Pyrography: Fine Art

by Kathleen Menendez

Woodcarver Ezine
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Editor's note: I believe this article will be of great interest to all carvers who use pyrography to enhance and render their work. The skills represented by this artist are remarkable, and extend all previous limits for pyrography and radically change our perceptions of the way pyrography can be used to enhance all forms of carving.

What better way to debut the premier article on pyrography for the premier issue of the premier woodcarvers e-zine in the world than an interview with The World's Premier Pyrographer

Imaginary Jam Session. Jimi Hendrix & Paul Allen
Pyrograph by Dumitru Muradian

Dumitru Muradian

Dumitru Muradian was born in Romania the same year Chip Chats magazine was "born" in the U.S.of A.--1953. He became a commercial pilot in 1977 and also did crop dusting. Dino, as he is known to his friends, is twice famous. His daring escape from Romania during the Ceausescu regime made headlines then. His present fame, however, is in art circles, among celebrities and aficionados of the guitar (that's e-guitar, of course), and among pyrographers and others who love this beautiful, versatile art form called pyrography or simply woodburning.

And if anyone had any doubts when considering pyrography as a medium worthy of the fine arts, Dumitru Muradian's pyrographic paintings will most certainly dispel them once and for all. Despite the inherent limitations of the illustrations for this article, which are only computer scans of photographs of the originals, you will still be able to observe and appreciate the beauty of Dino Muradian's work. You will notice how exquisitely he captures and conveys every aspect of his subject, whether it be facial features, hair that not only looks like hair, but looks as though it would feel silky if you could touch it, and clothes that are distinct even to the type of cloth. You will see how he masters depth and dimension, texture and expression in an impressive variety of subjects.

Dino has been doing woodburning since 1965, but during his years in Romania, it was always just a hobby for him. He worked his pyrographic projects then in much the same way most people there and in the U.S. and elsewhere do still. His tool then was a Romanian version of the most familiar American ones. He left Romania in August 1983, and, after spending five months in a refugee camp in Austria, he reached his life-long dream: to live as a free man in the U.S.A. Living in the U.S., he started spending more time with his hobby to explore a new technique he was imagining.

Dino Muradian's Technique and Tool

Dino felt for some time that he could take pyrography beyond the known limits. By 1984, he was doing portraits, and his experimentation had taken him far enough for him to realize that this new technique he was attempting would require a different sort of tool. Since he wanted a remarkable new look, he was going to need his own unique tool, and he set about devising one. Dino ended up with his modified version of a simple 40-watt soldering iron, which he could hold in different positions to get different shades; in addition, for certain small lines or details, he used two simple woodburning tools in conjunction with the modified soldering iron to achieve the effects he sought. With these humble tools (and the skill of a master), Dumitru Muradian made pyrographic history.

His innovative technique requires burning the wood with shading rather than lines-at a very high temperature, so the shading is quite deeply imbedded in the wood. At the same time, he works with such precision and such control that the wood does not become imprinted, lined, textured, or grooved-it becomes as smooth as glass. It is almost as if there were a pyrocarving underneath the surface, much like a Chinese woodcarved coffee table with a glass over the top. In reality, though, the pyrograph is one with the wood and becomes the finished, shiny surface.

Pyrograph by Dumitru Muradian.

There is another aspect to Dino Muradian's extraordinary technique and mastery that I found exceedingly curious: His work not only interprets the subject but also reflects the medium from which he is working.

Think about that. If he is doing a pyrograph portrait from an oil painting, his pyrograph somehow looks not only like the person, but also like a sepia oil painting of that person.

If he is working from a photograph (he prefers this, as he prefers doing his own photographic composition), the pyrograph gives the illusion of a sepia photograph. If he is looking at a lithograph, then he gets a lithograph pyrograph. And a pencil sketch results in a pyrograph that looks like a pencil sketch. And all in sepia tones created only from the burning, with no color added.

Woods of Preference

Dino has worked on many kinds of wood. Like most pyrographers, his preference is for woods that are very white, but unlike most, he prefers to work his pyrographs on very hard woods. He used to work mostly on white pine. When I asked about a possible problem working with a wood with so much grain, he was undaunted. He felt the grain added to the pyrograph. Sometimes he needs to work on mahogany, but definitely does not prefer it. When he needs a large panel, he usually goes to a plywood with a good white veneer. His wood of preference at present is very light Eastern maple.

Finishing the Art Work

I asked Dino about priming the wood and finishing the pyrograph, as I know those are FAQs among woodcarvers and pyrographers. He does not prime the wood, but works directly on the clean, sanded surface. He says that a piece looks totally shiny and finished when he completes his pyrograph, but usually his pieces are finished with some lacquer to protect them and preserve them.

Portrait of Beatrice
Pyrograph by Dumitru Muradian.

Pyrography Career

In 1990, when an art gallery on the island of Kauai, Hawaii (where Dino was then living) sold two of his pieces, Dino thought he had finally found the way to make a living out of his hobby. (Does that thought bring any empathetic sighs?) He soon learned, however, that innovative art is never that easy. As he himself says, "Success requires an amazing amount of footwork."

Of course, as artists, we know that a successful piece of art is so because of its inherent value, but success for the artist who created what he knows is a successful artwork is measured in many ways. Popular acceptance and expert recognition are two measures to consider. The latter seems to be the greater obstacle for Dino.

