Newsletter 9

2004 copyright Sue Walters
   How odd the friendships we make over the Internet are. I mean, I have met literally hundreds of people by distance, connected only through a few wires and an interest in an obscure art form. Just about every single one of them has written kindly to me and I return that kindness when writing back. We share ideas and thoughts and passions and sometimes we even share parts of our lives with each other. Some of these people I get to know better than others, and some of them become my friends...all via two computer screens and some tapping of keys. What a funny world it now is that you can make friends with a person this way and be profoundly saddened when they die and yet you have never heard their voice or know how tall they are...or what colour their eyes are.
   I didn't know any of these things about Jan Farrar but she was a friend to me as well as to many other pyrographers, animals lovers and people around the world.
   We all knew and met Jan in much the same way, by tapping some keys in response to some such thing being asked or answered. I was trying to remember today just what my first contact with Jan was and I'm blowed if I can think exactly what, but I have no doubt it would have been an email from her asking me about how I burnt dog hair texture. And that just has to make me smile because if there was two things Jan was mad keen crazy about, it was dogs and her pyrography:)

   I answer all my Email eventually, so I know I wrote back, then she forward, me back and so on. Initially it was about pyrography, then about her Mum and my Mum, then about our dogs, then about health scares, just kept it does on the Email.
   I remember how kind she was when my mate Dorji died and that she understood how it can hurt to lose your best doggie friend. She sent me the rainbow bridge thingee, which I had never seen before and of course it made me blubber like a baby, but in a good way.
   I remember how she always asked after my Mum and how she understood the stresses of that situation because she had been going through it herself.
   I remember how kind she was about my work and how modest she was about her own. From the moment Jan began to burn she tried to be better...impatiently at times. I wonder if she understood how far she had come in such a short time? The people at the pyro groups sure told her, so I hope she believed us. The people who proudly hang her work on their walls must also know how lucky they are to have a Jan Farrar original.
   I remember how keen she was in the discussion groups; how polite; how helpful. she put us in a frenzy when she asked us how to burn white!
   I remember when she told me there was nothing more that could be done. How her biggest fear was for her dogs to find good homes. (They did:))
   I didn't need to know the colour of Jan's eyes to know she was kind and even and gentle and helpful and compassionate...a great burner and a dear friend. What's more, I'm not alone in knowing this or alone in being saddened that I won't see her words or art again.
   The Internet is a funny place to make friends, but we do and we are...and we are better off for it.


   One of the questions I get asked a lot about is how to burn on dark wood.'s a bit of a tricky one. You can of course burn on dark wood without adding any colour or highlight at all, but because of the darkness of the canvas being used, there is a certain natural loss of contrast between wood and art work. Black against dark just doesn't allow for a lot of subtle burning to show through.
   If you want to burn on dark wood and not add colour you are often forced to either burn simple line work or highly contrasted work. Some wood is indeed too dark to even take the most basic burning and it's not worth the effort, especially after the timber further darkens after finishing. One way however, to make this wood suitable to burn, is to apply some sort of pigment to help the work stand out.

Owl Face burnt heavily into mallee wood and then painted. ©Sue Walters

   Ding, ding: round 12 in the never ending debate of should we, or should we not add colour to pyrography. In the black corner we have people who believe that colour should never be used in pyrography. In the Red corner we have people who love using colour in pyrography. In the middle, wearing a white shirt, are the likes of me, who think that colour has a place in the right situation.
   I love black and white photography, black and white art and black and white films. I prefer most photo portraits in black and white, but would the famous National Geographic cover of the Afgahn woman have been so striking and effective if you couldn't see the green of her eyes? Would autumn trees or a sun set look quite as good?
   To myself, the use of colour or not is often decided by what I am trying to convey. A horse for instance, to me, is noble and strong and it's structure and air are what I'm looking at...colour doesn't feel important in that case. The same with an elephant, a musical instrument or a portrait etc. But a Tiger...hmmm...erring on colour. A deer in autumn foliage, the yellow eyes of an owl, the vibrant feathers of a male mallard duck; all of these things and more benefit from the use of colour in my pyrographic work.

Did you know, in my recent poll (about what form of pyrography people would most like to see/learn) that 'colour pyrography on wood' got one more vote than 'monochrome pyrography on wood'? (136 colour, 135 monochrome.) Who would have thunk it hey? It does show, regardless on your point of view, that a lot of burners are keen to use and see colour.

Tiger face on burl. ©Sue Walters

   Sometimes though, my use of colour is dictated by what I'm burning on. For greater contrast pyrographers will often choose a light toned wood to burn on. Sometimes though, you either can't find enough good wood or you want to try your hand at burning on figured or dark wood. I decided to have a go at mallee wood, which is a heavily figured and extremely hard Australian wood.
   The only way I felt this timber could be used for my work was to approach it almost like the wildlife carvers do. They use a burner as a texturing tool for fur and feather and then often seal and paint over the top of the texture.
   I decided to burn the texture of the animal into the surface and then apply paint in a way that allowed selected burning through....sometimes a hint, sometimes all of it.
   In the next Pyro News we'll look at this subject more closely by following the making of a large pyrographic piece on mallee. I'll have a bit of a natter about the process and thoughts behind it