Woodcarver Ezine
Back Issues
Carvers' Companion Gateway


by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 28, Page One of Three


Page One:
Leah Comerford: Through Rose-Colored Glasses

Page Two:
Jan Farrar: Pooch Portraits
Bob Boyer: New Internet Free Art School
Jim Widess: New Gadgets for Gourds
David Wickenden's 9/11 Proposal

Page Three:
Peter Drewett: Homage to Joan Kerr
Sharon H. Garvey: Calligraphy for a Crucifix

Leah Comerford: Through Rose-Colored Glasses

Migration Break, detail of the Faerie
by Leah Comerford

Pyrography on gourd

Image courtesy of the artist

A Pen-and-Ink Artist Discovers Gourds

American artist Leah Comerford, "grew up in khaki-cactus-green Tucson, Arizona., spent many years "living in not-so-green California," and now resides in Falmouth, Virginia: "I love Virginia! So GREEN! Well...as soon as winter gives up, that is."

Although she liked to draw since she was a child, Leah says that her art education didn't really start until after she graduated from the University of Arizona, when she studied portraiture with Florence Quater. Later, in San Francisco, she took commercial art courses and worked as the lead graphic artist at Chabot Community College for 13 years. "During that time," she says, "I learned basket weaving as a hobby and discovered the gratification of holding artwork made of natural materials."

"Next came an eight-year stay in San Diego, California where I made my living as a free-lance graphic artist. On a whim, an old friend and I decided to meet at The Caning Shop in Berkeley, California to take a gourd crafting class from Don Weeke. It took a nanosecond to become fascinated with gourd crafting. . . ."

--and Pyrography

Don Weeke showed the students how to use the Hot Tool to work on their gourds. When Leah burned the gourd with the Hot Tool, she loved the aroma! She soon found how to use a light touch on the curved surface and intensify by means of texturing and dotting.

Leah's experience was really intense at that 1-day course. While her classmates worked on a beautiful finished project to take away with them, she worked excitedly, trying every technique the instructor demonstrated. Her final gourd looked like a hodge podge, and was--a veritable sampler.

Pastel Lagoon, View No. 4
by Leah Comerford, 2003

Pyrography and watercolor on gourd

Collection: Janet Brownstone & Andrew VerHalen

Image courtesy of the artist

--and Color, Too

Leah does some of her gourds without color, but adds color to most to increase depth and add character. She primarily uses Dr. Ph. Martin's Hydrus Watercolors, applied with gentle washes to allow the gourd shell's striations to remain visible. The skin of both people and animals she leaves in the natural gourd color, so that is visually a constant throughout her compositions.

Demonstration by the Artist
Close-up view of Leah Comerford shading her design

Pyrography line work on a gourd surface

Image courtesy of the artist

Technical Aspects

Tools. Leah developed her style using the Hot Tool's Needle Point tip, but now does all her pyro work with the Razertip system. She does some highlighting with an electric engraving tool, as well.
Designing. Because of the way she works her designs, Leah does not use a pattern to resolve them, but works directly on the gourd surface sketching in the components with a pencil.
Line Work and Shading. The image immediately above shows a close-up view of Leah Comerford shading the line work on her gourd. Burning on a curved gourd surface requires a different touch and special adaptations. Leah does her burned lines and her shading "using a pointillist approach--dot, dot, dotting all the way."
Color. Watercolor is what Leah uses to add color to her works. She does some highlighting with colored pencils.

Finding the Design
Excerpt from Leah Comerford's Tutorial
showing the progression of how she goes about
looking for design elements in a gourd

Image courtesy of the artist

Leah's Methodology

According to Leah, a medium-sized, illustrated gourd requires approximately 50 hours of production time. When she sees a gourd like the one above, she goes to work on it by looking for what is there in the gourd itself. "The natural imperfections of the shell provide generous glimpses of the creatures in residence," she says. "I might see an eye, a face, or a complete form in the gourd markings.

