Woodcarver Ezine
Back Issues
Carvers' Companion Gateway


by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 15

Pyro Happenings


Mixo Sydenham--Back Again and Firing Up a New Project
Derric Clemmons: Contemporary Art
Announcing a Special Pyrography Exhibit in Alaska

Mixo Sydenham--Back Again and Firing Up a New Project!

Piper O'Pyro
by Mixo Sydenham

Pyrography and watercolor on illustrators paper board

Image courtesy of the artist

After a much needed break from five years of maintaining the extensive Pyro Cafe E-Gallery, plus a couple of time-consuming software design projects, IAPA Co-Founder Mixo Sydenham from Victoria Australia, is back on line, and has "fired up a new website domain at www.pyroart.org."

Mixo designed his new site to focus primarily on the promotion and development of what he regards technically as "Fine Art" Pyrography, featuring only pyroworks burnt on paper.

Having burnt hundreds of substantial works on wood in the last two decades, Mixo says that, like many other experienced pyrographers, he has also encountered disappointing refusals from many art gallery curators and government funding organizations, simply for the reason that pyrography on wood (or leather, for that matter) is usually classified as a "Craft" and not an "Art."

After much thought and hard work to find the key to open this 'attitude' door, Mixo concluded the following: "With all due respect to all Pyros burning on wood and leather, it seems the future progress and acceptance of our medium as a serious contender in the Art World will most likely be speeded up if more Pyros presented exhibition standard works burnt on paper, blended with contemporary and known mediums."

He proposes the following solution: "If you have a Pyro Pen with very sensitive heat control, burning on paper is just as easy as burning on wood or leather, yet it has a lot of other production, marketing, and financial benefits, especially because you can usually exhibit works on paper in most galleries, art shows, and competitions. In addition, you never have to worry about working around knots, flaws, or grains; moreover, most colouring mediums take to artist's papers and boards exceptionally well; and scanning for limited edition prints and promotional products returns superior quality results, in comparison to timber originals in particular."

An Open Invitation

Mixo has extended an open invitaion "to all pyrographic artists seeking to promote exhibition works on paper" on his new e-gallery site. "There is no cost to exhibit three favourite works (in jpeg format of 30 KB max. each), a 10-line biography, and an e-mail contact for sales, commissions, and inquiries."

His new e-gallery site for promoting fine-art pyrographic works on paper will also offer some tips for those starting out on paper presentations. A special section for IAPA members' exhibits will also be available shortly.

Derric Clemmons: Contemporary Art

The White Face
by Derric Clemmons

Pyrography and color on wood
Mayan pyro imagery of animals
around the edge of the painted central image
done in a Cubist style
Faint crop circle designs hovering on the outer edges

Image courtesy of the artist

Beginnings in Chicago

American artist Derric Clemmons from Chicago, Illinois ("with many 'tribal roots' in Louisiana," he says) has enjoyed a multifaceted career in the visual arts.

Born in 1962, Derric began his interest in art as a child when he took to observing and drawing nature and designed illustrations for children's books. By the time he was a teenager, he came to appreciate abstraction in nature and went on to study photography at Columbia College in 1980.

While working with clothing designers doing shoots with models, Derric began working simultaneously on his own, sculpting and painting furniture pieces.

1984 found Derric in Europe, studying painting with Italian mentors, particularly Maria Veretti in Lucca. By 1991, he was working in a very successful fashion business of handpainted clothing.

Three Masks of the Bobo
by Derric Clemmons

Pyrography and color on wood
"The central image is based on the people in Africa.
There are graffiti-like motifs like outer-space inscriptions
that are based on the crop circle designs from parts of Europe.
The spear-like motifs are taken from pots and calabashes
of the Woodabe people in Africa."

Image courtesy of the artist

Chicago's Gallery 37

Gallery 37 was born out of an innovative idea and a vacant lot (block 37) in the heart of Chicago and opened its doors in 1991 during the time of Mayor Daley to offer an opportunity for Chicago's young people ages 14 to 21 to become apprentice artists working in a diverse environment while receiving paid arts training.

Although Derric works as an independent artist out of his own studio, he took on an additional challenge when he joined Chicago's Gallery 37 in 1996 where he assists in teaching students through its school's extra-curricular program.

During this period, Derric also showed his painted canvases in the Yellow Gallery and the Zambezi Progressive Art Gallery in Chicago.

Always exploring the intellectual and artistic, he also turned once more to his work on furniture pieces where he could find artistic gratification in a few of his many areas of interest by combining painting, sculpting, and furniture design.

Two years ago, Derric added pyrography to his long list of art media. It happened a bit by chance when a Gallery 37 sponsor wanted a bench made but wanted it decorated in burning rather than conventional painting. No one else at Gallery 37 wanted to touch the sponsor's request, but Derric had previously bought a pyro tool and experimented with some pyro effects on pedestals, so he offered to try this new challenge. There are now not one, but two pyrographed benches proudly on display at Fleet Services of Chicago as a tribute to Derric's success in his newfound medium.

Derric Clemmons
Cutting, painting, and finishing in his studio

Image courtesy of the artist

Tool, Woods, Technique, and Finish

Tool. For his artwork, Derric employs a conventional soldering-iron type tool with robust interchangeable tips for patterns, textures (one he refers to as a "sting-ray texture"), fine lines, and design outlines.

Woods of preference. Like most pyrographers, Derric generally prefers light woods for contrast when working in pyrography. He likes Poplar because he says it "takes a light touch." That being said, he also likes Red Oak, he says, because it produces large resin 'cooks' when burning is applied, and the stain that results lends a pleasing smoky quality.

Technique and finish together. Derric's technique and resin finish for his work are somewhat intertwined, so the finish becomes ultimately an integral part of the technique. His designs call for not only acrylic color and burning but often even some bead or gem inlay.

