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Color Pyrography On Wood and More

With Al Chapman

by Kathleen Menendez

A Look at Various Applications of Pyrography

The Magnificent Wild Turkey

Pyroengraving with color, 1997

by Al Chapman

Tom turkey, burned on maple board plaque made by the artist

A special staining process was applied
and the piece was accented with color

Photograph by the artist

The one aspect that permeates Al Chapman's art work is his love of Americana--folklore and nature, especially wildlife, and particularly the wild turkey. This native Texan who has called Georgia home since 1970, has been carving since the age of ten. Later preparation for what would be his second career included studies in commercial art.

When a friend, who is a high school art teacher, introduced him to state-of-the-art woodburning tools in 1984, he felt as though he had "stepped out of the Dark Ages," as he described it. He loved carving and had wanted to find a way to achieve great detail in his work. With that discovery, he not only found a means to create lifelike details in his wildlife carvings, he also tried doing pyrographs on maple boxes, starting with his first experiment, which was to make and decorate a box where he could store his turkey things.

Al belongs to the National Wild Turkey Federation with a membership of about 155,000 hunters. This group has its headquarters in Edgefield, South Carolina, and among many environmental interests, it promotes habitat protection for wildlife, especially for the wild turkey. At the urging of a friend, Al took some of his boxes decorated with turkey motifs along with him to one of the federation's conventions in January of 1989. He set up on a Friday, and was elated when he immediately received a visit from Dick Kirby, world renowned for outdoor sports hunting, who came over to admire his work. By the time the evening was over, Al couldn't sleep from the excitement of all the orders he had placed in such a short time!

When Al saw the response to his work, he began in earnest to prepare for showing and selling his work. Maple, by the way, was and is still Al's preference when it comes to his pyrography on wood. He often does pyrography with no color other than the effects and variations achieved with burning alone; however, sometimes he adds a little color for emphasis, especially when a customer requests it (as with the wild turkey in the maple plaque above). When he branched out to other things, like Christmas ornaments, he also expanded his painting. That was when he teamed up with his wife Trinka, a native of Georgia, who likes to do the painting on his carvings and pyroengravings. For a finish, Al prefers a 'wood look' and applies an overall stain to his pyrographs. In addition, for the purpose of highlighting the work after wiping off the excess stain, he originated a special process that he calls scraping whereby he takes a sharp, curved knife and scrapes certain areas of the surface enough to reach the natural wood wherever a very light tone is desirable. To guard against fading and to seal his work, Al uses a clear Deft spray.

The themes in Al Chapman's work may be recurring, but you are going to find them in an amazing number of applications, since this versatile artist likes to work in many media and on many materials, in three dimensions as well as in two.

Three Calls for Consideration

Three Turkey Calls Adorned with Turkey Feather Pyrographs
Pyroengraved by Al Chapman

>From top to bottom:
Traditional wing bone turkey call made from the hollowed bones of a turkey
Decorated in pyroengraving requiring extremely high temperature
Enhanced with a touch of black India ink

Trumpet-type turkey caller, handmade by Mr. Billy Buice of Canton, Georgia
From Ivory Micarta, a manmade product, which burns detail very well
At moderate-to-light temperatures

Trumpet-type wood turkey caller
Handmade by Mr. Billy Buice of Canton, Georgia

Photograph by the artist

The handsome trio pictured above includes two more materials appropriate for pyrography that up until now we haven't studied. How fortunate for comparison that here we have three versions of the same object (a turkey call), each of the three decorated with the same motif (a beautiful turkey feather), each through the same medium (pyrography), yet each made from a different material (bone, Ivory Micarta, and wood) and each reflecting its own distinct beauty when combined with pyrographic art.

The turkey feather decoration in all three was created with a sharp-edged burning tip; black vermiculation was achieved with a Rapidograph ink pen. The Ivory Micarta used in the middle turkey caller is made from an older variety of this product. Al says that the original kind had less nylon in it than what is produced today and is difficult to find. He also notes that Ivory Micarta is comparable to Tagua nut (a vegetable ivory) to pyroengrave.

Pyrography on Deer Antler

Wolf Head

Pyrography on Relief Sculpture

by Al Chapman

Wolf motif power-carved on deer antler
Relief carved medallion of deer antler, only 2-1/2 inches in diameter, was pyroengraved at a red-hot temperature to provide coloration and detail accents.

Photograph by the artist

Deer antler and other similar materials, such as horn, walrus tusk, and bone, are among the more exotic and rare artist's materials for pyrography. Nevertheless, their appeal, worth, and beauty, as evidenced in this medallion, cannot be overlooked nor should they be underestimated.

For those artists up to the challenge of working with such a material, safety is a factor that must be taken into consideration. This is not a material for the beginner. Al had to power carve the little relief sculpture and then pyroengrave it with a red-hot point.