"After a couple characters have emerged, a theme is chosen and then I do my best to direct the action. However, if the gourd and I are in disagreement about an inhabitant's pose or purpose--or even exisitence--the gourd usually gets its way."

Does she ever argue with the gourd? "YES--out loud!"

Sophie's Salon
by Leah Comerford, 2003

Pyrography and watercolor on gourd

"Old or young, plain or beautiful, everyone has fabulous hair!"

Collection: Emily & Bob Dillard

Image courtesy of the artist

The Artist in Her Work

In reply to my questions about the curious creatures that populate her gourds, whether they have some particular meaning in their shapes and faces between human and animal; whether they relate to something in her memory or from her past; whether they are a complete departure from the sorts of pen&ink drawings she used to do, etc., Leah answered the following:

"Their shapes are strictly from the gourd, but their expressions and personalities have shown up in my past illustrations. I love illustrated children's books, and one of my favorite artists is Mercer Mayer. He's got a very gentle touch with his creatures and humans...as do many others, of course. Growing up, I was fascinated with the Disney studio's illustrations, so I reckon some of that influence is there, too.

After finishing one of the Underworld gourds, I remember someone asking if one of the characters in it was me. I started looking at that gourd, and others in that series, and realized they were ALL me!! The haughty ones, bashful, playful, and mostly wide-eyed with wonder...I could identify with every single creature and human in the gourds. At first I thought it was kind of weird...but then it seemed to make sense. Just another artist putting herself into her work.

One aspect I've *always* been conscious of, though: everyone has gorgeous hair ('cause I have hardly any!), and the women frequently get to have bodies that I wish *I* had. The one exception to this is in the audience in "The Wedding" gourd. I more or less represented myself in the plump (being kind to myself) matron with very thin hair and a huge nose."

The Wedding, View No. 1
by Leah Comerford

Pyrography and watercolor on gourd

"A bridal couple, still in their wedding finery,
sail into the Underworld for a brief audience with a few joyful inhabitants."

Collection: Rebekah & Paul Dalen

Image courtesy of the artist

A Commemorative Wedding Gourd

Leah's niece's wedding was the inspiration for the gourd shown here in two views. On this one, Leah wanted to show some "real people"--first and foremost, of course, the bride and groom. She says she put herself among the guests, as well--the lady in the dark green dress sitting behind the little girl with the purple dress and bow.

The Wedding, View No. 2
by Leah Comerford

Pyrography and watercolor on gourd

"A bridal couple, still in their wedding finery,
sail into the Underworld for a brief audience with a few joyful inhabitants."

Collection: Rebekah & Paul Dalen

Image courtesy of the artist

Closing Notes

Leah Comerford: is the proverbial breath of fresh air. She is the first to call herself "An artist with no axe to grind." She claims no social or political statements.

The lightheartedness of her art belies its complexity. She likes to term her art "escapist entertainment." Although it may not have a "deeper meaning" in the usual sense, Leah's gourd compositions, which flow with a dreamlike spontaneity, are beautifully layered with much to explore and enjoy. "The gourds suggest or dictate the creatures, she says modestly, "and I supply the personality." When we contemplate Leah Comerford's gourds, we are seeing the world through her rose colored glasses.

References and Related Items of Interest

Quilt Square
by Leah Comerford

Pyrography and watercolor on gourd

Image courtesy of the artist

Leah is one of 112 gourd artists who contributed to the World's First Gourd Quilt, which will debut at the Indiana Gourd Show on April 3, 2004. The idea for The Gourdpatch Quilt was conceived in May 2003 on JKStacy's Gourd Artist Guild online list. Quilt tiles, history, and construction are on view at www.thegourdquilt.com.

To see more examples of gourd art by Leah Comerford, visit her E-Museum Salon.

Visit Leah Comerford's own website, http://homepage.mac.com/leahgourds.
You can contact Leah by e-mail at leahgourds@starpower.net.

Click here to go to page two>>>

2004, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.