Pyrography in the Land Down Under

by Kathleen Menendez

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In Australia, Pyrography Is Fast Becoming
An Up-and-Coming Art Movement

With the Help of his "Pyromates,"
Mixo Sydenham Is Leading the Way

Mixo Sydenham
At Work in his Studio

K. J. "Mixo" Sydenham is a man of many hats. On one day, you might find him in his cottage studio working away on his latest pyrowork of art, or on another, looking every bit (his words) "a typical hillbilly from the good old days in Oz," on the edge of the Australian outback in the Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement. On still another day, he might be all dressed up meeting with Australia's functionaries in an effort to promote pyrography and obtain greater acceptance for our underappreciated art form. He has even been seen wearing his teacher's hat, demonstrating pyrography to ninth graders in a Warragul, Victoria school, or teaching children at camp. Sometimes he even looks the student, ever pursuing his artwork.

And, happily, on any day, especially if you find these other locations a bit too remote, you can always find him (only a "click" away) sipping virtual coffee in his Pyro Cafe Down Under. It is possible you might find him there sitting at a prominent virtual table expounding on our cherished topic with all his fellow pyro-friends and admirers both near and remote. Or he might be hanging another pyrowork on the virtual wall there. Or, just as you might find him in the real world, in his artist's retreat, where he might "fire up" his Cappuccino machine and work on a submission or proposal, thanks to our virtual world, even those of us from far away can catch a glimpse of him at his Pyro Cafe, perhaps tucked away at a table in a virtual corner. Accompanied by his virtual Cappuccino, he would be thinking about his latest "pyro-endeavors" in the interest of our cause; or writing away on his laptop in his inimitable style--exuberantly prefixing 'pyro' to every possible relevant word!

"Windy Mill"

Pyrowork by Mixo Sydenham

Mixo's first glimpse at pyrography was as a lad looking over the shoulder of his dear and talented Uncle "Mozza", eventually his mentor--the late Morrie Hopkins. Mixo was already a young man, home recuperating from a motorcycle accident, when he first took up the art form himself with an old soldering iron and some scrap wood he found. Over time, his work progressed, and so did the tools he used.

In 1993, when, in his words, "an affair of the heart" meant a trip to Europe, thanks to his pyro-art, his vacation turned into a 7-month stay, including an exhibition in Austria's romantic and renowned 800-year-old Castle Marchegg. That enviable exhibition in such a prestigious art center was the highlight of Mixo's successful art tour--a tour which became another step in his learning process, too, particularly in the area of public awareness.

His career path took a twist when he returned to Australia to encounter barriers to his success that he had not found in Europe. He came to realize that his chosen art form was going to need a helping hand to gain the acceptance and recognition it deserved.

Australian Pink Galahs

Pyrowork by Mixo Sydenham

Tools and Techniques

Frames by Laurie Collins. At some fortuitous point in his career, Mixo met Laurie Collins, whom he describes as "an exceptionally nice bloke". Laurie teaches at Drouin Secondary College, and he also creates furniture, mirrors, and the handsome frames displayed here that Mixo chose to so perfectly complement his strong pyrographs.

As if "upside down" weren't enough, Mixo says he works "back to front from most visual artists." He keeps several of Laurie's frames in stock. When he sets about a project or commission, he photographs his subject first, looks for the frame with grain tones in keeping with his subject's predominant colors, and goes from there.

Mixo believes his work saw a marked improvement--in quality of line and especially in ease and efficiency (not to mention customer demand)--when he found what he believes is the best tool Australia has to offer--the Ironcore Transformer Pyro Pen. He only regrets not having found it sooner. "The Ironcore requires only one tip," he says, "for burning everything--from detailed linework the thickness of a hair up to a pyromural--with comparative ease." He customizes his by flattening the last 3 mm (1/8 inch) on the tip to allow for his own specialized style of work.

Mixo's Advice to Beginners. Start right off with a quality tool to save yourself from frustration, disappointment, and even possible discouragement.

In addition to his Pyro Pen he sometimes uses a blowtorch (he calls them "blowies") for certain effects like graduated shading or heavier shading in large areas. In addition, he has developed another personal blowtorch technique he explained for producing interesting, specialized shaded effects in the background area.

