed or recipe box with wood burned design

My next project was a vegetable design on a seed box  and with this and the previous vase I learned to work with colors. I outlined the design and woodburned, then used oil pastels which are similar to crayons and blended several colors trying to create shades. Then I realized as I read more about woodburning that a lot of a design is created with tones and shades using the tool itself. I gave it a try and created this sunflower plaque and as you can see the background was darkened by burning the wood with the tool.

wood burned flower plaque 

Various techniques can be used to layer a lighter or darker area.

Closeup of wood burned background

Using different tones, techniques and texture is the basis for creating artwork that is natural and very lifelike in appearance. I decided to purchase a variable temperature woodburning unit which is a larger investment but worthwhile if you plan to learn an amazing art form.

Woodburning projects and wood burner

While I await the arrival of all those gourds I plan to grow, I will be working on a special project for our home down South. We have a huge picture window overlooking the lake and I can’t see it covered with curtains; I need to look at the beauty of the view. I plan to create a wooden valance across the top (and maybe the sides) with woodburning designs etched all along.

The head of a gourd bird made with wood burning

Bird made from a gourd with wood burning.

Thank you Uncle Terry for opening my eyes to the fascinating world of woodburning all those years ago!

2/10/2009 4:41:57 PM

Thank you ALL very much! Cindy, I have sat around many a campfire and never thought of woodburning like that. I bet the next fire, I give it a try! Lori ... by all means, do blog! I would absolutely love to see your dad's work and I am sure other readers would also. Sounds like he is a pro and the patience this takes for all the detail .. holy moly! I am excited to get my valance work going. Uncle Terry next time you are in town we have to do a game of chess; I bought Stan a really cool set! As always, thank you Hank :-)

2/10/2009 1:47:15 PM

Debbie, your work is really lovely! I am no stranger to woodburning. Not because I can do anything with it, but my dad has become quite the craftsman when it comes to this art form. This is how he now makes his living. He makes various furniture, birdhouses, bird feeders, and many other items and woodburns almost anything you can think of on them. He has been doing a lot of custom work lately. People will bring him photos and ask him to burn an image of the photo on a trunk, rocking chair, or maybe just a wall hanging. I wish I could post pictures here so you could see his work. It might give you ideas of some other things you could try too. Would you mind if I did a blog showing you some of his work? I don't want you to feel I'm copying you. I love the idea of using birdhouse gourds to woodburn on. I planted them last year, and I have oodles of them in the basement just waiting for something to be done with them. Maybe I will give my dad a few of those to get creative with!

cindy murphy
2/10/2009 7:09:54 AM

Wow, Debbie! You certainly are the crafty one! Beautiful pieces; I love the vegie-covered seed box. I have some memories from my youth of woodburning too. It was something I learned in sixth grade, when the whole grade went to camp for a week. My woodburning experience was in its more primitive form then, and was limited to placing the end of a straightened clothes hanger into the coals of the campfire, then using the glowing wire to burn designs into discs of logs. Later, we did the same thing on family camping trips on pieces of drift-wood we collected from the beach. I bet my Mom still has some of those works of "art" packed away in a box somewhere; she kept nearly everything we made when we were kids. You've got to take pictures of your valance when it's completed. I can't wait to see it!

uncle terry
2/9/2009 5:43:04 PM

Wow! thanks Debbie I always thought you girls fotgot about are time together, that means so much to me. I'm no artist but I can still play you a game of chess. Love You Uncle Terry

hank will_2
2/9/2009 2:51:36 PM

That is really cool (hot?), Deb. I love what you did with the gourds especially. Some of that work reminds me of the process of tooling leather. Thanks for sharing yet another of your talents. Hank