Pyrography on Gourds

Pyroengraved Gourd Pitcher
by Al Chapman, 1997

Gourd pyroengraved using low-to-medium temperatures

Photograph by the artist

Employing a decorative design inspired by the traditional symbolic designs in Native American art, Al turned this gourd pitcher (above) into something unique and handsome.

Decorative art gourd pyrography has drawn a large following in recent years. There are many books and chapters of books dedicated to this beautiful art form, which makes use of one more of nature's wonders for an artist's canvas.

Al advises that some preparation is required before starting to pyroengrave a gourd. Sanding the surface and smoothing rough spots make for a nice surface to work on and a clean, polished final product. Gourds burn easily with low-to-medium temperatures, but the work should be done outdoors or in some other suitable environment, because it produces a lot of smoke. Since there is no grain with which to contend, both fine line details and flat shading are easily applied.

Buck Deer

Pyroengraving on Wood Sculpture, 1997

by Al Chapman

The finely textured hair on this 9-inch-long sculpture of a buck deer was achieved by pyroengraving a light texture.

Photograph by the artist

Pictured above and below are both sculptures in wood, carved and then pyroengraved with detail; however, notice the difference in the pyrography techniques used to create the illusion of deerskin and wolf fur.


Pyroengraving on Wood Sculpture, 1997
by Al Chapman
The coarser hair texture on this 8-inch sculpture of a wolf was achieved by pyroengraving extra hot and going back over the same areas several times. Much of the coloration was created in the pyrography processes.

Photograph by the artist

Pyroengraving details of one sort or another on wood that has already been worked in some other medium is an age-old tradition. Relief, inlay and intarsia enhanced with pyrography are well known examples. Certainly fine furniture became centuries ago an art form unto itself, and pyrography was right there along with carving as part of that history. Wooden masks in many parts of the world have included pyrographic decoration. Sculptures throughout the years have been so enhanced. In recent years, with heightened interest in wood sculptures of wildlife, interest in pyrography has grown proportionately.

Al used two different techniques to achieve the effects of hide and fur, respectively, on the two wood sculptures of the deer and wolf above. To him, the pyrographic detail is an essential part of a successful sculpture of this type.

Medicine Man
Pyrography on leather, 1997
by Al Chapman

left to right: Medicine Man, detail (headdress)
Medicine Man
Medicine Man, detail (feathers)

Pyrography on leather, worked in medium-to-lighter temperature

Photographs by the artist

Leather is still another material for working in pyrography that is among the best known and favored. As Al notes, leather is easily toned from lights to darks and details very well. "No grain and smooth surfaces make for pleasurable efforts," he says.

With leather as with wood, it is important to work on a clean surface. Leather for pyrographic work should be dry and unfinished. There is no problem working in pyrography on leather pieces in one of the various colors available, but keep in mind that, whether the piece is colored or not, it should never be waxed or oil finished.

Al's preference is for tooling leather, because it is thick. He also likes to glue the leather piece to a 1/8-inch plywood backing to keep it flat and even. He finishes his leather pyrographs with a clear Krylon matte finish spray.

Turkey Call and Feather on Old Porch
Pyrography on paper, 1997
by Al Chapman

Pyrography on artist's paper (Bristol board)
Requires a medium-to-slightly-higher temperature

Photograph by the artist

Although well known as an appropriate material for the medium of pyrography, paper is less often seen for this medium than are wood, leather, or gourds. It is more difficult to work and requires more pyrographic skill than some of the other materials we've seen, not to mention a greater amount of heat than you may expect.

Al used pyrography in the picture above to create the old porch floor of an abandoned cabin of the sort that hunters might typically find deep in the woods of Georgia when they are out looking for wild turkey. To the pyrography, he added the grey tones of the weathered porch wood with a no. 2 pencil. The black vermiculation on the turkey feather he did with ink and a Rapidograph pen. The type of artist's paper he used for this project is called Bristol board.

Paper is an ideal material for combining color with the pyrographic medium. Al suggests a slight watercolor wash for a project. He also notes that Bristol board, which has no grain and a very smooth surface, allows for a lot of detail. Other papers such as parchment and illustration boards in varying colors will work well for pyography, too--he even recommends the brown paper bags from the supermarket.

Demonstrations, Ribbons, and Books

Al does a lot of woodburning demonstrations at the many shows he attends. Al and Trinka, working together to keep up with the demand, especially for his handcarved Christmas ornaments and wildlife carvings, have won many awards in national and regional competitions. Their work has been been pictured in two issues of Georgia Wildlife Magazine, Turkey Call Magazine, on local television and in newspapers. In 1990, when the National Wild Turkey Federation sponsored its first ever carving competition, Al left home to compete with a strutting turkey he had carved. When it was too late, he realized with horror that he had left the base for his sculpture at home. Despite that setback, he took a second place ribbon in that national competition.