The final touch is his masterful use of artist-quality water colors, which can be easily appreciated in the varied array presented here. Mixo's finished artwork is a tactile pyrocarving with a rich texture.

Mixo's Latest Experiment. In his last few "pyroworks", Mixo confided that he has been deliberately adding levels of deeper and varied textures in the hope of "gauging a response from visually impaired people, to see if the different tonings (deeper textures for darker renderings) are distinguishable by feel." If that should prove to be the case, it may just be that Mixo will have found an "extra and unique appeal" for pyrographic art and a special way "for blind people to 'look' at art."

Homage to Durer,

Pyrowork by Mixo Sydenham

Woods and Finishes

In keeping with the preferences of most pyro-artists, Mixo likes to work on a wood surface that is very light to obtain maximum contrast with the burnt sepia renderings against the natural wood color. In addition, since he sometimes works with color, the whiter the wood surface, the truer the color will appear. This is even more critical when working with water colors, since they are transparent. Mixo has currently been using an imported, very white 3-ply with very little grain.

For the past seven years, Mixo has been using a special finish he has discovered, which helps prevent fading. In the past, he says, lighter pyrocarved lines and fainter details and shading would fade over time. What is more, those areas neither colored nor burned would tend to yellow. With this clear, matte finish, Intergrain Ultraclear, Mixo believes he has found the solution.

Ship in Storm

Pyrowork by Mixo Sydenham

Pyrowork flanked by mirrors

Active Artist and Art Activist

It HAS been a long road for Mixo. Because he sees his artwork as part of a movement, he hasn't wanted to simply pursue an individual career in pyrography, seeking available government sponsorship for himself as an individual visual artist. He has chosen instead to see the bigger picture and diligently work to find a way to establish pyrography as one more art form--able to be accepted, categorized, judged, and sold on its own merit and in its own right.

Education is another means Mixo has utilized at many levels in an effort to share our art form with others. In this pursuit, he has even written a booklet for beginners with the encouraging title of, "The Simple Art of Woodburning."

Mixo's energetic strategy has meant that he works as an individual directly with the art community to open the door and lead the way through his own work, simultaneously coordinating to find space there for others, as well.

Australian Partners in Pyrography. Mixo began to search out other pyrographers (or "pyros") in his state of Victoria. Partners in Pyrography, which has become a network of mutual support for pyrographers, is intended as an information resource to provide Australian pyrographers with prospective opportunities for individual commissions and tutorial services (globally for clients and locally for students, respectively). This resource has also brought Mixo and the other pyros together so that, through shows, festivals, exhibitions, teaching, and demonstrations, they are working to awaken public awareness of pyrowork and gain recognition from the art community.


Village near Giessen, Germany

Pyrowork by Mixo Sydenham

The Australian Pyrographic Movement

By 1996, with memories of positive reactions from the general public to bolster his courage, Mixo gathered his fledgling group of pyros and launched Pyromania 96 in a prominent art and craft center in Melbourne (The Meat Market Craft Centre). This first effort was a significant success, and included one extra aspect that should be of interest to others who may want to follow this example: Mixo and five other pyros provided public demonstrations at the show. In addition, they were able--in collaboration with the Ironcore company who provided demo Pyro Pens--to give visitors to the exhibit a chance to try woodburning for themselves under the guidance of a team of pyrographers. Mixo was enormously pleased at how readily the visitors took to this opportunity, and with what obvious pleasure they left afterwards proudly holding the results of their first efforts. What is more, he noted that the enthusiastic participants ranged equally male and female, from children to teenagers to adults in all age groups and from all walks of life.

In the beginning of 1997, thanks to Mixo's efforts, the national 1997 Royal Canberra Show was opened to pyros and proved another major step towards their recognition and towards greater public awareness of our art.

Australia's First "Real World" Pyrography Centre. Mixo's latest endeavor has succeeded in procuring a Pyro Center! Mixo talks excitedly of this recent success, located at the reconstructed Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement tourist center. (If you go to the website, type "Swan Hill" in the search box to find it.) Mixo is all set up there and along with pyrographers Jan Crawford of Bairnsdale and Denise Needham of Melbourne, will be exhibiting and demonstrating to the public. Once more, Mixo has come through with yet another opportunity for Australian pyrographers and a quality collection of pyroworks for the touring public.