Seated Nude (after oil on canvas by French artist Adolphe William Bouguereau, 1884).
Pyrograph by Dumitru Muradian

The Road to Recognition.

For pyrographers there is no question whether pyrography is an art form; nor is there any question whether wood is a worthy medium for an art form. Yet to the rest of the world, pyrography remains rather obscure. Most everyone knows of its existence, but hardly anyone pays much attention. Because it is so versatile, it has often been used in conjunction with other media, and, even then, it is scarcely given more recognition than to mention the word in passing. For us pyrographers, this perception is difficult to understand. We certainly feel that pyrography deserves more acceptance for itself because it is rich in potential and beautiful in its depth, and that the merit of the individual artwork should be determined by the hand of the artist.

Dino Muradian's work is so striking that popular acceptance is not really an issue. When people first see his work in the original, their mouths drop in wonder. His first obstacle has been the scepticism of gallery owners who first gape in amazement and then begin to doubt what they are seeing. They begin to think it is some sort of laser transfer or trick reproduction. If doubts can be allayed, the next hurdle is where to put it and how to define it. Experts don't like assessing the value or worthiness of something that is innovative and, therefore, undefined. For Dino, it has been an unending source of frustration to realize that, when "experts" in art galleries see his pyrograph original, as he says, "they cannot tell me technically if it's good; I can read in their eyes the scepticism."

Even so, Dino was selling his work, which got him recognition in Fine Woodworking (Aug. '93, Issue 101, p.102) with an article by Vincent Laurence who admired his work, and later in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (April 20, '95, "Lifestyle" section, front page) thanks to the columnist Jon Hahn, who saw a portrait by Dino and looked him up for an interview.

Still another market opened up to Dino where he resides now in Washington state--a market related to his own love of blues music. For a few years now, he has also been doing custom pyrographs on the wood body of electric guitars. Besides private works on commission, he has done guitars for Fender, Gibson, Jackson, and ESP-USA Guitars.

His work went international when ESP-USA Guitars displayed one of his guitars at their exhibit in Frankfurt, Germany. His guitar obviously made an impression there in Frankfurt, because before he knew it, Dino's pyrographed guitar appeared in a French music magazine, Guitarist. Recognition is still coming. Gibson Guitars commissioned Dino to do a special guitar for B. B. King. For his seventieth birthday, they presented him with "Lucille #17" bearing a portrait pyrograph of himself (with an earlier "Lucille") by Dumitru Muradian. (That portrait is illustrated in Guitar Shop magazine (Oct. '96, p.8.)

Shortly after, when B. B. was making the rounds of shows such as Good Morning America and Regis and Kathie Lee to promote his new autobiography, Blues All Around Me, he proudly showed off his Lucille #17, and Dino had the pleasure of seeing his pyrograph on national TV.

"Dino is how he is known to his friends," I wrote at the beginning. I then took the liberty of calling him Dino throughout because even as we respect and admire him for his truly outstanding work, he is one of us, and I hoped we might all call him Dino and welcome him- with an honorary degree of Master of Pyrography -here to our e-zine and to our family of woodcarvers and pyrographers.

Thank you, Dino Muradian, for sharing.

Wolf on Guitar
Pyrograph by Dumitru Muradian


For many years, I have been researching the possibility of gathering a wide array of pyrographic work, including fine art, decorative art, traditional, indigenous art, craft, antique, and present-day pieces for a museum collection in a permanent and/or traveling exhibit. During our conversation, Dino suggested that we should have a pyrography museum on the internet. Bells rang and lights flashed inside my head. An E-Museum!!! Of course--the very thing. What better way to start?

So, if you would like to contribute your own, an antique, or someone else's work in scanned photographic form that you think worthy of being included, please keep watching this column for more details as we establish a place and guidelines for our e-collection for the world's first E-Museum of Pyrographic Art and Craft.

Kathleen Menendez


Check here later for links to home pages and other sources of interest to pyrographers, including Dino Muradian's homepage and this author's.

Of Interest

A new pyrography site I found. Not much on it yet, but they ask for comments. It is:

Research article on pyrographed antiques to look for: "What is Pyrography," New England Antiques Journal, July '95 issue, NEAJ, 4 Church Street, Ware, MA 01082, 413-967-3505, or fax, 413-967-6009.

Next Issue: "Pyrography: Decorative Art"

Portrait of Ken Griffey, Jr.
Pyrograph by Dumitru Muradian.

The Author

Kathleen M. Garvey Menendez is a native of Washington, D.C. and grew up in nearby Falls Church, Virginia. Thanks to elderly neighbors there with tales of old Russia and the Orient, she became intrigued with languages and cultures of distant lands. Her later travels and studies as a young woman only furthered her interests in languages, sociology, and art.

She met her husband, an architect, under unusual circumstances back in Falls Church. Later they lived in Guatemala, his homeland, for about ten years, where her first two daughters (both trilingual and both recent graduates in sociology) spent their early childhood, and her youngest daughter (who likes drawing, sculpting, and piano) spends her summers.

It was only natural that her hobby and her business (Pyrographics) would somehow reflect her interests. Her pyrography, which she learned and later taught in Guatemala, is an extension of her travels and a reflection of her desire to communicate with and enjoy all the peoples of this fascinating, colorful world. At present, her immediate family is living in four countries on three continents. She herself resides once more in Falls Church.

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