Method for applying the resin finish. Derric pours the resin in a labyrinth fashion onto the wood platform (which is oil free and clean). He then spreads the clear liquid with a spatula tool. Bubbles that inevitably occur have to be removed with carbon dioxide, so he uses a tube to carefully blow on the resin and burst the bubbles. He gently wipes the surface with a soft cloth to remove or smooth imperfections.

by Derric Clemmons

Pyrography and color on wood
Three bone beads flank the negative space near the center
Inspired by IO, an astronomically famous moon of Jupiter,
this piece has "a planetary theme
to suggest things constant from the hands of the Creator."

Image courtesy of the artist

The Resin Finish As Part of the Art Work

Artistic reasons for pyrography and resin finish. Derric uses burned images because to him fire and heat transforming and carbonizing suggest history and nostalgia for the past. Pyro work sealed in a resin finish he interprets as history frozen in time. The sense of history he creates in this way is designed to convey the feeling of "a message left behind by another culture or people."

In some cases, Derric takes his resin finish to one more level in his artistic process when he textures the resin before it dries thus incorporating it into the art work technique. In one piece, for example, he added a wavy texture along one side suggesting water flowing over the images of narwhals swimming underneath. The finish can be left matte or shiny. Sometimes Derric varies the end result with matte in one part and shiny in another to create a special effect to enhance the design underneath.

Although it is a somewhat complicated finish to apply correctly, "resin is kind to pyro work," Derric explains, because it is not acidic. At the same time, a resin finish can withstand a lot of use and wear. It provides a beautiful clear finish that allows the art work to show through without altering the colors.

Fulani Herdsman
by Derric Clemmons

Pyrography and acrylic color plus glass jewel inlay
on wood tablet or wall panel,
20 inches long by 20 inches wide by 23 inches high

Pyro edgings and symbols like hieroglyphics and crop circle designs
Beadwork is resin sealed
There is a poem burned on the outer border

Image courtesy of the artist

Fulani Poetry Tablet

The Fulani Poetry Tablet with the striking principal figure of a Fulani herdsman of West Africa, is designed as a wall piece. However, as with most of Derric's pieces, regardless of the form they start out in, they can easily be adapted to a furniture design at some later time.

This one actually is a collaborative work because the border includes a poem going around the image with little edge patterns all done in pyrography. The poem is called "Remembrance" by Susana Sandoval, another fellow artist and a bilingual performing poet.

Fulani Herdsman,
(Detail showing border and Susana Sandoval's poem both pyroengraved)
by Derric Clemmons

Pyrography and acrylic color plus glass jewel inlay
on wood tablet or wall panel,
20 inches long by 20 inches wide by 23 inches high

Pyro edgings and symbols like hieroglyphics and crop circle designs
Beadwork is resin sealed
There is a poem burned on the outer border

Image courtesy of the artist

Derric's Pyrography Today

At this point in his art, Derric uses pyrography in a very significant way in his multimedia works. He explains to his clients, who are mainly developers rehabilitating fine old Chicago houses, that pyrography lends nostalgia, tribalism, or ethnicity to some pieces. With his burning, he conjures this feeling of a connection to origins and things past, and then, at the same time, he "contemporizes" the subject and surrounding patterns into something new (and 'now') of his own creation.

One example is the crop circle patterns from fields of England that he woodburns to offer a sense of grounding, earthiness, and warmth to his piece.

Derric Clemmons Painting

Image courtesy of the artist

"Visual Jazz"

At present, Derric is working on a kitchen island that is not a pyro piece; however, he is planning a pyrography edging for it, and in the near future will be doing a floor design that uses pyrography in addition to staining. By his own definition, Derric thinks of his style as visual and musical both and terms it "visual jazz."

See more of his work on exhibit in the Derric Clemmons Salon in the E-Museum.

What are Derric Clemmons' thoughts about his latest art medium? "Pyrography is just as legitimate as the other aspects of art and can keep up with the contemporaneous. It is a nice medium to work with and lends a woodsy effect to pieces. People like the result when I include the pyrography."

Announcing a Special Pyrography Exhibit in Alaska

In Fairbanks, Alaska, U.S.A., from 2 February to 24 March 2002, at the University of Alaska Museum, there will be an exhibit entitled "Burned into Memory: Images of Alaska through Historic Pyrography."

In the next issue of WOM, an article is planned about this unusual exhibit, which can be characterized as anthropological rather than artistic in focus. It features, among other smaller pyroengraved items and souvenirs of the Klondike Gold Rush era ranging from fishing crates to cigar boxes to photograph album covers, four large moosehides pyroengraved with themes of that time by German artists. Many of the pieces, especially the moosehides, were loaned for the exhibit by Candy Waugaman, an avid collector. The exhibit is sponsored by the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. It is being guest curated at the University of Alaska Museum by Dawn Biddison, a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology there.

The Author

Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez learned her pyrography techniques in Guatemala in 1975-1977. Her sister, Artist Sharon H. Garvey, later joined her there to collaborate on a pyrography project designed to promote this art form in the United States by means of a didactic book and a pyrography tool made by Navarro of Mexico.

Thanks to the internet, this issue marks the beginning of the sixth year of articles on pyrography for the Woodcarver Online Magazine (WOM), started January 1997, and the fifth year of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art, which opened its virtual doors January 1998. In March of that year, the International Association of Pyrographic Artists (IAPA) was formed and members began meeting on line. Linked from the E-Museum's Café Flambé, which hosts the IAPA meetings, is the Yahoo Groups uniting_pyrographers mailing list, member list, and chat forum set up for IAPA members by IAPA Co-founder Mixo Sydenham of Australia.

2002, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.