I've had several requests from burners to write a bio about my artistic career. I'm a bit embarrassed to do so because, well, there's really not that much to tell.
Like any other kid, I took art in high school, but only until year 11. I've never taken an art class or any other creative class in my life since then. I have however been fortunate enough to have been blessed with parents who were very artistic and creative.
My father (an architect) died when I was 5 years old, but there is enough of his work still existing for me to know he was an artist with a fantastic eye and natural ability. He loved black and white/monochrome work, as I do, and also loved to work in detail…as I absolutely do.
On the same side of the family, my Great Grandmother was a well recognized oil and water colour painter and had a piece once hanging in our National Gallery.
From my Mum I received a more rounded gift. She was (is, if she were still physically able) a creative jack of all trades. She taught herself many crafts and arts, including silver smithing/jewellery making, china painting etc. Apart from passing on a generous amount of artistic ability, she also taught me not be afraid to tackle anything I wanted to...and not to be afraid of rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty.
She was the only person to give me a drawing lesson. I remember she taught me what shade was and how it made a picture look more realistic. That was when I was very young, when I used to draw African animals from a book to while away the time at the laundry mat. I entered one of these pictures in a local art contest and won both the children's and adult sections for drawing.
It's hard to say why, and probably too complex to work out, but from then on, (until I was around 32 years of age), I rarely drew again. (I've just turned 40)
I taught myself a lot of other creative things in the mean time, including taking up my Mums love of jewelry making. I tried to paint once, but couldn't then find my niche or medium and quickly gave it up. I did a few pictures in pencil and tried some charcoal, but no sooner had I picked up a pencil, I would put it down again for a couple of years.
For a career I studied and became a horticulturist. I worked in horticulture, (interspersed with travelling), for a number of years until I had to stay at home and look after my ill Mum.
Well, every cloud has a silver lining as they say. While taking care of things at home I looked for ways to occupy myself. I started playing with a woodburner that had been given to me as a gift. At first I started burning simple products for markets and the tourist industry. I did this for a few years until Mum got super ill again and I couldn't keep up with orders. I then started to wonder about what was possible in pyrography...how fine and realistic could it be? While I had the home time, I started playing around and pushing my own limits, learning a whole lot of things along the way.
That's pretty much where you find me now in pyrography...still pushing away, trying things out, developing methods to make the pictures I see in my head. My goal is to keep exploring the limits and to keep refining what I already know...and to pass that on to others who also enjoy burning in it's many forms.
Some of the fun: my first miniature painting/second painting. Wolf on tagua. 1 3/4 inches x 1 inch
The off shoot of this is I've discovered my natural love of art again...especially wildlife art. I still continue to teach myself a variety of mediums and ache to learn about a thousand more. The last I've tried is scrimshaw on piano ivory, which I have loved doing. I have taken the plunge and bought some brushes and paint and have started learning to paint wildlife. (I'm surprised how much I have enjoyed it this time around.) I've only done a miniature on tagua and a small painting of an owl, but I am excited by the possibilities and am looking forward to the time I can do more.
I'm actually looking forward to a whole lot more. The dreams are large and the possibilities seem endless.
What do they say? Something about only being limited by your imagination...
WIRE V WIRE
EASY TO USE AND MAKE WIRE NIBS. WHY SHOULD NORTH AMERICA HAVE ALL THE FUN?
As many burners know, there is quite a bit of nib difference between the variable temperature wire burners of Australia/Britain and those of North America.
I myself, being Australian, have a traditional wire nib burner that we most commonly see here and in Britain. I was aware the North American variable temp wire burners had nibs that came in a great variety of styles and seemed factory formed compared to my own. My burner required me to either buy a basic nib (a bent piece of wire) or form my own from a length of nichrome wire. (This nib resembles what North American burners know as the writing nib.) This metal nib is then attached to a handle in a variety of ways.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the wire nib burners or the quality of work produced with them. The Commonwealth has produced some of the best known pyrographers and some of the best work we have ever seen. What I am suggesting is, by adding two basic nib designs to our arsenal, we can continue producing the same standard of work, but with greater ease and less frustration.
I got a chance to try a North American wire nib burner on a trip to Canada a few years ago. Even though I have never had trouble with my Aussie burner and had produced many detailed and large pieces of high realism burning, I must confess I was impressed with the North American style burner because of the pre-formed nibs and pens. Many companies manufacturing these burners have a massive range of these nibs and pens and there is an argument that a great many of them are unnecessary to the decorative burner. There were however, two basic styles that I was especially taken with, and thought essential to my own kit; a decent shader nib and skew nib. (A shader lays smooth, even patches of tone over a large area. A skew is a knife shaped nib. It can be curved or flat, but is designed to cut as it burns, creating clean, crisp, fast lines.)