After so much experimentation, writing a book was the obvious next step. Al, however, wrote two! He started by taking notes on exactly how he worked and demonstrated. In 1995, Al had an offer from Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. to do one book on pyrography (Learning the Art of Pyrography) and another on carving (21 Carvings For the Day After Christmas). He and Trinka and their two daughters collaborated recently to put up a home page on the web, where Al and Trinka have some pages of their work and the things they sell, including the two books.

Al says he has thought about specializing as so many artists do, but long ago decided he was having too much fun working in the way he does. For Al, variety is the spice of his art work.

Next Issue: "Children's Pyrographic Art"

A look at the pyrographic medium as it is taught to and used
by children and youth.

Last Issue: "Antique Pyrography ,"

A Look at the Past of the Art of "Pyr"


It is a great pleasure to invite the readers of the WWWoodc@rvers E-Zine to visit the world's first

E-Museum of Pyrographic Art

Please visit this unique virtual edifice and monument to the art of pyrography present and past. See work by Dino Muradian, Mixo Sydenham, Sophia Albu Ionita, Al Chapman, and others, plus antiques, books, and tools.

Although still very new, the e-museum already displays a substantial collection; however, there are still many pieces from the e-museum's collection in the virtual attic being prepared for hanging, so come back often to see new arrivals on display. When you see the floor plan, you will realize the scope of the project, and the directory will offer further explanation of the collection housed in the virtual walls of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

Remember, if you are a pyrographer or a collector, all you need is a good photograph of your artwork to become a part of this unique project. Come share your favorite masterpieces (with just a photo), and network with the rest of the community of pyrographic artists and collectors.

Please write me an e-note and tell me about your work in pyrography. Your comments and your participation are most welcome.

Important notice: Be sure to check the Cafe Flambe in the E-Museum
no later than Wednesday, 4 March 1998, for the posting and details of the upcoming meeting--the very first meeting--of the International Association of Pyrographers.

--Kathleen Menendez

Of Interest:

You will find more work by Al Chapman in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art in the Hall of Sculptures. Considering the wide range of his work, don't be surprised to see more than one cross-reference taking you back to the Al Chapman salon there.

Learning the Art of Pyrography, Burning Images on Wood, Paper, and Leather, by Al Chapman, ©1995, is a comprehensive and very well illustrated book aimed at beginners in pyrography as well as other intermediate or advanced pyrographers who may have heretofore worked only on wood and want to experiment in pyrography on other materials.

You can find out more about this book and another book on carving at Al and Trinka Chapman's website, at: http://members.aol.com/alchap555
You can write to Al at:

Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 77 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19310.

In addition to his own book on pyrography and another on carving, Al Chapman is one of the pyrographers featured in Bob Boyer's book, The Amazing Art of Pyrography, a large, hard-cover book displaying a wide variety of pyrography work on many materials.

Both Bob Boyer's and Al Chapman's books are on display in the E-Museum Book Store Exhibit.

The 17th Annual Havre de Grace Decoy, Wildlife Art and Sportsman Festival announces their first ever Pyrographic Art Competition this May 1-2-3, 1998 in Havre de Grace, Maryland, USA (home of the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum). For the competition, they do not want decorative art or sculpture, only fine art, which they term Flat Art. The subject matter must be of waterfowl, birds, or fish. It is not limited to pyrography on wood, however, as the guidelines state, "Any natural material that would normally be burned is acceptable. No limitation on size or shape." If you think you might be interested in participating in this event, please contact Warner Taylor who will mail you their brochures.

Pyrographer Steven Booysen of South Africa works in pyrography on leather; his unique work mounted in exotic frames reflects the wildlife he found in his native South Africa as well as other countries of that region. You can read his interesting biography at this gallery website, where his work is featured.

Pyrographer Dallas Nyberg of Australia has recently put some of his work on a new website. Dallas has been a leather worker for 25 years, but four years ago he discovered pyrography, which has been his passion ever since. His specialty has been pyrography on leather, but he also works on wood. In addition to his own new website, he is also featured in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art, in the Portraits and Paintings Hall.

Pyrographer Susan Magner of the USA has a new website. She especially likes doing landscapes and birds on wood.

Pyrographers JoAnnis Mohrman and Ernie Velarde of the USA both do pyroengraving on gourds. Some of their work has recently been added to the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art, in the Decorative Art Hall.

Wildlife pyrographer Carole Peters of Canada has a new website she'd like you to visit. In addition, some of her work in pyrography combined with relief is on display in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art in the Sculpture Hall.

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 Nava rro Pyrocarver--the pyrographic tool Kathleen represents.

This is her second year writing articles for the WWWoodc@rvers E-Zine, and thanks to meeting so many talented pyro-artists through the internet, this is the first year of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art, dedicated to pyrographers and their unique art form in all its myriad manifestations.

©1998 Kathleen M. Garvey Menendez

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