Portrait of Bob Marley
Jamaican Reggae Singer

Pyrowork by Mixo Sydenham

Goals and Vision

As with many of us, Mixo's personal goal is to make his living solely from his artwork. He sees himself as a progressive pyrographer. He wants to see innovative pyroworks of art freed from stagnant images of woodburning as it has generally heretofore been perceived. He has been collaborating with this writer on ideas for an international association of pyrographers and an international e-gallery. He is presently updating his own Pyro Cafe Down Under website, and hopes to further broaden the site, perhaps with government sponsorship. As of this writing, he has just achieved another goal: to include an e-gallery in The Pyro Cafe Down Under to showcase the work of Australian pyros.

It has been his goal to see pyrographic work not categorized but accepted in both craft and art circles, in every individual format and presentation possible: beaux arts, furniture design, woodwork, handicraft, leather, and so on. He wants to see pyrographic artwork side by side with other works of art, judged right along with them according to the merits of each work, not ostracized by skeptics out of ignorance-based discrimination or personal bias. He doesn't want pyrographic artists to be seen as marginal, but rather to be included as a vital part of the artistic community. He hopes to achieve official government recognition of pyrography, so that its artists can hope for the same type of public access and sponsorship as any other artist in any other art form. His primary aim, in his words, is "to help achieve a situation in Australia, whereby pyrography will be commonly accepted and tutored, exhibited and judged, sponsored and marketed, as with every other officially recognized and supported known medium."

I have no doubt we will be hearing a great deal more from the Land Down Under in the future. All of us who love this art form owe Mixo Sydenham a debt of gratitude. Thanks, Mixo, for sharing your art and your efforts.

Next Issue: "Pyrography: Traditional Art"

Last Issue: "Pyrography: Folk Art,"

Some thoughts on pyrography as a folk art form and a glimpse at the work of the world-famous Howard Finster.


Every day we are closer to the virtual ribbon-cutting of the International E-Museum of Pyrographic Art. Remember, all you need is a good photograph of your artwork to become a part of this unique project. The same goes for the E-Gallery.

Pyrographers Unite! This is your chance to

Please let me know of your interest in an e-mail and keep watching this column for more details as we establish a place and guidelines for the world's first E-Museum and E-Gallery of pyrographic art. Drop me an e-line and let me know your thoughts.

--Kathleen Menendez

Of Interest:

Mixo Sydenham's website The Pyro Cafe Down Under featuring Mixo's pyrographs, instructions in woodburning a project, an e-gallery of Australian pyrographic art, information about Australia's Ironcore Pyro Pen, and Mixo's book for beginners in pyrography.

ESP customized guitar by Dino Muradian featuring detail from Michelangelo's "Creation."

Gibson customized guitar by Dino Muradian featuring B. B. King's own portrait on his famous guitar "Lucille"

A new website by pyrographer/author Al Chapman and his wife, artist Trinka Chapman. This website displays a variety of work by this talented couple and features Al's work in pyrography on wood, leather, and paper, plus provides information on his excellent book on pyrography for both beginners and advanced pyrographers.

A new website by pyrographer Andrew Talley and his wife, artist Edie Talley. This dramatic website will really appeal to all you pyro(maniac)s. What's more, Andrew is offering you a pyro-opportunity to post some of your work there if you don't have a web of your own. Still too new to even have Andrew's work up yet, but worth the visit for the optics.


Pyrography Project: This website shows a technique and
gives instructions for doing the illustrated cabinet.

Pyrography Painted Bird by Dale Hopkins of the U.K.

Woodburnings by David Pyrographer David Collins of Indianapolis, Indiana.


The Author

Pyrographer Kathleen M. Garvey Menendez learned her pyrography techniques in Guatemala. Her sister, Artist Sharon H. Garvey later joined her there to form their company Pyrographics, and collaborate on a pyrography project designed to promote this art form in the United States with the help of the Navarro Pyrocarver,which is the pyrographic tool Kathleen represents. At present, she is actively dedicated to highlighting the art form and its artists, organizing pyrographers in an international association, assembling significant bodies of work in an e-museum, and providing pyrographers a forum for dialogue and an opportunity for displaying their work for sale in an e-gallery.

©1997 Kathleen M. Garvey Menendez