To my thinking, the pens and nibs are the main difference between these two styles of variable temperature burners. I say this because, frankly, the power supply/temp control of the top Australian and British machines are of a very high quality and easily compete with the top North American counter parts. The North American handles are thinner than their counterparts, therefore easier to hold, but they can also get a lot hotter and be less durable, so the pros and cons cancel each other out.
The picture on the left: shading using a writing nib compared to the smooth tone of the Shading nib. (On Pine wood.)
The picture on the right: the smooth crisp lines of the Skew compared compared to those of the writing nib. (On pine.)
THE BIG THREE
Let's quickly look at why burning is easier with a skew and shader in your kit, and why the Big Three are pretty much all you will ever need to produce whatever your heart desires.
The Writing Nib
The Writing nib is the one that looks like a piece of tightly bent wire. It is essential to the burning kit because it's one of the few nibs we can push and pull. This makes it ideal for forming circles, wavy lines writing our names, drawing fat lines and filling in small areas of tone, like the eye of an animal. You can also use it to stipple, do pointillism work, cross hatch and a heap of other applications.
It's one big draw back is burning a crisp line. Because it has a broard, round point, it either surfs across or gouges through the surface of wood. With patience and good wood/material, this is overcome. But on heavily grained wood, it can become a real brain ache.
This is where The Skew comes in. The Skew is formed like a little knife. This mini knife can come in a few shapes, including a scalpel shape and an stencil knife shape. The shape isn't relevant to this discussion though....the blade is. What the Skew does is cuts as it burns, making a sharp, more consistant line.
Think of your grainy wood as the surface of the sea. The Writer travels on Top of the water, surfing over the wave (grain), only to dig into the trough (soft wood) as it comes down. The Skew cuts Into the surface, travelling Through the wave when encountered...making transition to the soft wood behind more smooth. This creates a smoother, cleaner and much sharper line. Not only this, but it takes less time to burn the line and you have slightly better control because you are anchored into the wood a little.
The Shader can also come in a variety of shapes, but the main principle is to have a nib that is wide, flat and smooth so you can burn larger broad strokes of tone.
The Shader can be used in a mass of ways but some of the most common are: shading, gradual tones, portrait work, sketching and colouring in broad areas, like when lettering signs.
Wire nib burners will well know the frustration of trying to fill in even tone or create shade if they have only been using a Writing nib up until now. All you could really do was a series of lines or circle tightly. Trust me, life will be much easier having a shader in your kit.
The Wire Nib Pyrography booklet, helping you get more out of your wire nib burner
$6.25 US dollars. (Includes airmail shipping and handling)
$9.95 AUS dollars. (Includes shipping and handling)
HOW TO GET THESE NIBS TO MAKE BURNING EASIER
So, now we know why it's easier to burn with the big three but how do wire nib pyrographers get these nibs?
Many companies that sell wire nibbed burning units don't offer special nibs. Some offer a form or shader but a percentage of these are a little rough. Few companies offer a Skew. Because of this, if the burner wants a special nib, they have to make their own. This can be done with some heat, a hammer and a file. The heat is necessary to 'anneal' the wire in order to make it soft enough to flatten with a hammer. The flattened form is then shaped with a file, sanding paper and wet stone. The nib can then be polished to allow even smoother travel over the surface you are working on. (Less resistance means smoother burning.)
The wonderful thing about making your own nibs is you can let your imagination run riot if you have a hankering to make other shapes.
It's important that you know what wire to buy. Paper clips and ordinary wire are a no go for transformers. Nichrome wire is the metal you need and what is always used in the making of pyrography wire nibs. This is the same type of wire that is used in bread toasters and heat conductors.
If you don't wish to make your own nibs, you can always ask your original supplier if they have something that resembles a Skew, Shader or Calligraphy nib. (Writing nibs are always available.) Sometimes the companies will have a form of shader, but more rarely a Skew.
BUYING THE NIBS READY MADE
Because of the demand for special nibs and having no where to direct people, I have started making my own range. They are primarily for Ironcore and ND1 burning systems but can be made for other units on request.
The three standard nibs I make are: Skew, Round Shader and Calligraphy nib. The calligraphy nib is made with a square face and can be used in creative writing and also broad coverage and tone work. I also make 2 sizes of writing nibs.
A sample of burning done with a Calligraphy nib
These 3 nibs are polished and ready for use at a cost of $15.95 Australian for the set. They should last you a few years with constant use. If you wish to purchase these nibs or nichrome wire, please go to the WOODBURNER SUPPLY PAGE
For those who would like to make their own nibs but don't know the process, I've written a chapter on this in my new booklet, Wire Nib Pyrography
. Not only does it detail the steps in making your own Skew, Shader and Calligraphy nibs, (with pictures), but it also explains how to use them effectively. Via a detailed texture chart you will also learn how to create a myriad of textures to enhance and broaden your wire nib burning experience.
Some of the textures and effects described in the Wire Nib Pyrography as seen in the Wire Nib Pyrography booklet.